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House Democrats push for committee to explore Walters impeachment

State Superintendent Ryan Walters listens to a presentation at the February 2023 State Board of Education meeting.
Beth Wallis
/
StateImpact Oklahoma
State Superintendent Ryan Walters listens to a presentation at the February 2023 State Board of Education meeting.

The House Democratic Caucus is seeking formation of a committee to investigate State Superintendent Ryan Walters and consider whether impeachment is warranted.

TRANSCRIPT

Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider – taking you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. The House Democratic Caucus has made a formal and public request for Speaker of the House Charles McCall to form a committee to consider the impeachment of State Superintendent Ryan Walters. That caucus is small and has little power, but where there is smoke, there is sometimes fire. Shawn, what's going on?

Shawn Ashley: House Democrats who also received the support of the Senate Democratic Caucus in their request, want to know whether grounds exist for the House to impeach Walters, House Minority Leader Cyndi Munson said Tuesday. They asked McCall to form a bipartisan committee to conduct an investigation. Munson pointed to what she called outright lies by Walters and targeted attacks on local control, a reference to the Tulsa Public Schools accreditation situation and ongoing criminal investigation into potential financial mismanagement of State Department of Education funds and a continued refusal by Walters to cooperate in good faith with lawmakers. Munson and other House Democrats also noted what they called “Walters’ consistent pattern of inflammatory language aimed at the state's public education teachers.”

Dick Pryor: Is there sentiment in the legislature for impeaching Ryan Walters?

Shawn Ashley: McCall said Tuesday impeachment was not something that should be broached lightly. He also said the call by House Democrats seemed to be more of a, quote, ready, fire aim approach. But some Republicans, including McCall, have made comments that seem to be aimed at Walters, albeit without mentioning his name, particularly for his rhetoric and activity on social media. McCall, just a few days earlier, had said, for example, “we must get the focus back on student outcomes and away from political rhetoric. I'm calling on all involved parties to end the rhetoric and do better for the children of Oklahoma.” Representative Jeff Boatman said Wednesday, “whether we are posting social media content or reposting it, public servants have a duty to put the best interests of our most vulnerable first. Controversy, divisiveness and fearmongering are not ever in the best interest.”

Dick Pryor: Governor Kevin Stitt is seeing considerable opposition to a lawsuit he filed to invalidate two bills that passed during the special session that he had vetoed and the legislature then overrode the vetoes. Both pertained to tribal compacts. The governor has had dozens of vetoes overridden. Is this the first time he has sued the legislature to fight overrides?

Shawn Ashley: It is. And it may be the first time ever an Oklahoma governor has sued the legislature over bills it approved. Governor Stitt's lawsuit argues the bills were passed and the vetoes overridden inappropriately during a special session that ran concurrently with the regular session and he also contends they conflict with the constitutional powers of the governor. The legislature responded to the lawsuit August 28th and argued the action in concurrent special session was legal and not unprecedented, and that the governor's authority to negotiate compacts comes from state statute, which is determined by the legislature, not solely the Oklahoma Constitution.

The legislature also received support from Attorney General Gentner Drummond and three tribes - the Choctaw, Cherokee, and Chickasaw Nations - which are all affected by the bills. They, too, argued the governor's compacting authority arises from state statutes, and the bills do not diminish his constitutional duties or authority.

Dick Pryor: Governor Stitt continues to push for cutting income taxes and grocery sales taxes. Shawn. He says the fact the state has the most money ever in its savings account is reason to cut taxes. Remind us what the savings account is for.

Shawn Ashley: Well, when Governor Stitt came into office, he expressed concern that the state had so little money in its savings accounts in the event of an economic downturn. How do you offset those revenue losses? And he told a southern Oklahoma radio station in an interview August 22nd that the state has been able to build up the balances through good economic times, which produced good state revenue collections. But let's not forget, economic downturns in Oklahoma are sort of like drought. History has shown us it's not a matter of if it's going to happen, but a matter of when.

Dick Pryor: And we know that's true. Thanks, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. For more information, go to quorumcall.online. You can find audio and transcripts at kgou.org and listen to Capitol Insider where you get your podcasts. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

KGOU is a community-supported news organization and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

Dick Pryor has more than 30 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November 2016.
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