To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Tuesday, June 25, 2024


Collateral Damage?


Attorney General Gentner Drummond is playing with fire, politically speaking.

For most of his nearly 16 months in office, he built and burnished a reputation as a no-nonsense, straight-arrow, critical thinker – the antithesis of uber-right ideologues permeating today’s state Republican leadership.

More recently, though, Drummond suddenly detoured, embracing Oklahoma’s new “show me your papers” law that gives authorities license to test the limits of driving while Black … or brown … or Native … or Asian … or LGBTQ+ … or just about anybody who’s not white.

“Oklahoma,” the AG declared, “has reaped the consequences of the Biden Administration’s utter failure to secure our nation’s border, as evidenced by the flood of illegal marijuana grows and other criminal activity connected to Chinese syndicates and Mexican cartels.

“HB 4156 gives law enforcement the tools necessary to ensure public safety for all Oklahomans.”

To which almost anyone who knows anything about policing immediately called Bullstitt. Law enforcement already has such authority. All the new law does is make their job tougher because it undermines already shaky trust between themselves and marginalized communities.

Oh, and it panders to the very culture warriors from whom Drummond had wisely declared his independence. Why the about-face?

The obvious answer is the 2026 governor’s race is underway. Drummond wants to occupy the Capitol’s second-floor corner office. So does House Speaker Charles McCall, who’s wrapping up his term-limited legislative career by belting out the Culture War’s greatest hits – from income tax cuts to border security.

The first step for gubernatorial wannabes is the Republican primary, which these days – thanks to often-low voter turnout – gives outside influence to uber-right ideologues who never miss a chance to cast their ballots.

McCall took advantage of special speaker powers to stampede HB 4156 through both legislative chambers and onto the governor’s desk for his signature. Drummond concluded he couldn’t afford to be outflanked on an issue currently animating hard-right GOP activists.

Drummond clearly recognized early-on his path to the governorship would require deft steering through the Republican primary battles. So, periodically, he’s carefully, strategically thrown red meat to the base’s zealots.

Recently, for example, he filed a federal lawsuit challenging the Biden Administration’s adding of gender identity to federal Title IX protections. He also provided congressional testimony against a revised Environmental Protection Agency rule that would add “to the regulatory burden of any private enterprise without providing sufficient corresponding benefit.”

But Drummond’s full-throated support of the Texas-style immigration law isn’t harmless virtue signaling – it’s playing with political fire and could well be counter-productive to his gubernatorial aspirations.

How so?

First, it’s important to note Drummond isn’t likely to be the top choice of GOP’s culture warriors anyway, especially given that he’s publicly battled two of their favorites – Gov. Kevin Stitt and state Superintendent Ryan Walters – and is opposing the nation’s first publicly-funded religious charter school.

Second, Drummond’s strength is with more traditional Republicans – what we might think of as Rockefeller Republicans [if there are any left] who describe themselves as fiscal conservatives with a social conscience or even Reagan Republicans who prioritize free-enterprise and individual liberties.

Drummond also was well-positioned with independents and Democrats who’ve cheered his commitment to church-state separation, the rule of law, and to protecting taxpayer dollars – until HB 4156 gave them pause.

In the end, embrace the “show me your papers” law may peel off enough culture warriors to help him secure the GOP nomination. But he should ask himself this question: is it worth it, if innocent “others” become collateral damage?

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Arnold Hamilton, Editor
Arnold Hamilton, Editor
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.