To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Monday, March 1, 2021

Observercast

Lamb’s Gubernatorial Gambit

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BY ARNOLD HAMILTON

Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb’s break with Gov. Mary Fallin over taxes was hardly a profile in courage.

Oh, sure, he asserted it was a decision born of principle. But let there be no doubt: it was primarily a political calculus, part of the early jockeying in the 2018 governor’s race.

How do we know? Because Fallin’s plan to generate $934 million by broadening sales taxes was DOA the minute she unveiled it in her Feb. 6 State of the State.

Her party’s legislative supermajority was never going to embrace it – especially with every currently untaxed special interest dispatching lobbyists to the Capitol.

Actually, there was no need for Lamb to showboat that he disagrees with the governor – unless he’s feeling the heat from Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson’s possible gubernatorial bid.

The deep-pocketed Richardson, who sank $2 million-plus of his own money into an unsuccessful independent campaign for governor in 2002, would run this time as a Republican.

And he’s pushing all the buttons that appeal to hard-core, uber-right GOP primary voters – his Facebook page is full of Bible verses and anti-tax screeds.

Oh, something else you show know: He helped build Facebook followers – up to nearly 2,000 as of late morning Feb. 17 – by giving away an AR-15 rifle.

Lamb’s effort to distance himself from an unpopular governor might prove to be less than clever.

You see, it’s doubtful many Oklahomans even knew the lieutenant governor was a member of Fallin’s cabinet. By making a production of his exit, he actually alerted voters to the fact he’s been a member of the executive team that helped drive the state off a fiscal cliff.

Fallin clearly did not find the maneuver amusing, pointing out in a written statement that she was “disappointed and surprised to learn from a press release [my emphasis] that Lt. Gov. Lamb had decided to quit serving as a member of my Cabinet.”

Lamb also has put himself in a position where he now must explain how he would solve the state’s long-term budget woes, born of ill-advised income tax cuts and all-too-generous corporate welfare.

Fallin had the courage to propose tax increases, albeit the most regressive imaginable. She clearly accepts the reality that Oklahoma has a revenue problem, not a spending problem.

Lamb is against expanding sales taxes. Fine. How would he bolster funding for long-starved essential state services – public education, mental health, transportation, corrections, law enforcement?

Parroting the Supply Side rhetoric won’t cut it. The vast majority of state taxpayers suffer because trickle-down economics repeatedly has proven a spectacular failure – Oklahoma tried it again, but only because it disproportionately benefits the wealthy few who write big campaign checks.

This is probably sooner than Lamb wanted, and perhaps even sooner than would be preferable politically, but he has left himself with no choice except to produce a budget plan with funding specifics.

Otherwise, it confirms his resignation from Fallin’s cabinet is more about his political future than the state’s.

Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer

Arnold Hamilton
Arnold Hamilton
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.