BY ARNOLD HAMILTON
He can spin it any way he wants, but today’s Senate standoff was one final public relations disaster for President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee in a session full of public relations disasters.
The inability to round up the 25 votes necessary for passage of SB 980 – Coffee’s much ballyhooed Oklahoma Information Services Act – was a microcosm of a session in which land mines seemed to be detonating all around the OKC Republican.
It even forced the Senate to renege on its pledge to wrap up the session a week early – an important PR marker for a first-year GOP majority intent on proving it could manage legislative affairs far more efficiently than the long-entrenched Democrats.
Coffee’s problems through much of the session were self-generated: taxes paid late, ethics reports filed past deadline, more than $100,000 in campaign fund expenditures unexplained.
Today’s four-plus-hour standoff reflects problems within his caucus. He managed 23 Republican votes [and no Democratic votes] for his proposal, but one of his sure-fire votes, OKC Sen. Steve Russell, was absent.
That left Seminole Sen. Harry Coates and OKC Sen. Jim Reynolds to decide the fate of Coffee’s dubious plan to create a state computer system czar. [Ask Texas Gov. Rick Perry how well this idea worked in the Lone Star State.]
Coates, who is anything but a rubber-stamp for Coffee & Co., was the lone Republican to vote against it.
Reynolds was MIA … evidently chapped that he couldn’t get the GOP’s legislative powers-that-be to unshackle his proposal for a statewide vote that could have established a new cap on property taxes.
Things got so crazy during the standoff that rumors swirled a jet was being dispatched to retrieve Russell – supposedly on a trip to Colorado – so that he could cast a vote for the proposal.
In the end, with only 23 votes for the measure, the Senate leadership decided to scrap the Legislature’s 5 p.m. session-ending deadline [set in a resolution approved at mid-session]. The new Senate schedule: Return to work on Tuesday, after Memorial Day. The Constitution requires the Legislature to adjourn by Friday.
My guess is Coffee can’t wait for this session to end.
– Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer