The Oklahoma State Senate returned to its normal routine on Thursday, reconvening to consider action on several pieces of legislation before adjourning for usual weekend break.
A majority of members convened as a "committee of the whole" with Senate President Pro Tempore Stratton Taylor presiding as required by Senate rules.
"We thought it was important to end the hijack and get back to doing the business of the people of Oklahoma. Holding the State Senate hostage and shutting down state government Newt Gingrich-style doesn't benefit anyone, especially the taxpayers of our state. I hope that all the shenanigans and gamesmanship are over and we can proceed with our work at hand," said Senator Taylor.
Lieutenant Governor Mary Fallin brought the legislative process to a screeching halt Wednesday when she unexpectedly took over the chairman's position in the Senate and refused to leave to allow the regular business of the Legislature to continue.
Fallin asserted that she took over the Senate to make members "follow the rules" on a procedural vote, but that assertion is not supported by the facts, according to Taylor.
"This isn't a question about following the rules. It's a question about not having enough votes to pass a proposal. In a democracy, when you don't have enough votes, you lose. That's what happened here," said Senator Taylor.
"The minority party lost a vote fair and square and then threw the equivalent of a temper tantrum to try and get its way by playing outside the rules. They're like a bunch of tee-ballers who are mad because they lost a baseball game and think they can reverse the outcome by changing the box score after the contest is over. That's not the way it works in little league and that's not the way it works in the State Senate. All their demonstrations aren't going to change that."
The Senate leader questioned whether Fallin and minority party members really want a vote on right to work, noting that the Senate was prepared to vote on a motion regarding a right to work amendment when the Lieutenant Governor intervened Wednesday. Taylor also pointed out that Republican members have declined to take any action on a right to work initiative petition, even though Frank Keating ran on the pledge that he would lead a petition drive if elected Governor.
"If a woman with no money and no organization can lead a successful petition drive to ban cockfighting, the Governor and the Republican Party can certainly scrape together a fraction of their ample resources and do the same thing. The reason they haven't done that is because they would prefer to use right to work as a political football. This debate has everything to do with election year politics and nothing to do with what is in the best interest of the state," said Senator Taylor.
Even though Democrats outnumber Republicans by a two-to-one margin in the State Senate, Taylor noted that the Senate leadership has taken a number of steps to conduct the body in a bipartisan manner. For example, Republicans have been given proportional representation on Senate committees; Republicans have been appointed to vice-chairmanships of committees; and Republicans have been allowed to preside over the Senate in the president's chair during session.
"We've bent over backward to conduct Senate business in a bipartisan manner and given Republican members responsibilities equal to or greater than the number of seats they occupy. For them to claim that they've been treated unfairly is ludicrous. They're the same people who would be screaming bloody murder if Vice-president Al Gore decided to take over the U.S. Senate from the Republican majority in Washington," said Taylor.
The Senate leader was quick to point out that he doesn't believe all members of the Republican caucus support the obstructionist posture adopted by the minority leadership and Lieutenant Governor Fallin, noting that several GOP Senators participated in the Thursday morning work on the Senate floor.
"I think the majority of Senators, Democrat and Republican, want to put all this silliness aside and get back to business. We've got a lot of work to do on a number of pressing issues, ranging from education to public safety to road construction. Every hour that the Lieutenant Governor obstructs the Senate from doing its work, the people of Oklahoma lose a little bit more. They're the casualties of all this partisan posturing and that's a shame," said Senator Taylor.