OKLAHOMA CITY -Saying Oklahomans elected Frank Keating as Governor, not a bunch of "political bureaucrats," a Senate leader is urging the Governor to respond to issues on his own, rather than relying on his media staff to carry the message for him.
"I think Governor Keating owes the people of Oklahoma that much. They elected him to serve as Governor and they pay him $70,000 a year plus expenses to do it. They deserve to know where he stands and what he thinks about the issues of the day," said Senator Cal Hobson, Vice-chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
"If Governor Keating feels the need to respond to an issue, he should do it himself, instead of relying on someone else to deliver the message in his place. He'll never earn the respect of the people if he's constantly ducking and dodging the issues."
The Governor rarely addresses issues of the day himself, even though his office issues frequent press releases. The opinions of Keating's media staff or chief of staff are quoted most frequently. For example, all three of the press releases issued by the Governor's office this week contained quotes from media spokesmen, but none from Keating.
"Oklahomans didn't elect Clinton Key or Dan Mahoney or Rick Buchanan or John Cox," noted Senator Hobson, referring to the contingent of Keating staffers who routinely act as gubernatorial mouth pieces.
"I'm sure they all have opinions, but with all due respect, who cares? They're not the State Chief Executive. Governor Keating needs to stand up for himself and speak his own mind, instead of using a bunch of political bureaucrats to perform some kind of bizarre ventriloquist act."
The press releases issued under the names of Keating staffers --two of which are former paid employees of the State Republican Party-- are generally the most political and the most vicious. Members of the Governor's office routinely attack Democratic legislators and other elected officials, calling them a variety of names and descriptives ranging from "spoiled brat" to "ignorant."
"If that's what passes for public policy debate in the Keating administration, I think we should all be concerned. Oklahomans don't want name-calling, they want real, reasoned responses to the pressing issues of the day. They're certainly not getting that from Governor Keating," noted Senator Hobson.
The Lexington legislator conceded that Governor Keating may be unable to respond to every issue in person in light of his frequent out-of-state travels, but he said he can respond in print under his name.
"I know Governor Keating has a hectic travel schedule, but I think he can stay in touch with his office long enough to put his name on the statements his media office keeps cranking out," said Senator Hobson. "That's why we have telephones and fax machines."
Some political observers believe that Governor Keating is using his staff as a shield of sorts, making them take credit for statements on uncomfortable issues or serve as hatchet men on the particularly vitriolic attack press releases.
"If that's the case, I would urge Governor Keating to stop hiding behind his staff and enter the forum of public debate with the rest of us. No shields, no bullet proof vests, no tag team wrestling partners.
"It's not always pleasent, but when you assume the responsibility of an elected office, you do so with the knowledge that you will be required to take a public stand from time to time and take some heat as well.
"The Governor has proven he can be an articulate spokesman and he's certainly not shy about seeking the lime light so I'm a little surprised about his reluctance to enter the public debate on some issues," said Senator Hobson.