Yesterday, our friends at the ACLU filed a lawsuit on our behalf against Governor Mary Fallin and the Governor’s Office. In it, we demand that Governor Fallin release all emails related to our open records request from December of 2012. Here’s a snippet from a press release issued by the ACLU:
The Governor’s Office released a large number of documents on March 29, but it withheld thirty-one records at the direction of Steve Mullins, the Governor’s General Counsel. Mullins has cited “executive privilege,” a doctrine that has never been part of Oklahoma law, to argue that the Governor can legally conceal public records at her choosing. His assertion has received nearly universal condemnation from freedom of information experts and advocates for government transparency.
“Mr. Mullins has repeatedly told the press and the people of Oklahoma that Fallin’s privileged position entitles her to disregard parts of the Oklahoma Open Records Act,” said Brady Henderson, Legal Director of ACLU of Oklahoma, “in other words, that as Governor, she is above the law.”
Oklahoma’s current Open Records Act was enacted in 1985. It requires records created or maintained at public expense to be open to public inspection so that citizens may obtain free information about their government. In the law’s nearly thirty-year history, no prior governor or other executive official has claimed any type of executive privilege against complying with its requirement of free access. “Mary Fallin is the first Governor of Oklahoma to challenge the people’s right to be fully informed about their government,” Henderson said, “we filed this lawsuit to make sure she also will be the last.”
I would tell you a little more about why we’re doing this, but since litigation is pending, the ACLU Legal Team has advised that I not discuss or write about the situation. Just kidding. I’ve always wanted to write a statement like that. It makes this thing seem extra-serious.
Anyway, the ACLU news release was picked up by several news organizations, including the AP, Fox 25 and, get this, the Oklahoman. Check out the intro to Zeke Campfield’s article in the Joke. According to Steve Lackmeyer, Zeke ignited this Open Records Request House Party while rescuing puppies from a house fire started by sexual predators.
The guy pictured above is State Representative Joe Dorman. We like Joe, but occasionally have to make fun of him because he does things like hit on Joleen Chaney, listen to Jimmy Buffett and wear mandles. The first two things we can live with, but even my grandpa wouldn’t be caught in footwear like that. Wearing mandles is worse than drinking Bud Light Lime, which now that I think about it, is probably something else that Joe Dorman does.
Anyway, Joe tried to pull a Constance Johnson and filed some semi-satirical legislation that points out how much our state spends defending unconstitutional laws, like the ones that attempt to ban certain religions or abortion. The only problem is that Joe’s plan backfired. It looks like the Republicans are taking Joe’s proposal seriously and want to make it law.
The man pictured above is Al Gerhart. Not only does he look like your grandparent’s creepy neighbor who drives the weird black van, but he’s also the co-founder and perhaps only member of a group called the Sooner Tea Party. When he’s not inadvertently scaring small children and / or fantasizing about having sex with a woman for the first time in 15-years, he spends his time bullying and blackmailing our state’s lawmakers.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation was asked Monday to investigate an email that warned a state senator he would become “the laughing stock of the Senate” unless legislation passed out of his committee.
The co-founder of the Sooner Tea Party admitted in an interview with The Oklahoman that he sent the email to state Sen. Cliff Branan.
“We will expose that man’s dirty laundry. We will show people what he is like,” Al Gerhart said. “It is not a threat. I put down there clearly: This is a promise.”
In the March 26 email, Gerhart wrote about House Bill 1412, which would prohibit Oklahoma communities from having anything to do with the United Nations Agenda 21 plan.
Misspelling one word, Gerhart wrote: “Get that bill heard or I will make sure you regret not doing it. I will make you the laughing stock of the Senate if I don’t hear that this bill will be heard and passed. We will dig into your past, yoru family, your associates and once we start on you there will be no end to it. This is a promise.”
Wow. Strong words. I wonder how he’ll go about ruining Senator Branan’s career? It has to be juicy, right?
Gerhart on Tuesday accused Branan of infidelity during a news conference after coming under investigation for an email he sent Branan.
At the news conference at the Capitol, Gerhart, 54, of Oklahoma City, admitted again that he sent the email but said he absolutely did nothing wrong..
“Political pain and embarrassment will be necessary if the citizens expect to regain control of this Senate down here from the state chamber of commerce and special interests,” he said. “The time for ‘nice’ behavior is over with.”
After reading from prepared remarks, Gerhart told reporters that the scuttlebutt at the Capitol is that Branan “is concerned that we have some information on him on an alleged infidelity.”
“That is why Mr. Branan has reacted the way he does,” he said. “It’s the real reason he’s attacking us, according to the scuttlebutt inside the Senate. Why shouldn’t I bring it up?”
He admitted he has no proof of his accusation.
Yep, he started a nasty rumor that Branan is having an affair. That’s pretty bold, because if there’s one thing that will ruin a politician’s career, it’s allegations of infidelity. It’s pretty much impossible for a politician to overcome accusations like that.
Of course, Branan denies the rumor:
“It just makes me sick. He has no shame,” Sen. Cliff Branan told The Oklahoman. “It was a crazy, untrue allegation that was just shameful. We’ve been happily married for nearly 18 years. … Our marriage is awesome.
“Nothing like that has ever happened. And I think, candidly, he got me confused with somebody else. It’s just nuts.”
So who are you going to believe? The respected lawmaker or the mean bald bully who wears tinfoil hats and keeps a copy of the Catcher in the Rye with him at all times?
For fun, I’m going to choose Gerhart, but that’s only because we like to be different. Plus, he looks like a troll and reads The Lost Ogle (albeit not regularly). We know this thanks to our open records request with the Governor’s Office. You know how you’d always looked up your phone number right when you would open a new phonebook? Well, the first thing we did when we got our hands on Mary Fallin’s emails was search “The Lost Ogle.” The only notable mention we could find was a snippet from one of Al Gerhart’s rambling newsletters that he sent to Fallin’s policy director Katie Altshuler. Here’s a link to the PDF. This is a screen shot of what he wrote:
Throughout the week, we’ll be posting interesting tidbits, observations and oddities from the of 1.2GB of open records dumped on us and other media outlets this past Friday. In case you missed it, we already detailed one odd exchange where Mary Fallin’s Chief of Staff Denise Northrup complained that a State Senator stared at her breasts during a discussion on Tort Reform.
At least we may post that stuff. In all honesty, most of the records have to do with serious and boring issues that fall more under the scope of enterprise journalism than obscure local social blogging. We’ll leave those issues to the big boys that went to journalism school and stuff.
Before we get to today’s open record, I want to touch base on a few things.
1. Our partners on this endeavor, the ACLU of Oklahoma, have posted all the information on their website. Go there to check them out.
2. I wish the mean letter the ACLU sent on our behalf had something to do with it, but I think dumping the records on the media on the Friday before Easter was the plan all along. It makes sense. If I wanted to do something controversial, like signing a horse slaughter bill, I’d do it on the Friday before a holiday.
3. Despite the release of records, they still may be violating open records law. The Governor’s office withheld about 100 pages of records that we requested. We’re going to consult with our partners at the ACLU to determine if their reasoning is valid, and if we should pursue legal action.
4. The Governor’s Office misrepresented the amount of records released. The Governor’s office claims they released over 50,000 records, but that’s misleading. Basically, they organized the records into 10 PDFs labeled A – J. Each PDF contained about 5,000 records or so. While skimming through the files, I noticed a few things. One, many of the same records appeared on multiple CDs. I’m not exactly sure of their reasoning for that. Also, many of the records were angry constituent emails, meeting presentations and press releases. And once again, many of the same documents were in the various PDFS. I don’t know how many individual records were released, but I know it wasn’t 50,000.
5. Chief of Staff Denise Northrup’s favorite bad word is “shit.” Attention people older than 27! Remember back in elementary school when you’d look up bad words in the dictionary only to see that some other kid had already circled the word? Well, I was that kid! Anyway, one of the first things I did when I got my hands on these records was search for bad words. “Shit” came up like 5,000 times and I think they were all from Northrup. Actually, it wasn’t the often, but so many of the same emails appeared in various PDFs that it just felt that way. And by the way, “Shit” was probably the worst bad word in the records. Nobody used ******* or **** or !@#$%&.
Anyway, today’s open record has to do with an email exchange between Northrup and former House Speaker and current Tulsa Chamber Senior VP Chris Benge. He wanted to talk to the Governor about the possibility of accepting Medicaid funding. It’s kind of humorous:
Here’s the exchange between Northrup and Benge:
Earlier today, the Governor’s Office released nearly 50,000 emails as part of an open records request we filed back in December. Although it’s taken them awhile, I guess we should thank them for the release. That’s because we’re already finding gems likes the one below, where Governor Fallin’s Chief of Staff Denise Northrup complains to Policy Director Katie Altshuler that State Senator Eddie Shields was staring at her breasts during a meeting about tort reform.
Check it out the exchange after the jump.
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