It’s a sad day for the Oklahoma political establishment.
Yesterday afternoon, Continental Resources Board Member David Boren announced he is retiring from his side gig as chief fundraiser and official spokesperson for the University of Oklahoma. I think his official title was “President.”
Boren is one of the most influential and powerful Oklahomans in our state’s history. As a result, there’s been a slew of tributes dedicated to him over the last 24 hours by the local media, civic leaders, educators, and political underlings on both sides of the aisle.
This article is not one of them.
A conservative “Democratic” and crafty politician who fought for the little guy by doing what was best for himself and other people with power and money, David Boren is an Oklahoma political legend.
Before taking the helms at OU, he was a State Rep, Governor and US Senator. He was also the first politician in Oklahoma history to hold a press conference where he swore on a bible that he wasn’t a homosexual.
Check out this pic from a 1978 Mother Jones article:
Yeah, that’s real. If only I would have been alive back then to write about it. It would have received a ton of pageviews!
I was actually raised in the Church of David Boren. Like most liberal baby boomers, my Dad idolized the man. In 1987, he was exhibiting at an arts education workshop at the Kennedy Center and met Boren in his office on Capitol Hill. They took part in the typical “Generic Photo Shaking Hands In Front Of An American Flag” photo-op. I think the pic is still framed in my dad’s garage.
A few years later, when I was 10 or so, David Boren pulled up next to me and my dad at the intersection of 23rd and Broadway. I think he was driving a big station wagon with a personalized “Snator1” license plate or whatever. My dad honked and enthusiastically waved. Boren turned, gave a big smile, and shot him a cool thumbs up. To this day, I think my Dad still thinks Boren recognized him. Give the man credit. He’s a great politician, and really knows how to charm people.
When Boren ran for Governor and the US Senate in the 1970s, the knock was that he was a Republican dressed in Democratic clothing. Way back then, most uneducated rural Oklahoma racists were Democrats, so to get elected for a statewide office, you basically had to run as a dem. That all changed with the decay of rural America, the Democratic party’s shift towards inclusion and equality, and the Republican Party’s efforts to court and enable rural racists as part of its infamous “southern strategy.” Now Oklahoma is redder than the dirt it’s built on.
In hindsight, that criticism of Boren has held its weight. Like most shrewd, self-serving politicians, Boren spent most of his political career going GOP-light by pandering and cozying up to big business, special interests and large institutions. Basically, he was in the corner of people who had money. It’s a big reason why he had such a successful political career, and has so much money in his bank account.
Boren’s loyalties shouldn’t be a shock, especially when you look at recent events.
When man-made earthquakes first rattled our state, Boren set up hurried meetings with Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm and our state’s overwhelmed seismologist. That meeting, and other events, gave the appearance that he was using his position of power to help cover up the dangerous truth about earthquakes, and protect the industry that donates millions to the university – and gives him cushy six-figure board seats – from public scrutiny.
Even when Boren does something that appears to noble and beneficial for the people, it usually doubles as protection for his donors and intuitions.
Just look back at SQ 779. Boren used his clout and influence to push a regressive 1-cent sales tax to fund teacher pay raises, ensuring that lower-income Oklahomans would pay a higher percentage of their income to fund education than the ultra-rich oil moguls he buddied up with. He never once mentioned that maybe we should raise our ridiculously low gross production taxes to reasonable levels.
In recent years, it seems like Boren has had more gaffes than accomplishments. He mishandled Big 12 Conference realignment. He acted slowly in returning Nazi-looted artwork to rightful owners. He screwed up the hiring of a new band director so bad that the PRIDE of Oklahoma tuba players went on strike. Hell, he was even scolded by his hometown Seminole newspaper because he opposed efforts to replace an old decrepit school building in favor of “preserving” ancient memories from his old stomping grounds.
To be clear, I’m not saying Boren isn’t a decent man, or that he hasn’t done good things for this state and its people. Even though he voted to confirm Clarence Thomas, he seems like a genuinely nice, intelligent guy and a natural charmer. I just think his glowing reputation in the Okie political spectrum is based more on a carefully crafted and managed public facade that true accomplishments, and that liberals look past his true loyalties and intentions simply because he’s a successful and powerful Oklahoma Democrat. In fact, I think he may be the only one left! Perhaps Boren wants to keep it that way – he did refuse to support his son’s aspirations for Governor.
Anyway, I guess I’ll close this up and wish David Boren the best in his retirement from OU. Even though I wasn’t a fan, you can’t deny his influence and legacy. It will be interesting to see how many roads, bridges and schools the Oklahoma political establishment names after him. They’re going to make it hard for us to forget him.