After Resignations, Special Elections Could Cost Taxpayers Thousands

Wednesday, June 7th 2017, 1:34 pm
By: Grant Hermes

After the resignation of another Republican lawmaker on Tuesday, the total number of special elections that have been or will be set by Governor Mary Fallin has hit a total of seven. A number that could have a serious cost on Oklahoma taxpayers.

In a statement Tuesday, Tulsa Republican Senator Dan Newberry said he will be returning to private life as a banker.

"I will miss serving in the Senate (sic)," Newberry said. "[B]ut will work with my successor to ensure a smooth transition and uninterrupted representation for the district."

Newberry is the sixth lawmaker to resign within a year. All six are members of the Republican party.

Senators Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City), Ralph Shortey (R-Oklahoma City) and Rep. Dan Kirby (R-Tulsa) resigned amid scandal or disgrace. Two others besides Newberry, Rep. Scott Martin (R-Norman) and Sen. Tom Newell (R-Seminole) said they were leaving to return to private sector.

The seventh special election is for the seat left vacant after the tragic death of Representative David Brumbaugh who suffered a heart attack during mid-session.

“Certainly, seven vacancies to occur in an odd numbered year after a general election is quite a lot for us,” State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said on Wednesday. He added the number of vacancies and the subsequent elections were the most anyone currently in the office could recall. Online records show it’s the most since 2000.

The elections aren't cheap either. They could cost Oklahoma voters more than $200,000 total. Money the state’s election board is scrambling to find after a nearly $1 billion budget deficit forced deep cuts to agencies.

“Given the number that have happened so far we've been able to find places to squeeze our regular budget,” Ziriax said.  

Democrats wasted no time criticizing Republicans. In a statement the state party said, "The complete disregard and lack of responsibility to fulfill one's sworn commitment to their districts is appalling."

The statement even went so far as to call on lawmakers that have resigned to foot the bill. "Legislators that have stepped down... should pay back the cost of each special election," the statement read.

After the last resignation, Oklahoma GOP Chair Pam Pollard said Republican voters had nothing to worry about saying the party was still solid. Wednesday, requests for an interview went unanswered.

The open seats themselves were won handily by the vacating Republicans. Many seats were won by double-digit percentage points meaning just how large of an effect the special elections could have on the make-up of the Republican-dominated Capitol is unclear.

For a look at when and where the special elections are being held, visit the Election Board website