Are Okla GOP Politicians Still For a Strong Supt?

Joy Hofmeister, Superintendent, education, tests,
Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction
Photo by Brett Dickerson

There are Republican politicians in Oklahoma. And then, there is that Republican politician. You know — that Joy Hofmeister.

She’s the Republican who primaried and beat Janet Barresi, incumbent Republican sweetheart of the public school bashing bandwagon.

She then went on to take Barresi’s place on the state-wide education stage as the new and very popular Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Her presence stands to put pressure on Republican politicians here in a way that they didn’t expect way back in 2011 when they quickly passed sweeping changes that gave that position new powers, not only over the Department of Education, but the board itself.

And there is pressure.

According to some sources, all members of the board are up for either re-appointment or replacement before April 2 when appointments take effect.

The biggest question, which was raised by fellow blogger Rob Miller last night, is whether or not Governor Fallin will support this elected superintendent and appoint new board members who can acknowledge Hofmeister’s leadership.

Pressures mount

Yesterday the State Board of Education members, all appointed by Republican Governor Mary Fallin to support the last chief, finally couldn’t hold their irritation in check any longer.

The Tulsa World’s account of the heated end of yesterday’s board meeting described it as a “tug-of-war” that “boiled over” between Hofmeister and several of the members of the board.

According to the report, three board members were especially upset when they thought that Hofmeister, who by law is the executive of the board, ran too quickly past the “New Business” part of the agenda and didn’t give them time to enter motions that they wanted discussed.

The report describes two of the three speaking in “raised voices” to the new Chief of Staff Lance Nelson about the matter, complaining that they had several items that they wanted discussed that Hofmeister had not put on the agenda.

A contest between equal parties? No

Yesterday’s dust-up in the board room generated by board members Bill Price and Amy Ford, both GOP political insiders who were no-doubt appointed to their positions by Fallin because they were true believers.

The problem is that they are trying to  push back against Hofmeister’s exercising the very powers that were given to that position by Republican politicians in 2011.

Even a quick scan of the final version of House Bill 2139 of the 2011 – 2012 legislative session shows whole paragraphs of the old law being stricken and paragraphs of new amendments added to give much more power to the position.

Clearly, those GOP lawmakers and the governor intended for the Superintendent of Public Instruction to be firmly in charge of both the bureaucracy of the DOE, and the Board of Education.

In those early and quite heady days after the 2010 landslide that brought Fallin and Barresi into office, GOP legislators did not anticipate that one day they would have unwittingly given power to an elected chief who doesn’t simply copy and paste the latest thing that ALEC and reformist Chiefs for Change sends in that day’s orders.

We have to wonder what HB 2139’s co-authors Kern, Nelson, Newell, and Ford think about their clever legislation now.

Fallin was once all for a strong state superintendent

An interesting set of quotes are included in an article from the April 11, 2011 edition of conservative journalist Patrick McGuigan’s

In that piece, McGuigan quotes then Speaker Kris Steele and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman, who were hailing the value of the legislation that had just been passed saying that it would streamline, the operations of the state Department of Education by placing control of the department with the superintendent rather than the state Board of Education.”

But most interesting in that article is a quote from a signing statement that Governor Fallin reportedly sent to CapitolBeatOK explaining why she was signing the bill into law:

In Oklahoma, the superintendent of public instruction is elected based upon the ideas and agenda they present to voters.  And the superintendent – not the unelected Board of Education – should have the power to run the Education Department. This legislation will help to make the department more accountable and responsive to the will of the people.

 So, when Janet Barresi was struggling with Democrats on the board, and a contrary Republican board member named Joy Hofmeister, she was very clear that the will of the people in electing a superintendent was to be honored with great vigor.

Now that the politics of the board have changed, I wonder just how closely she will hold to those same principles.

Were those really principles, or just politics of the day?