A Tale of Three Women Who Made Oklahoma History

Article excerpt

During the past four years, historical ice was broken in Oklahoma politics _ although it's melting now.

Serving simultaneously in statewide office were three women: State Treasurer Claudette Henry, Attorney General Susan Loving and Insurance Commissioner Cathy Weatherford. They were the first females to serve in each of those offices.

The breakthrough is melting because none will be back next year, due to unique circumstances. Henry was felled in the August Republican primary election, and personal reasons led to Loving's and Weatherford's choices not to run.

Henry's and Loving's terms of office could be called "atypical," to say the least. How many state treasurers have had their deputy accused of scheming to defraud Oklahoma of $6 million through irregular securities trading, followed up by former employees sifting through their garbage in an attempt to find personal dirt to use against them? It happened to Claudette Henry.

A black cloud seemed to dog Henry through much of her term. Starting out as a Republican in a thicket of Democrats, she was outnumbered and outflanked in legislative matters. Then the trading fiasco broke, and she was never quite able to divorce herself from that whole deal.

How many attorneys general have conducted an investigation of the campaign finances of the governor who appointed them? It happened to Susan Loving.

If observers thought the investigation of her benefactor would be merely perfunctory, then they severely underestimated Loving. Working with the Oklahoma County district attorney, her office participated in a very long and tedious study of Gov. David Walters' 1990 campaign funds. Last October, Walters pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor campaign law violation for encouraging a contributor to give $13,500 more than the $5,000 allowed by law. He decided not to run for re-election.

In exchange for the plea, eight felony counts against him handed down by a multicounty grand jury were dismissed.

That plea bargain generated a great deal of emotion from people who either thought Loving caved in and was too soft on the governor, or thought the investigation was much ado about nothing, a persecution of the state's chief executive.

Loving, appointed by Walters in 1991, said she decided not to run for election because she anticipated that the investigation and plea agreement would be big campaign issues. Educating the public on the reasoning that went into her actions would have taken much time and physical energy, she said, "and I was out of that. …