New Book Offers Significant History of Political Corruption

Article excerpt

With only a slight reference to Gov. David Walters' campaign contributions, Emeritus Professor Harry Holloway has produced a significant history of the corruption-ridden political environment that has plagued Oklahoma since statehood.

In his new book, "Bad Times for Good Ol' Boys," the University of Oklahoma professor has focused on Oklahoma's county commissioner scandals of the 1980s with Dr. Frank S. Meyers, professor of political science at Cameron University in Lawton. They have analyzed causes of corruption as well as Oklahoma's political culture, governmental framework and public attitudes.

While some fear the endless string of political scandals through most of this century stem from a corrupt culture, Holloway and Meyers find this thesis "does not stand up."

They hypothesized "apathy, ignorance and cynicism" among Oklahomans in their attitudes toward corruption, but they found little difference between the state and the nation. Instead, they found the county commissioners operated in an institutional setting that "lent itself to corruption."

While they say modified reforms did make a difference in corruption among county commissioners, Holloway and Meyers point out Oklahoma's "populist tendency" to decentralize and fragment government remains a problem.

This book, published by University of Oklahoma Press, is important, because it comes at a time when we once again are doubting ourselves and the state of Oklahoma.

The authors seem to say we're "OK" as a people in our attitudes about wrongdoing, but we still must gain control of our state government. To me, this means we, as a people, must develop a system in which public officials no longer can bend or break our rules simply because others do it.

We have plenty of laws, but we can't seem to enforce them. There always seems to be a way out for those who break the rules. In terms of the county commissioner scandal, Holloway and Meyers said much of the corruption is gone, but the counties have become stronger and more able to gain state support for their operations.

"Splintered government makes it difficult for the voters at large to control officers effectively," they said. "Constituents have access to individual commissioners to pester them to patch private roads and to seek favors for all manner of good causes. And in this decentralized system, with access prized above all, commissioners have good reason to respond favorably."

Holloway and Meyers trace the political culture problems of "Oklahoma's Dark Past" all the way back to the Civil War. That war ended the "golden era" of the Five Civilized Tribes of Native Americans and ushered in "troubles, exploitation and a decline for the Indians."

Cattlemen leased land at terms to the disadvantage of the tribes, and "Boomers" led to white settlement. Meanwhile, outlaws sought refuge in the territory. Railroads encouraged white settlement and caused disorder by bringing brawling construction crews, gamblers, thieves, prostitutes and other hoodlums. Under the Dawes Act, Native Americans gave up tribal ownership in return for allotments of land, which led to fraud.

Charles Haskell, who became Oklahoma's first governor in 1907, was accused of misappropriating $6,000 for legal services as treasurer for the 1908 presidential campaign of William Jennings Bryan. He resigned as treasurer but still had strong supporters in the state.

Gov. Jack Walton was impeached and ousted from office in 1923, and Gov. Henry S. Johnston was impeached and removed in 1928. Three Oklahoma Supreme Court justices were implicated in bribery charges during 1965 and removed by convictions or impeachment.

Oklahoma House of Representatives Speaker J.D. McCarty was convicted on income tax evasion charges in 1967. Gov. David Hall left office in 1975 and was soon charged with extortion and bribery. …