Cultural Reasons Key in Political Corruption

By Jenkins, Ron | THE JOURNAL RECORD, November 2, 1993 | Go to article overview

Cultural Reasons Key in Political Corruption


Jenkins, Ron, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Associated Press

In the minds of political theorists and historians, Oklahomans have a split personality _ a high tolerance for public corruption and a deep distrust for government and politicians in general.

Saying Oklahomans tolerate corrupt politicians may be debatable, given their penchant for impeachments, but the state's history is replete with corruption cases, dating almost from statehood.

In the last four decades, there have been a raft of political scandals that have done little to improve the state's image, officials admit.

In the 1960s, it was the bribery of Supreme Court justices; in the 1970s, a governor was convicted of bribery-extortion soon after leaving office and in the 1980s the county commissioner kickback case was considered one of the most pervasive political scandals in U.S. history.

Corruption with political overtones spilled over to academia in the 1980s, leading to the conviction of college presidents for charges stemming from misuse of funds.

But even for Oklahoma, 1993 has been a very bad year for some top politicians.

The biggest controversy involves Gov. David Walters in a campaign corruption case that led to his guilty plea on Oct. 21 to a misdemeanor count and Republican calls for his impeachment.

The multicounty grand jury that investigated Walters sent his adjutant general to prison on insurance fraud charges and issued 19 indictments tied to Walters' campaign.

Oklahomans also have watched one member of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission level corruption charges against utility company representatives after acting as an FBI informant. One former corporation commissioner was indicted in a bribery case and is awaiting trial.

In academics, presidents of the state's two biggest universities resigned this year.

Oklahoma State University President John Campbell resigned after it was learned money from a discretionary fund was funneled through the Tulsa Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce to the state pro-lottery campaign.

University of Oklahoma President Richard Van Horn left his post a short time later after criticism mounted over his handling of an internal audit. Van Horn said the audit had nothing to do with departure.

And in a developing story, Oklahoma Treasurer Claudette Henry's office is the target of state and federal investigations and lawsuits stemming from an alleged coast-to-coast investment scheme that officials say cost taxpayers $6 million.

Those events, coupled with the state's history, might lead one to ask: "Why in Oklahoma?"

There are cultural reasons for it all, historians say.

It goes something like this: Oklahoma, as a young state, was settled to a large degree by people from the South with "traditional" political values and those from the Midwest with "individualist" values.

Those with southern ancestry tended to expect politicians to line their pockets, and even tolerated it, according to the theory. …

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