What was not done during Gov. Brad Henry's first year in office
may be as noteworthy as what he did. It would be incorrect to say
his first year was uneventful, even if it lacked the spark of
There were some controversial issues but his first legislative
session went reasonably smooth, and the governor was able to
accomplish some of the goals he outlined in his gubernatorial
Most notable of these was getting the Legislature to submit to a
vote of the people a statewide lottery with the proceeds dedicated
to education. This was an early fight that was not easily won.
While few legislators objected to lottery revenues going to
education, there was serious opposition from those morally opposed
to gambling or perceiving their constituents to be. It also came
from other gambling interests in the state.
The toughest fight came in the House, where the bill failed
initially but finally passed by a narrow three-vote margin. There
was less opposition in the Senate.
Basically, the governor countered the moral question by
presenting the issue as giving the people an opportunity to vote on
it. That swayed enough votes to get it passed.
Initially the plan was to put the question on the ballot last
summer at a special election. That idea was dropped when it seemed
Henry could not secure the necessary two-thirds majority vote to do
it. It will be voted on next November.
Some wondered if this was only a change in strategy on the
governor's part. A few Republicans suggested he actually could have
gotten the two-thirds vote if he had tried.
It was a major victory for the governor. He had set this issue as
his paramount goal, but there are those who believe his win was more
the work of the Democrat leaders in the House and Senate than
through his direct efforts.
Regardless it came early enough in the session to boost his
stature with the Legislature. That was important coming in his first
year, after winning the gubernatorial election by only 6,000 votes
over Republican Steven Largent. He only received a 43 percent
plurality, which scarcely could be considered a mandate from the
To try to run this measure first might seem like a bold move, but
in reality, independent candidate Gary Richardson got 14 percent of
the vote and he too proposed a lottery. It seemed clear at the time
a majority of voters supported it.
Henry is not the only recent governor to be elected with less
than a majority of the votes cast. In his first election, former
Gov. Frank Keating got 46 percent of the vote, but took a much more
aggressive approach in his first year. In each case independent
candidates kept them from getting a majority.
Out of sight, out of mind
Henry's most notable achievement came in writing the state
budget. By presenting it with bipartisan support the governor was
able to achieve many of its features. At the end much of it as
written contained several aspects of one submitted by Senate
Unfortunately the final product relied heavily on temporary or
one-time money transfers and borrowing to make it balance. It
succeeded in leaving education with a slight increase and health
care funded without a further cut. It did not, however, satisfy
common school education supporters, not that much ever does. …