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
"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