A large group of politically savvy state employees gathered together Saturday morning to make history, as OPEA and the OPEAPAC sponsored its first ever government relations school.
Living up to the school’s tagline “Speak with Spark” was an exciting, opening session entitled “Lobbying in a New World – How to Think Non Partisan” with former OPEA executive director Pat Hall and former Senator Jim Dunlap, who partner together to form a lobbying association called “Majority Plus.”
Both Hall and Dunlap opened by remarking that Oklahoma’s legislature is a radical departure from the time when the men were both ground soldiers, Hall for OPEA and Dunlap as a 100% voting senator for OPEA issues.
“With term limits and party shifts there is a whole new power structure from even just a few years ago,” Hall said. “While state employees have traditionally been affiliated with the Democratic Party, they need to start seeking out Republicans who can be coerced into championing state employee needs.”
“However, “Hall said, “under Democratic leadership in the 80s, state employees took several hits, including the closing of the Hissom Center.”
Hall addressed the group from an OPEA historical perspective.
“This session is all about ‘Where were you in ’92?’ ‘Where are you today?’ and ‘What is in your future?’
Both men gave an assessment of the current legislature and its makeup, with Dunlap mentioning the Republican hold on the current legislature is here to stay for the near future.
“There were many who thought that ’06 was the perfect year for the Democrats to come back into power and it didn’t happen,” he said. “This next election cycle could bring record gains for the Republicans.”
Dunlap also mentioned that there are seven House Democrats and one Republican term limited out in the next election.
“One of the main reasons that Republicans are in power is that they were able to recruit quality candidates for office,” he said.
Dunlap told the crowd that, as state employees, they would identify two different kinds of lawmakers.
“You’re going to find that half of your legislators want more government revenue while the other half is staunchly against government growth,” he said. “The successful association will be the one that can work with both groups successfully.”
Hall said that term limits have dramatically shaken up the complexion of the legislature.
“There used to be a great mentoring process in the legislature,” Hall said. “Now, with term limits, a person learns how to become a good legislator just in time to have to go.”
Hall, the former chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, concedes that the party lines are blurring and that state employees need to vote not along straight party but for those who will make a commitment to help them.
“Governors don’t get pay raises, legislators do,” he said. “While Frank Keating was not the best friend of state employees, he gave them three pay raises during his eight years in office – and that’s because it was mandated by the legislature.”
Hall then challenged OPEA members to become creative when interacting with their legislators and when choosing who to endorse.
“For instance, when I was director we forced former DHS head Lloyd Rader into becoming a member,” he said. “From there we very quickly gained almost 2,500 new members.”
A recent issue was addressed from Senator Dunlap.
“OPEA members should get Department of Corrections Director Justin Jones and hail him as a hero,” he said, referencing results from the recent DOC audit. “The results showed what OPEA and Director Jones have known for many years – that DOC has been an excellent steward of the taxpayer funds while consistently being underfunded by the legislature.”
Coming to agreement that a) OPEA needs to identity friendly legislators and b) utilize all the association and member resources to see that they are elected.
“Once you have your legislator’s attention, you need to say ‘I make half the money you do, and I only work six months,’” he said.