When lieutenant governor travels, taxpayers foot the bill

By Sean Murphy

OKLAHOMA CITY – When Drew Edmondson, Mary Fallin and Randy Brogdon travel to every corner of Oklahoma to solicit votes in their bids to become Oklahoma’s next governor, their campaigns pick up the tab. When Jari Askins comes to call, state taxpayers bear the cost.

By virtue of her position as lieutenant governor, Askins is transported to every parade, festival and fundraiser by the state Department of Public Safety. The governor is afforded the same privilege under state law.

“She’s the lieutenant governor 24/7, and those are the things that are provided for by statute,” department spokesman Capt. Chris West said Thursday. “It doesn’t dictate if they’re on vacation or just running to Shawnee.”

Askins, who is seeking the Democratic Party nomination for governor, said the state security team insists that it drive her to events. She said no campaign material or workers ride in the black, state-leased sport utility vehicle that ferries her to and from events.

“We inquired before we ever filed for office … and the commissioner of public safety said this is what we have to do,” Askins said.

West said his department did not immediately know how much it has spent for Askins’ security detail since she decided to run for governor.

Edmondson, the state attorney general, also is seeking the Democratic nomination. Fallin, a two-term congresswoman, and Brogdon, a state lawmaker from Owasso, are facing two lower-profile candidates in the Republican race. The primary election is July 27.

Under Oklahoma law, the Department of Public Safety must provide transportation, security and communications equipment for the governor and lieutenant governor, even if the office holders are going to strictly personal or political events.

When questions were raised about former Gov. Frank Keating’s use of a state airplane to travel to nearly three dozen political events and fundraisers in the late 1990s, the state Supreme Court ruled that those publicly funded trips did not violate the constitution or state ethics rules.

The Legislature responded by placing tighter restrictions on the use of state airplanes for campaign events – but did not extend the restrictions to state vehicles.

Robert McCampbell, a former U.S. attorney who represented Keating in the Supreme Court case, said it’s important that the state provide security and transportation to both the governor and lieutenant governor.

 “She’s the No. 2 executive in our state, and it’s important for all of us that she’s safe and secure and in a place where she can communicate,” he said of Askins.

Fallin was allowed the same benefit when she was lieutenant governor. Her campaign said Thursday that she sometimes rode in private vehicles to events when she sought re-election in 1998 and 2002, and ran for Congress in 2006.

“As often as possible, we used campaign vehicles to transport the lieutenant governor to exclusively campaign events … fundraisers, campaign rallies, things that were blatantly campaigning,” said Denise Northrup, Fallin’s campaign manager in the three races.

Northrup said Department of Public Safety officials “wanted to transport her in the official state vehicle at all times … but we insisted on using the campaign vehicle because of the appearance.”

Northrup wouldn’t comment on whether Askins accepting rides from the department was appropriate.

“I think we’ll let the voters decide that,” Northrup said. “It’s a difficult balancing act, and we did everything in our best effort to make sure we were above reproach.”

Brogdon and Edmondson declined comment.


Copyright © 2018 Crowe & Dunlevy. All Rights Reserved.