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Former lawmaker urges civility, respect among voters, political parties

Tim Farley / Red Dirt Report
Former state lawmaker Joe Dorman speaks to the Canadian County Democrats during a meeting Monday at the Yukon Police Department.
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Defensive, hostile behavior won't win friends, influence people, Dorman says

YUKON, Okla. – A retired Oklahoma lawmaker believes voters, politicians and political parties must learn to respect each other for meaningful change to occur.

Former state Rep. Joe Dorman (D-Rush Springs), who lost to Gov. Mary Fallin in the 2014 gubernatorial race, warned Canadian County Democrats about their conduct and attitudes toward the majority party. Currently, Republicans control the state House, Senate and the governor’s office. The same scenario will be true when President-elect Donald Trump takes office later this month.

“You have to be respectful,” he said during a county Democrat meeting Monday night at the Yukon Police Department. “We should treat legislators how we would want to be treated, not like they should be treated.”

Putting his political partisanship aside, Dorman said constituents who display “an attitude” when first meeting with a lawmaker will likely lose the politician’s attention.

“If you do that, they will probably vote against you just to be spiteful,” he said. “You have to remember you are walking into their place of business. It’s your Capitol, but it’s still their office.”

Partisanship has been the norm at the state Capitol for several years, and the presidential campaign and election magnified the issue with Trump sending out unusual tweets on topics unrelated to running the government. In some instances, the president-elect was derogatory toward groups of people and individuals, including some Hollywood stars.

Sticking to state politics, Dorman urged the Canadian County Democrats to avoid confrontations and deal with issues in a straightforward manner minus the emotions.

“Don’t get defensive and combative,” he said. “It’s a quick way for a call or meeting to end. If you feel you haven’t been heard by a lawmaker, write a letter to the editor or go on social media. Remember, you’re dealing with a lot of personalities out there and egos are riding high after they’ve been elected. I was out there 12 years and everyone has bad days.”

Before being elected to the House, Dorman worked as legislative staff member, allowing him the chance to know members of both parties.

“Because of that, when I got elected, I was able to work on both sides of the aisle. That’s what you have to do to get any meaningful change done out there,” he said.

However, it’s not only the minority party that can find itself at odds with the majority. In some cases, lawmakers within the majority party often find themselves battling their colleagues. For example, Doug Cox, a physician, differed with the state GOP over accepting federal money for Medicaid expansion. Cox was in favor of accepting the money, but state officials ultimately turned it down.

Another high-profile example centered on civil asset forfeiture, an issue that garnered the attention of state Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-OKC). Loveless introduced a bill that would reform the civil asset forfeiture process, but that bill was never heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Sen. Anthony Sykes. A watered-down bill authored by state Sen. Tim Holt was later approved by lawmakers and signed by Gov. Mary Fallin. Holt’s bill did not reform the civil asset forfeiture system, but rather allows the recovery of attorney fees by those who have unjustly had their assets seized through the civil asset forfeiture process. The measure took effect November 1, 2016.

“There are cases where you have in-fighting in either party,” Dorman said.

Before ending his remarks, Dorman responded to a question about the 2018 governor’s race.

“I am not running for governor in 2018,” he said, with a smile.

However, Dorman said he has not given any thought to future elections. The former gubernatorial candidate said he wouldn’t be surprised to see former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson enter the race.

“He’s been talking to a lot of people,” Dorman said.

Former state Rep. Kenneth Corn was scheduled to speak Monday night with Dorman, but an emergency meeting of the Anadarko city council was called Monday. Corn works as Anadarko’s city manager. Corn’s name also has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor.

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Tim Farley

Tim Farley is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years of experience, including...

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