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Sears dodges tough questions from "some blog site"

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Earl Sears gets dunked.
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COMMENTARY

OKLAHOMA CITY – For the past three days Red Dirt Report has attempted talk to Rep. Earl Sears,
R-Bartlesville, about the allegations that he is involved in a potential conflict
of interest situation because his daughter is a Higher Ed lobbyist and he is
the House Appropriations and Budget chairman.

While Sears is ignoring our phone and e-mail requests, he is
granting interviews to both the Tulsa
World
and the Bartlesville
Examiner-Enterprise
, his hometown paper.

Yet, we do a story on him - found here - and suddenly we're small potatoes. All we did was follow up on a radio interview Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, conducted last weekend on the Scott Mitchell Show. Seems as though House leadership tried to keep Terrill quiet following his public reprimand. Terrill has had a lot to say since then - including stuff about Earl Sears.

And when we got a hold of Liz Searock, Sears’s legislative
assistant, she said her boss had already talked to the Tulsa World and that was good enough. When we asked her why he will
not talk to the reporter who broke this story, she said, sneeringly, “He isn’t
going to talk to some blog site.”

And when we asked if he wanted to defend himself in light of
the appearance of a conflict of interest due to his daughter’s lobbying work at
the Capitol, Searock quickly defended her boss saying there was no conflict of
interest.

That may be. But Earl Sears doesn’t want to even address the
topic in a substantive way with anyone but those in the acceptable, “old” media.
He’s a powerful man who heads a powerful committee which deals with nearly $1
billion a year in appropriations, which goes to Higher Ed – the same outfit
where his daughter is employed. There’s nothing to see here, Mr. Blogger.

So, there you have it. The arrogance and dismissive nature
of a man who is afraid to talk to reporters who happen to have websites that
are “online only.” Sure, we’re new and maybe legislators are simply used to a
sleep-eyed Capitol Press Corps that typically does not dig all that deep or
doesn’t want to ask the questions that make politicians “squeamish,” to quote Rep.
Randy Terrill – the man who brought this issue to our attention last weekend.

Sources tell us that with all the legal issues facing Rep.
Terrill that these allegations are merely him lashing out at legislators he
does not get along with. However, Terrill says that is simply not the case.

"This implicates issues bigger than Earl Sears," Terrill told Red Dirt Report on Wednesday. "This issue has do with having confidence in the budget process. That's the only interest I have. A budget process that is open and transparent and one that has some intergrity to it."

And with Sears having a "blood relative" whose key responsibility is to "vie for generous appropriations for" Higher Ed, Terrill said, "there is an inherent conflict."

As we have seen this week, the fact that the media even
dared to point out this possible conflict of interest has ruffled Sears’
feathers to the point that he told World
reporter Wayne Greene that “(n)ot only is it ludicrous, but it’s insulting.”

It would seem that asking “insulting” questions is beyond
the pale for some legislators. As we know, Earl Sears is a longtime educator
and a former principal. Perhaps he got used to being in charge of people who
were younger than him, young people who were probably “afraid” of the principal
or teacher. You don’t cross or backtalk the principal, at least not in his day.

But times have changed. Political blogs and news sites –
like Red Dirt Report – are up and
operating  - and flourishing, truth be
told. The number of hits we receive are rising by the month and some people in
power simply can’t accept the new media muscle, folks like Earl Sears.

According to the website for the Oklahoma State Regents for
Higher Educatio
n, Sears’ daughter Hollye Hunt is involved in “governmental
relations” for that state system, specifically working as the associate vice
chancellor.

In that aforementioned World
article, Hunt – considered by fellow legislators to be a Regents top lobbyist -
told the reporter that she think of herself as more of a “quasi” lobbyist who
coordinates the work of others.

But what of the issue at hand. Is there really a problem
here? Well, we know Earl and his girl are “proud” of each other. That’s swell.
That still doesn’t explain how there can’t possibly be a conflict of interest,
with her lobbying at the Capitol for Higher Ed and for Sears to be in charge of
those very appropriations.

They also share a home in Cleveland County while he is in
session. Is she paying the rent? Is he reimbursing her? She got a nice raise
- to approximately $120,000 a year - after Speaker Kris Steele, R-Shawnee, had picked Sears to be the A&B chair, according to trusted sources. So what says University of Oklahoma President David Boren? We're not sure, although we can guess he is pleased with Ms. Hunt's work. And what of State Regents
Chancellor Glen Johnson? He isn’t talking to us but he told the World that “(h)er credentials were excellent" and the raise was warranted.

O.K., so Earl Sears isn’t talking to us. Neither is Speaker
Steele. Neither is Glen Johnson or Earl’s daughter Hollye Hunt or the Regents’
media guy Ben Hardcastle. We’re still waiting to hear back from Gov. Fallin’s
office on the topic and OU’s guy said he is going to look into it. However, late Wednesday afternoon we only hear crickets chirping.

And what of Gov. Fallin? You may remember that her daughter,
Christina Fallin, would no longer be a lobbyist at the Capitol. This was around
the time Fallin was inaugurated. Fallin told the media – noted here at the McCarville
Report Online
– that “We felt that was not in the best interest of her or the
best interest of the governor’s office.” Gov. Fallin said it was her “decision”
that Christina discontinue lobbying and that Christina “understand that’s
something she needs to do.”

So, Gov. Fallin clearly saw a potential conflict of interest
issue arising with her being the governor and her daughter being a lobbyist.
Yet, Earl Sears – and the House leadership – fails to see how a similar situation
could be a problem. Maybe Christina Fallin deserves her old job back?

So, where does that lead us? At this point it’s wait and
see. Perhaps the Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, has an opinion. We are going
to pursue that route next.

Copyright 2011 West Marie Media

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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