Consolidation Bill Still Alive
by Dr. Bob Blackburn, Executive Director, OHS
I am sorry to share bad news, but on February 27 a committee of the Oklahoma House of Representatives advanced House Bill 3028, the bill abolishing the OHS Board of Directors as a governing body, eliminating OHS membership, and making the OHS a division within the Tourism Department.
It was a close vote, 6 in favor and 5 against. As Chairman Jason Murphey responded to questions and debate, he made two points clear. He was carrying the bill "out of respect for the governor, who requested it," and "a vote for passage will advance the bill so it can be considered further."
I do not think the vote reflected House members' opinions about the merits of consolidation. Rather, it was about advancing the governor's agenda and supporting Chairman Murphey, who usually complains about committee substitutes at the last minute, but who did it anyway in this case. We found out about the committee substitute at the last minute after the bill had died for lack of support in Appropriations and Budget committees the previous week. Yes, at the Capitol, the dead can become undead overnight.
So what does this mean?
Passage keeps the issue of consolidation alive, if barely. It will have to be scheduled for a vote on the floor of the full House, which can be done only by Speaker Jeff Hickman and Majority Floor Leader Pam Peterson. If it is not scheduled by March 13, it dies. If it is scheduled and passes the full House, it advances to the Senate, where it starts at the committee level, probably in Appropriations and Budget, where it has already failed to get a hearing.
If it passes that committee, it then has to be scheduled for a vote on the full floor of the Senate, which can be done only by the Pro Tem Brian Bingman and Majority Floor Leader Mike Schulz. If it is scheduled and passes the full Senate, it probably would be referred to a joint conference committee of Appropriations and Budget. If it gets through that committee, it goes back to both the House and Senate for floor votes.
Even if the bill dies somewhere along this circuitous route, consolidation can pop up in an appropriation bill as an amendment. That process will unfold under the watchful eyes of House Appropriations Chairman Scott Martin and Senate Appropriations Chairman Clark Jolley.
So what do we do now?
We have to make a case that an independent Oklahoma Historical Society, with its own governing body, membership, and unified mission is more effective than it would be as a division of an agency that is dedicated to image-making and economic development. I will make that case with individual legislators who ask for my opinion. I will work with House and Senate staff to analyze the fiscal impact of consolidation. In the meantime, supporters can express themselves in the tried and true tradition of communicating with their own elected officials.
For all of us on the staff, we will keep working to collect, preserve, and share Oklahoma history.
Call if you have questions.
Talking Points to Share
Like many of you, we have been bombarded with requests for talking points to summarize House Bill 3028 and its impact on the Oklahoma Historical Society. Obviously, there are some changes that are clearly written in the bill, while others are probabilities based on past experience. We will try to distinguish the differences with the terms "will" and "could."
- eliminate the OHS membership and direct citizen involvement in governance
- reduce the OHS Board of Directors from a governing body with a comprehensive planning process to an advisory panel with no real policy-making authority
- transfer all funds, including a $3.9 million endowment, to the Tourism Department
- transfer title of all collections, library materials, and historical properties acquired over the past 120 years to the Tourism Department
- make the executive and deputy directors of the OHS appointees of the Tourism director
- grant hiring authority over all OHS staff, most of whom are historians or professionals, to the Tourism director
- by virtue of eliminating membership, reduce nonappropriated income by a minimum of $800,000 the first year
- elevate Tourism's mission of image and economic development above OHS's mission of heritage and education
- destroy the identity of the OHS as an independent, nonpolitical organization
- undermine the ability to raise an average of $3 million a year in grants and donated funds
- discourage donors from entrusting their collections with the OHS, which no longer would have the authority to guarantee integrity, contractual obligations, or use
- subject the OHS to the revolving door of Tourism leadership that has changed an average of once every three years as governors come and go
- replace the professional leadership of the OHS with the usual mix of campaign donors, political friends, or celebrities who have traditionally filled the position of Tourism director
- subvert the original intent of financial gifts and endowments that will be transferred to Tourism and lead to litigation
- with no administrative services to consolidate, the elimination of programs or closing of museums and sites would be the only ways to meet goals for cost savings
Open Letter to My Friends
by Denzil D. Garrison, Emeritus OHS Board Member
We are under assault and we must fight back. House Bill 3028, the legislation filed in the dark of night at the last minute, would destroy the Oklahoma Historical Society as we know it.
My entire career has been dedicated to public service. I was a county attorney, state representative, state senator, and legislative director for Governor David Boren. I have served my country in uniform and I have volunteered my time for a long list of good causes. With that said, I am most proud of my service to the Oklahoma Historical Society.
I joined the OHS Board of Directors in 1976 and served two terms as president. I helped write the current OHS Constitution and Bylaws and fought shoulder to shoulder to secure funding for the Oklahoma History Center. I know the mission of the OHS inside and out. I know the staff and the leaders who guide the efforts to collect, preserve, and share history. It is no exaggeration when I say that the Oklahoma Historical Society is one of the top three historical societies in the entire nation, with recognition from both the Smithsonian and the National Archives.
This consolidation bill would abolish OHS membership, reduce the Board to an advisory panel, and transfer all assets and funds to the Tourism Department, which has been under assault for years as a bloated, inefficient political agency with a revolving door in the director's office. In terms of reputation and creative business plans, there is no comparison between OHS and Tourism.
I urge each of you to call your state senator or representative. I know that works. When I was in office, a few phone calls reflected real interest among my constituents. A lot of phone calls meant it was a groundswell. The general numbers to call are: 405-521-2711 for House members and 405-524-0126 for Senate members. Call today and let them know what you think.
It is time to stand up for preserving our heritage.
Former Senator Denzil D. Garrison, Bartlesville