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(In the coming weeks, Okie Funk, along with Blue Oklahoma, will set the record straight when it comes to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe. This blog will be publishing an open-ended series titled “The Case Against Jim Inhofe.” The series will comment on Inhofe’s political and business escapades, from his earlier lies about when he graduated from college to the insurance company he ran into insolvency to his dirty campaign tactics. It will focus as well on Inhofe’s atrocious record on economic, health, energy, environmental, military and government spending issues. It will show how Inhofe has consistently hurt the state’s image.)
“I am a businessman. And as a businessman I can tell you that I would not do business with Jim Inhofe because as his past behavior shows, you can’t trust him”-U.S. Senate candidate Tony Caldwell (“Opponent Criticizes Inhofe Financial Deals-Congressman Rebuts Caldwell,” The Daily Oklahoman, August 19, 1994)
“When political sleaze starts bubbling up, you’ll almost always find Jim Inhofe nearby. So it is no surprise that Inhofe was a key player in the scandal that dethroned Richard Roberts at Oral Roberts University.”-John M. Wylie, editor of the Oologah Lake Leader, “Political Scene,” November 29, 2007
Political and media pundits often focus on the issue of personal “character” when it comes to candidates running for office, so why has 73-year-old U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe been given a free pass during his political career?
It is well documented that through the years, the Republican Inhofe ran a insurance company into receivership, was caught in lies about when he graduated from college, engaged in slimy campaign tactics, made a bigoted speech on the Senate floor and been mentioned as a possible witness in the ongoing legal mess at Oral Roberts University.
For the most part, Inhofe has avoided careful scrutiny because the biased, rightwing Oklahoma corporate media has supported him at the expense of basic rationality and the state’s interest. Certainly, the media here has sporadically covered Inhofe’s business failure and his lies about his college degree, but it has often avoided the basic, overall character issue. The bottom line is that both the corporate media here and Inhofe are complicit in corrupting a political system that desperately needs change.
Inhofe has been a part of the Oklahoma political scene since the 1960s. He has served as a state representative, state senator, Tulsa mayor, U.S. House Representative and U.S. Senator. He has run for governor and lost. He is currently running for reelection against state Sen. Andrew Rice.
Along the way, Inhofe has been involved in a number of controversies. Some of these controversies have a direct bearing on how we should define his character. Here is a partial list:
Inhofe was operating the Quaker Life Insurance Company when it was placed into receivership in 1986. Inhofe was running for Congress at the time. The Oklahoma Insurance Commission had to take control of the business. A spokesperson for Inhofe in 1986 blamed the economy in exaggerated hyperbole for the company’s insolvency, saying, “Oklahoma is undergoing a depression right now . . . ” (Griff Palmer, “Candidate Reorganizes Business,” The Daily Oklahoman, August 7, 1986.) Later, Inhofe was sued by his brother, Perry, in what appeared to be a major family business dispute involving loans. Inhofe then sued his brother. There were also allegations that Quaker Life Insurance violated the law. At one point, the company’s stockholders sued Inhofe for mismanagement, though all the legal issues were eventually “resolved” in Inhofe’s favor, according to then editorial writer Patrick McGuigan writing for The Daily Oklahoman in 1994. But, remember, McGuigan was once known as one of the most conservative editorial writers in the country.
Inhofe’s business troubles were a real mess. But what is important to note is the receivership issue, which showed Inhofe’s flawed business acumen and his suspect judgment. Essentially, Inhofe operated a company that went into insolvency, much like he has allowed the federal government to accrue a massive deficit during President’s George Bush’s reign. This is a form of receivership, too, because taxpayers (rather than stockholders) have to foot the bill.
Tony Caldwell, a Republican who ran against Inhofe in his first U.S. Senate race in 1994 put it this way: “Certainly no banker with any judgment would lend him [Inhofe] money. I don’t know anyone who would buy a used car from him. . . . ”
So when did Jim Inhofe graduate from the University of Tulsa? According to John Greiner, writing in The Daily Oklahoman in 1994, “For 35 years, in political biographies, engagement announcements and alumni directories, Inhofe said he graduated from the University of Tulsa in 1959 with a degree in economics” (“Degree Disparity Surprises Inhofe,” The Daily Oklahoman, September 17, 1994). But later it was discovered he did not graduate from the university until 1973 when he served as a state senator. Why did Inhofe lie about his degree date on these documents? Was he embarrassed that he hadn’t graduated earlier as a more traditional student?
Inhofe is known as one of Oklahoma’s most negative campaigners. In 1994, for example, as he ran for U.S. Senate, a pro-Inhofe heckler wearing a Pinocchio nose appeared at a debate. The heckler was “a paid political thug,” according to Inhofe’s opponent, Dave McCurdy. Later the heckler was discovered to be Rob Anders, a paid Inhofe campaign worker (Chris Casteel, “McCurdy Camp Not Laughing at Paid Inhofe Heckler,” The Daily Oklahoman, October 28, 1994). During the campaign, Inhofe ran ads depicting McCurdy growing a Pinocchio nose. This is the typical political style that has defined Inhofe and much of the GOP in the last two decades.
On June 6, 2006, standing on the Senate floor before a large photograph of his family, Inhofe said, “I’m really proud to say that in the recorded history of our family, we’ve never had a divorce or any kind of homosexual relationship.”
Inhofe, of course, can oppose basic rights for gay people all he wants as part of GOP demonization politics, but this particular comment is truly bigoted, hateful and inane. It is the word “proud” that sticks out there. Why would anyone be “proud” about their family members’ sexual orientations? What type of person would make the effort to investigate the sexual preferences of their family? Is it a form of twisted narcissism, which can be part of a character or personality disorder, to stand in front of a family photograph on the Senate floor and brag about the family members’ sexuality? Inhofe’s remarks were widely distributed just because of their basic nastiness and creepiness. The state’s image suffered yet again.
Inhofe was recently listed as a possible witness in a lawsuit against Oral Roberts University brought by a professor who claimed he was forced to use his students to help get Randi Miller elected as Tulsa mayor. (You can read about the issue here.) Newspaper reports show that Inhofe urged Miller to run for mayor and had a relationship with ORU staff. One emerging issue is whether ORU violated its nonprofit status by forcing students to work on a specific politica
l campaign. Did Inhofe know?
Richard Roberts, former ORU president, recently resigned after coming under fire for his lavish lifestyle and management of the university.
One Oklahoma editor, John M. Wylie of the Oologah Lake Leader, summed up Inhofe’s ORU connection this way, “When political sleaze starts bubbling up, you’ll almost always find Jim Inhofe nearby. So it is no surprise that Inhofe was a key player in the scandal that dethroned Richard Roberts at Oral Roberts University.”
This is by no means an exhaustive list of issues related to Inhofe’s character. The fact remains that controversy surrounds Inhofe consistently, whether it is his failed business, his lies about his college degree or his outrageous comments on the Senate floor.