The preliminary hearing over the bribery charges against state Rep. Randy Terrill and former state Sen. Debbe Leftwich has all the ingredients of an Okie political spectacle, rife with colorful language, a stealth political campaign, a cautionary drinking tale, an exclusive country club and a nonpartisan hug around the neck.
Terrill, a Moore Republican, pictured right, is accused in a bribery felony count of offering Leftwich, an Oklahoma City Democrat, a job at the medical examiner’s office if she wouldn’t run for re-election. Allegedly, according to prosecutors, Terrill wanted to make it easier for his friend, state Rep. Milk Christian, an Oklahoma City Republican, to run for the senate seat. Leftwich is accused of accepting and/or soliciting a bribe.
As a longtime journalist and writer in the state, I’ve written about a lot of political shenanigans here in Oklahoma, and the charges in this case actually don’t seem unlike what I perceive as just business as usual at the state Capitol and in politics in general. I wouldn’t presume to ascribe guilt, though I do appreciate how the hearing has made the state political process here more transparent. I also appreciate the exquisite Okie flavor.
Here are some of those flavorful highlights:
- Cherokee Ballard, another longtime journalist in the state and an administrative official in the medical examiner’s office, testified that Terrill told her about the $80,000-a-year position he wanted created and mentioned that Leftwich was interested in the job. Ballard said Terrill referred to their conversation as “dead man’s talk.” We must presume, I guess, that “dead man’s talk” means that everyone in the room should keep the conversation quiet, though media reports about this aspect of the case fail to put it in any context. I’m left wondering why Terrill didn’t just say something like “hey, let’s keep this quiet” or “hey, this is just between you and me.” Of course, that wouldn’t hold as much mystery or pizazz. Score one for Terrill here.
- In his testimony, according to media reports, Christian said he was running a “stealth campaign” for Leftwich’s senate seat and wasn’t truthful with her when she asked about it. The language here ups the rhetorical ante for every politician in the state who thinks about running for office but doesn’t really announce it. Think stealth bomber coming in undetected, and then, wham, bam, boom, political victory, all because of the stealth. Nice.
- Christian, according to a media report, testified he had drank a little too much at a party in May, 2010, and was “running my mouth” over rumors related to the whole affair. That’s an old, cautionary tale, true. Shut your piehole when on the sauce.. But there’s more. The party, according to reports, was at the Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club as in Nichols Hills, as in the local hangout of the 1 percent. No VZD’s or Cock O’ The Walk here. It’s only the finest for our dedicated politicians. Pass the Grey Poupon, please.
- And, finally, according to testimony, when Leftwich apparently found out about Christian’s mouth running, she approached him, hugged his neck and told him to be quiet about the alleged job deal. That’s a nonpartisan hug, folks, Democrat on Republican. Is that how things roll at the Capitol? Maybe our political system, in general, needs more drinking and more hugging.
Again, I wouldn’t presume guilt in the case. Leftwich never got a job. Former Gov. Brad Henry vetoed a bill that would have created the position. Politicians, in their essence, make deals and do favors and hang out at country clubs. That’s part of our political system, whether you consider it broken or not. But what’s interesting here is how the hearing has revealed insider details about one state political deal gone awry, and, for that Okie entertainment, we should all be grateful.