The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

State, national, world

December 7, 2010

Ultra-right-wing Republicans protest own party

BARTLESVILLE — Dozens of ultra-conservative Republicans gathered here Monday night to protest their own party for putting the state’s struggling economy ahead of other social issues, such as abortion, immigration and gun laws.

The protest came amid a closed-door retreat in this northeastern Oklahoma city where House Republicans were setting their agenda for 2011.

Members of the party’s far-right wing, including tea partiers, have taken shots at their incoming leader because he has put the economy at the top of his agenda rather than social issues. Incoming speaker Kris Steele has said the Legislature should concentrate on economic development and plugging holes in the state budget.

For the first time in state history, Republicans in Oklahoma will control the House, Senate and the governor’s mansion after Oklahoma voters in November ushered in huge gains for the GOP, including all eight Democrat-held statewide seats on the ballot.

“We want to send a strong message that we don’t want (the lawmakers) to be puppets on a string,” said Charlie Meadows, with the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee. “The people who put them in office care deeply about these issues.”

Monday night, Meadows, dressed as Santa Claus, and other protesters singled out so-called RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only, blaming them for dividing Oklahoma’s Republican party. They waved American flags and signs that said, “Hello!?, Did You Learn Nothing On Nov. 2?” and “Listen To Us.”

“I’m scared to death,” said Tulsa resident Lowell Brown. “I see a liberal agenda that’s taking over my freedom and my life and it’s just terrible.”

Broken Arrow resident Don Wyatt wore camouflage and proudly announced, “I’m a RINO hunter tonight.”

“After the election we didn’t go back to sleep,” Wyatt said. “We will continue to be vigilant.”

Tulsa resident Carol Helm called on lawmakers to address immigration reform, and said economic development can’t happen in Oklahoma unless the jobs go to legal workers.

Steele, a minister from Shawnee, defended his conservative credentials Monday night, saying that he has a “100 percent pro-life voting record” and pledged to set an agenda that balances social and economic interests.

“We have a lot of people excited and anxious about getting started,” Steele said. “And everybody has ideas that they think are important to the state.”

Outside the Bartlesville Community Center, where the caucus was going on, Cleveland, Okla. resident David McLain held a sign that read “Saving Human Life is Not Frivolous.”

“Our message is simple. We care about three things in Oklahoma: life, liberty and prosperity,” he said

Steele has said House Republicans are still united — but cracks are obvious among the 70-member-strong Republican majority as they hammer out their agenda for the legislative session that begins in February


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