The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

State, national, world

November 2, 2013

Okla. lawmakers question conduct after convictions

OKLAHOMA CITY — For the second time in as many years, an Oklahoma jury has convicted a former state lawmaker of a crime arising from his alleged conduct while in office.

Last year, former state Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan was convicted on a federal bribery charge that accused him of taking a $12,000 bribe in exchange for his influence on legislation.

On Tuesday, former state Rep. Randy Terrill was convicted on a state bribery charge that accused him of offering a legislative colleague a state job in exchange for her promise not to seek re-election.

That colleague, former state Sen. Debbe Leftwich, is scheduled to go on trial on a related bribery charge next month. She has pleaded not guilty.

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AMID the scrutiny, members of the state House and Senate are considering whether the way they conduct the people’s business and the multiple prosecutions will chill legislative debate and action.

“I think what it says to anybody is that transparency and playing by the rules is the first order of business,” said Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City. “Everything should be done within the letter of the law.

“There has been lots of discussion that this may or may not have a chilling effect. I don’t think that it will.”

Morrissette’s comments were echoed by other lawmakers who said the criminal cases involving their former colleagues should not affect their public responsibilities.

“I certainly don’t have those concerns,” said Rep. Paul Wesselhoft, R-Moore. “I think that we’re doing our duty in serving our constituents. I have not heard anyone express concern about proposing legislation that might jeopardize them in some legal way.”

Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Dacoma, said the prosecutions are “a message to those who might operate on the margins.”

“We really need to be very serious about the way we conduct business at the Capitol,” Hickman said.

Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, said the allegations of official wrongdoing are also a warning to state lawmakers to do a better job of cleaning up their own houses.

“The allegations that were made should be prosecuted,” Jolley said. “My only regrets would be when a prosecutor finds it and the body does not on its own.”

Evidence of wrongdoing against a lawmaker should be thoroughly investigated to determine if the member should be removed from office and then referred for prosecution, he said.

“I think it’s the responsibility of a body to clean its own house,” Jolley said.

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