CAPITOL CORNER

by Gus Blackwell- Okla. State Rep. Dist. 61

To our readers: Rep. Blackwell's column usually runs on page 2. However, with the importance of the subject he writes about this week, I decided the article should be ran on page 1. The senate has set Sept. 27 at 1:30 p.m - for the impeachment trial of Insurance Commissioner Carrol Fisher- Ed.

On Thursday, September 9 at 9 a.m. the House of Representatives met in a special session to consider the impeachment of State Insurance Commissioner Carrol Fisher. By 11 a.m. the House recessed until the call of the chair having approved the committee report brought by the special House committee investigating the matter. We approved five different articles of impeachment against Mr. Fisher. The House also approved a committee of six to prosecute the matter in the full Senate. If the Senate votes by a two-thirds majority of those voting to approve at least one article of impeachment, then the Commissioner will be removed from office.

Many thought that maybe the House acted with undue speed in reaching these conclusions and should have spent more time with questions and debate. What many people may not realize is that the members of the House had received a full report from the committee over a week earlier. We had also received the 35-page summary of the formal proceedings by the investigative committee. This committee had met 19 times and heard testimony or received documents from over 50 entities related to the various charges.

The members of the House had ample time to consider the data and ask any questions before the proceedings. Section 1 of Article VII of the Oklahoma Constitution enumerates the grounds under which certain public officials may be impeached and provides in pertinent part as follows:

“The Governor and other elective state officers, … shall be liable and subject to impeachment for willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, habitual drunkenness, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude committed while in office…”

Personally, I was struck by the repeated use of the office for personal gain and the abuse of power related to his duties. Specifically, the Gene Phillips Group of Texas had been denied the ability to do business in Oklahoma. Both before Carroll Fisher's election and after the staff of the Oklahoma Insurance Department recommended that the Form A (application to do business in Oklahoma) be denied. Mr. Fisher told the Chief Examiner that the Form A application would be approved regardless. When told that the independent hearing examiner would likely not approve the application, Carroll Fisher removed the independent hearing examiner and acted as the hearing examiner and subsequently approve the application. Mr. Fisher never sat as the hearing examiner on any application filed by anyone other than the Gene Phillips Group.

This is the business that subsequently donated about $35,000 worth of art and business furniture to Mr. Fisher. There is a continuing pattern of abuse of office in connection with soliciting money from entities that he regulated for a charity he established. The evidence was clear and convincing for impeachment. Because of the preponderance of the evidence and in light of the fact that Mr. Fisher had refused to give any evidence to the contrary, I voted for both the adoption of the report and for all 5 articles of impeachment. It was the only right course of action to restore public confidence and integrity to the office of State Insurance Commissioner.

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