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Political Controversy Plagues Oklahoma

February 22, 1994

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Elected officials who complain that the rigors of public service can be a pain should reconsider. They could live in Oklahoma.

Politics is not for the squeamish in this state. Government has been wracked by a torrent of political charges the past two years, leaving the public with the dizzying task of separating the good guys from the bad.

Consider this:

-One elected official suggested another was ″dumber than a sack full of rocks.″

-Fired employees dug through the trash at one state official’s home seeking dirt for investigators.

-The attorney general appointed by the governor then investigated him for two years for possible campaign law violations, leading to a guilty plea.

-A state board member revealed he is an FBI informant in a corruption case, then refused publicly to give his fellow commissioners a clean bill of health.

-Three state officials have been targets of impeachment moves in the past 12 months.

All of this has done little to improve Oklahoma’s public image, damaged in the 1980s by a statewide county commissioner kickback scandal and in the 1970s by the bribery conviction of former Gov. David Hall soon after he left office.

The most celebrated cases involve Gov. David Walters, a Democrat, and state Treasurer Claudette Henry, a Republican.

Walters pleaded guilty Oct. 21 to a misdemeanor after three years of state and federal investigations triggered by a fired official’s campaign corruption charges.

Mrs. Henry has been accused by a former top assistant of covering up a securities trading scheme that led to a $6.7 million lawsuit filed by Oklahoma against brokers in California and New York. The FBI is investigating.

Nerves were frayed at the three-member Oklahoma Corporation Commission when Commissioner Bob Anthony revealed he was an FBI undercover agent.

Asked repeatedly if he knew of any improprieties by the two other commissioners, Anthony refused to comment.

Fellow Commissioner J.C. Watts, considered a rising star in GOP politics, groused for months about Anthony’s silence, then secured a letter from federal officials to clear his name.

For Walters, his hopes for re-election this year were dashed by his guilty plea and the loss of his campaign war chest of more than $100,000 as part of a settlement that included the dropping of eight felony charges. The surviving count alleged he encouraged a contributor to his 1990 campaign to give more than the law allowed.

Walters, 42, has survived a bid to launch an impeachment inquiry against him in the state House. Many think he can make a comeback in the future.

″Someone suggested that the only way you can stop him is to drive a stake through his heart, like they do vampires. But I think he’d just get up and run off. He’s tough,″ said state Auditor Clifton Scott.

State Democratic Chairman Mike Turpen has accused Democratic Attorney General Susan Loving of overkill in investigating the governor’s 1990 campaign case.

Others have praised her for the first serious attempt to prosecute state campaign laws.

Ms. Loving was appointed by Walters after her predecessor resigned to become a law school dean, and she inherited the investigation against him after a federal investigation resulted in no charges.

Two House members filed an impeachment resolution against her, but it died for lack of support.

An impeachment move against Mrs. Henry, the treasurer, remains alive.

Former Assistant State Treasurer Beth Rowton labeled Mrs. Henry ″the queen of corruption and coverup.″

Mrs. Henry’s attorney called Ms. Rowton ″a snivelling coward″ for not showing up to give a deposition and not producing documents reportedly gleaned from the treasurer’s trash. The exact nature of the documents has not been made public.

Scott, the state auditor, has been Mrs. Henry’s main nemesis, accusing her office of repeatedly trying to sidetrack his auditors.

He says he alerted Mrs. Henry to the trading problems and suggested she either had a reason not to heed his advice or was ″dumber than a sack full of rocks.″