There aren’t a lot of elected officials who get me excited, make me proud, or give me a whole lot of hope. Heck, most I’ve looked into or dealt with directly do nothing more than reinforce the belief that the future looks pretty dang dark.
Most have all kinds of motives that really make them unfit for the post; ego, power lust, or personal ambition. Even those who may have started with good intentions end up on a very short leash which one can virtually seeing being yanked, and hard, at certain moments. They have been bought. Beyond that, it’s clear that many are so busy keeping their jobs they’ve forgotten why they wanted them in the first place.
I’ve recently had the privilege and honor of getting to know one of those rare gems in politics – an elected official who has kept his feet on the ground despite long service in public office, maintains a clear vision of what he’s doing and why he’s doing it, understands the legislative process, and somehow manages to work within the system without being corrupted by it. The type of fellow who would do a beautiful job of conveying to campaign contributors the perfect message about what a donation means – support for his principles and goals – but no ownership stake. The ability to affably disagree with others on pointed questions because of a proper balance of self-assurance in his convictions yet absent inflated ego.
Oklahoma State Representative Charles Key is that man. Those who understand the system originally intended by the Founders for this country and how far away the current system has been moved from it, owe Rep. Key a debt of gratitude. His own understanding of the need to restore elements that have been progressively stripped away led to action on his part. That action was at the tip of the spear.
Rep. Key introduced a resolution in 2008 in the Oklahoma State legislature with the intent of centering legislative debate on a Constitutional basis. The resolution was a simple reiteration of principles articulated in the Constitution regarding the role of the federal government in relation to the States. A review of Article 1, Section 8, which enumerates the powers of the federal government.
Some critics, proponents of Constitutional, limited government though they be, have scoffed at Tenth Amendment / Sovereignty Resolutions, noting what is in fact true – these resolutions do not carry the force of law. I’ve realized Rep. Charles Key knew full and well; the environment in our state legislatures is so far off base in the way it does business, its elected officials so ignorant of the Constitution and their duties in relation to it, it was a necessity to begin the process of reorienting legislators. Again, it was a necessity that debate begin to be re-focused and centered around Constitutional principles.
Trail blazers always have the most difficult job. Previously unwalked paths of wilderness always need to have the bramble cleared away so others may have an easier time. It took two legislative sessions for Key to get his resolution passed in Oklahoma. (Additional information the whole movement, including information about OK, here.)
I’ve not had the time to read committee hearing or floor debate transcripts, or to hear the conversations in the halls of the Oklahoma legislature, but I cannot imagine there wasn’t at least one charge that Charles Key introduced his resolution as a “political ploy”.
Any such accusation has been more than answered by follow-up action. It is quite clear – a Sovereignty resolution was only the first step. The OK resolution passed in February 2009. Rep. Key introduced a number of sovereignty related measures at the opening of the 2010 session, including HB 2810, known as “Tenth with Teeth”.
If Oklahoma is to truly exercise its Tenth Amendment sovereignty, it must untether itself from federal funds. Rep. Key’s bill proposed setting aside federal tax dollars and reviewing federal mandates if there was concern by legislators they violate Constitutional sovereignty. The teeth in the bill involved withholding the escrowed federal funds if the OK legislature opted not to enforce or participate in a federal program and the federal government threatened monetary sanctions.
Besides following up with sovereignty legislation, Rep. Key has assisted other states in their efforts. In January of this year, he testified at a Kansas State Legislature committee hearing about their sovereignty resolution and attended a Sovereignty Symposium in Omaha, NE.
He even took time at one of the busiest periods in his schedule to come to Lincoln to testify before a Nebraska Unicameral committee in support of our state’s resolution. There was a pressing important legislative deadline, two speaking engagements scheduled back to back and, it turned out, a persisting upper respiratory infection that would have laid most flat, but didn’t mention except in passing as he cleared his throat on the way to the hearing.
Of course, those of us who worked to put the testimony together in support of Nebraska’s LR 292 knew testimony from Representative Charles Key of Oklahoma would be very helpful in convincing the members of the committee to vote in support, we’ve recognized that his contribution was vital for several reasons. His articulation of the issue was more assertive than that of the resolution’s sponsor in introducing it to the committee and his exchange with the measure’s most vocal opponent, Committee Chair Bill Avery, more than equal to the challenge. (You can read the committee testimony transcript HERE. Rep. Key testified following Senator Tony Fulton’s introduction.)
While Rep. Key could have simply testified and retired to rest in his hotel room, he announced to me upon pick up at the airport (in the middle of the night, no less) that he could sleep when he got home. He wanted to talk to as many people as possible while in Nebraska – to learn as much about the active people here and our legislative process as he could.
Besides giving his testimony, he spent time on the Unicameral floor, did a radio interview with KFAB’s Scott Voorhees, met with various group leaders, mixed and mingled with Nebraskans at a reception, gave a speech at a dinner, and sat for an interview with local access’ Give Me Liberty TV . Given his schedule, he had little time to prepare, yet with each interaction, interview, and speech, delivered his intended message articulately, thought on his feet wonderfully, and clearly listened and learned. He was not only working to convey particular messages, he was observing, and looking to help me and others in the state. In between each activity, he gave me his assessments and summarized what he had learned. He conveyed information he believed helpful in reaching my goals and let me know what he would carry back to Oklahoma.
Despite the grueling schedule, the usual attendant nonsense of “herding cats” associated with any effort like the one in which he was involved, inclement weather, arrangements put together with little lead time, little sleep and an illness, at the end of a very long day, Charles Key was upbeat, energized, and optimistic.
And he was quite right to be. Despite a number of additional bumps in the road following the hearing, the Nebraska Sovereignty Resolution passed on April 13, with 39 “yays”, 3 “nays”, and 7 “not voting”.
During one of my conversations with Charles, I asked him why he didn’t run for Congress or Senate. He noted that the timing wasn’t right for family reasons. Maybe in the future. He said this with no gleam of ambition in his eyes. We spoke about the time he was out of the OK legislature and his return including a few details about tactics used by opponents during campaigns. I detected that he was more than happy to serve the people of his legislative district but it was not a job which was vital to his existence. Climbing up the political ladder is not something he thirsts for.
In my mind, this is precisely the sort of fellow who should be drafted for offices even higher than state legislature. Just the sort that should be in higher office. I’m hearing from Oklahoma friends that there are some folks down there who would rather keep their little circles of power just as they are and see the legislature run just as it has been. So they have to figure out ways to attack Charles Key. He’s had some victories, obviously. Apparently, that’s not acceptable.
I don’t find this surprising, it’s really the nature of things. There is something about people who are effective and who have integrity that really gets under the skin of “the establishment”. But if Charles Key persists, he will be just fine….
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”*
Be a fan of Representative Charles Key on Facebook, by clicking HERE.
*This quote is often contributed to Gandhi, but Wikiquotes reports this is in dispute. Either way, it’s a good point.