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Capital City: OU undergoing political transition

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Good Monday morning. 

It's been a year of change for the University of Oklahoma and it has had political implications. 

On Friday, Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed Eric Stevenson, 55, of Columbus, Ohio, to serve on the OU Board of Regents. Stitt chose an African American at a time when students have been demanding more diversity in university leadership. 

"I'm really grateful ... for the opportunity to partner with President (James) Gallogly and the other regents to ensure that OU continues to provide great access and affordability for all those students who have great dreams, just like I did," Stevenson said at a news conference at the state Capitol.

OU's first-year president, James Gallogly, is also transforming the campus. For many students, Gallogly’s performance as president is viewed through his response to a January video of a white female student who used a racial slur while in blackface.

Many students believe Gallogly waited too long to address the incident in public and that his initial statement was not forceful enough. You can read a story here that takes a closer look at how students view Gallogly. 

Despite criticism from students, Gallogly may have plenty of fans in the Republican-controlled state Legislature, reports the OU Daily's Kayla Branch

Branch writes: 

Close to the end of (David) Boren’s tenure as OU president, the historically powerful relationship between the university and the state Legislature was faltering. Oklahoma had cut millions in funding from higher education, and Boren’s 2016 penny tax initiative, which had failed and had been heavily criticized, was a breaking point.

Now, in a new era for OU, some current and former legislators believe current OU President James Gallogly’s first legislative session as university president will bring a new lobbying strategy to the Capitol.

Gallogly will promote his goals of fiscal responsibility, doubling research and competitive pay, among others. The hope is this method will resonate with many legislators who have been skeptical of OU’s finances and goals in the past and potentially end with increased funding in the future.

E-BIKE LAWS CONSIDERED ... House Bill 1265, from Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa, would create three classes of e-bikes based on the power generated by a small motor attached to the frame. The motor can be used either while pedaling or on its own to propel the bike, and the proposed law limits assistance above 20 or 28 miles per hour, based on the class. It would also eliminate the requirement for riders to have a driver's license before hitting the trail.

"It brings the statute up to the current manufacturer products that are on the e-bikes," Bush said. 

CORRECTIONAL STAFF PAY ... A recently released legislative performance audit is recommending that lawmakers spend $19.1 million more to increase the salaries of state correctional workers. However, as Janelle Stecklein of CNHI reports,  lawmakers want to spend just a fraction of that on pay. 

A bipartisan measure advancing through the state proposes spending around $7.9 million on “hazardous pay” raises for current correctional officer employees starting July 1. It would not boost the starting salary for anyone going through correctional officer training or new hires.

TRUMP PICKS FORMER STATE LAWMAKER ... President Donald Trump on Friday nominated Timothy J. Downing, a former state legislator and assistant attorney general, to be the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma.

Downing, 39, currently serves as counsel for the Oklahoma Secretary of State.

The U.S. attorney’s office in the Western District, based in Oklahoma City, has been led for about 13 months by acting U.S. Attorney Robert J. Troester. Former U.S. Attorney Mark A. Yancey took another post in the Justice Department in January 2018.

CITY OFFICIALS PLEASED WITH JAIL ... From the Tulsa World: The city of Tulsa opened its own lockup facility March 1, 2018, with the promise to save taxpayers money and get inmates — and police officers — out on the streets quicker.

A year later, that’s exactly what’s happened, city officials said.

Deputy Mayor Amy Brown said Friday that inmates brought into the Tulsa municipal jail are typically seen by a judge in less than 48 hours and that it is taking officers less than 30 minutes to book an inmate into the jail.

Thanks for reading. Got questions, suggestions or complaints? Email me at bfelder@oklahoman.com. 

Ben Felder

Ben Felder is an investigative reporter for The Oklahoman. A native of Kansas City, Ben has lived in Oklahoma City since 2010 and covered politics, education and local government for the Oklahoma Gazette before joining The Oklahoman in 2016.... Read more ›

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