Oklahoma State Government
THE OKLAHOMA STATE CONSTITUTION
Oklahoma, the 46th state of the Union, has had only one constitution in its history. The document was adopted on November 17, 1907. Modeled after the federal constitution, it underscores the division of power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, which is shared through a system of "checks and balances."
Initiatives and referendums have had a strong footing in the constitutional process in Oklahoma since the beginning of its statehood. Residents began their efforts to include the process of initiative and referendum in the constitution more than five years before Oklahoma achieved statehood. It has allowed for more than 300 voter initiatives, although less than a third have actually made it onto the ballot and of those, not quite half have passed.
Interestingly, the constitution paves the way for Oklahoma’s own interpretation of anti-trust matters. It empowers the legislature to "define what is an unlawful combination, monopoly, trust, act, or agreement, in restraint of trade, and enact laws to punish persons" involved in such actions.
Oklahoma’s executive branch comprises more than 300 state agencies, commissions and boards. While the governor holds unique executive powers and serves as the state’s "chief magistrate," Oklahoma’s constitution specifically recognizes that authority in the executive branch is distributed widely among at least 10 different officers of the state.
The other officers of the executive branch that play a pivotal part in its duties are the secretary of state (who records the signing of bills, executive orders, and proclamations by the governor among other duties); state auditor and inspector (audits and can investigate the state’s financial records); attorney general (the state’s chief legal advisor); state treasurer (oversees the state’s monies); superintendent of public instruction (oversees the public education system); commissioner of labor (oversees laws on labor and workplace safety); and the commissioner of insurance (oversees insurance companies in the state). The Corporation Commission comprises three commissioners who oversee the utility and other companies in the state.
The term of office for all of these officers, including the governor, is four years. The secretary of state is appointed by the governor and must be approved by the Senate. Most other officers are elected. The governor can only serve two consecutive terms, but there are no term limits for the other executive positions.
The responsibilities of the governor include serving as commander-in-chief of the state’s militia, executing the laws, protecting the public health, suppressing insurrection, and repelling invasion. The governor also has the power to call special sessions of the state legislature and serves as chief representative of the state before other states or entities. The governor reports to the joint legislature on the condition of the state and can make recommendations. He or she can grant commutations, pardons, or paroles for certain offences but must report all such decisions to the legislature.
The governor can veto bills presented by the legislature, but a vote of two-thirds of each house can override the veto. The governor also must return the legislation signed or vetoed within five days or the bill becomes law (unless the legislature blocks the law at the last minute).
The lieutenant governor’s prime responsibility is to serve as a replacement for the governor should he or she not be able to serve. The governor and lieutenant governor run on separate tickets, and it is possible in Oklahoma for voters to select the two from two different parties.
In Oklahoma’s bicameral legislature, the Senate and the House of Representatives are considered co-equal members. The legislature holds a fair amount of power in the government, although the constitution assigns the last say to the people of Oklahoma, who have the power of initiative and referendum.
The Senate comprises 48 members who are elected to four-year terms, with half of the representatives elected each general election. Senators are limited to 12 years of service in the legislature in total. Candidates for the Senate must be at least 25 years of age, must be residents of their respective districts or counties, and must not hold any other office at the time of service.
The lieutenant governor serves as the president of the Senate, although it is the president pro tempore who oversees the Senate’s daily workings. The president pro tempore's vote can be used to break a tie. He or she is in charge of overseeing that procedures are adhered to in the Senate, as well as fulfilling this office’s primary responsibility: serving as a backup to the governor’s fulfillment of office.
The House of Representatives comprises 101 members who are elected for 2-year terms. They are limited to 12 years of service in the legislature, and the years need not be concurrent. Candidates for the House of Representatives must be at least 21 years of age, residents of their respective voting districts or counties, and cannot serve in any other office at the time of service. The House of Representatives is presided over by the speaker, who is elected by peers in that house. Members of both the Senate and House of Representatives are prohibited from taking office if they have been convicted of a felony and can be barred from the legislature if found to be guilty of corruption.
Court of Civil Appeals
Some cases eligible to be heard by the Supreme Court may be redirected to this court. The three judges on each of the four Courts of Civil Appeals are appointed for life, but must be reelected by the voters every six years.
Oklahoma’s 77 district courts hear criminal and civil cases throughout the state. The district court may have only one judge, or it may have several. Judges are elected in nonpartisan elections and serve four-year terms. Candidates must be practicing lawyers or judges for at least four years preceding election and must reside in the district.
Workers' Compensation Court
This court is served by 10 judges, whose sole responsibility is to hear worker’s compensation hearings. They serve six-year terms and are appointed by the governor. Appeals to this court are heard by a special court called the Court en Blanc. Appeals to the Court en Blanc are heard by the supreme court.
Court on Tax Review
Hearings by the Court on Tax Review are limited to cases involving allegations of illegal taxes by counties or cities. Three judges are appointed to this post by the presiding judge of their district. Appeals are heard by the Supreme Court.
Municipal courts are appointed by the mayors of municipalities but are also administered by the Supreme Court. Their jurisdiction is limited to infractions of local ordinances. Appeals are heard in district courts.
In addition to the above seven courts, there are two courts that exist outside of the administration of the supreme court. There are no appeals to these courts.
Court on the Judiciary
The Court on the Judiciary has the power to remove or forcibly retire a judge who is found guilty of specific wrongdoings. The court comprises a trial division and an appellate division. The secretary of state selects the names for the Court on the Judiciary, and members serve two years.
Court on Impeachment
The Court on Impeachment is served by the Oklahoma Senate and reviews calls for impeachment. The House of Representatives presents the charges, and the chief justice of the supreme court presides unless the hearing is against a member of the supreme court, in which case the Senate selects one of its own members.
Oklahoma has 77 counties and 589 municipalities. Municipal corporations are either cities, with populations of 1,000 or greater, or towns, with fewer than 1,000. In Oklahoma, city incorporation is not determined by the size of the municipality.
Home rule is a contentious issue in Oklahoma. Home rule by municipalities is written into the constitution. Recent efforts by counties to obtain home rule, however, have met with protests by municipalities. Efforts are underway to secure a vote in the legislature.
Oklahoma State Flag
Oklahoma State Seal
|Author: World Trade Press|