OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Several Democratic House Representatives held a press conference Tuesday morning to address the toxic flaws of State Superintendent Ryan Walters and request an investigation into his actions.
House Democratic Leader Cyndi Munson is requesting Speaker of the House Charles McCall form a special bipartisan committee to investigate whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to exercise its constitutional power to impeach Supt. Walters.
Leader Munson said she delivered a letter to Speaker McCall containing a formal request to establish the committee Tuesday morning.
“The Speaker of the House of Representatives has the authority to create special committees, and these special committees have the authority to inspect and investigate the books, records, papers, documents, data, operation and physical plant of any public agency in the state,” said Leader Munson.
House rules further authorize House committees to subpoena witnesses and compel testimony.
“We have been patient and have cautiously pursued other paths to gather information for transparency and accountability because we respect our democratic process and understand that Mr. Walters is an elected official,” she added.
However, Leader Munson said Supt. Walters’ actions cannot be overlooked any longer.
“Due to his consistent pattern of inflammatory language aimed at our public education and teachers, outright lies and targeted attacks on local control, along with the continued criminal investigations into the potential financial mismanagement of the State Department of Education funds, and continued refusal to cooperate in good faith with lawmakers, House Democrats believe we have reached the point to use our authority,” explained Leader Munson.
Special committees have been created before. Former Rep. Dan Kirby, R-Tulsa, and Rep. William Fourkiller, D-Stilwell, were investigated by a bipartisan committee in 2017 for allegations of sexual harassment.
The State Department of Health was also investigated by a House bipartisan committee in 2017 for the mismanagement of funds.
The Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department is still being actively investigated as well. That special committee was established in 2022.
In the request to Speaker McCall, Democratic Representatives are asking he appoint special committee members who currently hold seats on the House Education Committee and the House Education Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee.
“We share in the growing frustrations of Oklahomans across our state who want action to address their deep concerns for the future of public education. We also know that we are not the only members in the House of Representatives who feel the real threat to our public schools as demonstrated by statements released late last week by the Speaker and our Tulsa Republican colleagues. Words certainly matter, and they even mean a lot to every Oklahoman. But now it is time for action,” stated Leader Munson.
Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa, echoed Leader Munson’s same concerns, adding she is constantly hearing from constituents who want to see action taken against Supt. Walters.
Rep. Provenzano also mentioned the many bomb threats Union Public Schools in Tulsa has experienced in the last week, including several Tuesday morning. She said those threats are a direct result of Supt. Walters re-posting an altered version of a video to social media.
“Three days ago, a grandma in Tulsa called me to tell me her daughter had pulled her granddaughter out of the school for fear of her safety. She’s not sending her back until the bomb threats let up. Attendance is becoming a struggle at all area schools receiving threats. A teacher from Edison shared with me that she and her fellow teachers were afraid to settle into their classrooms, to hang posters and materials up on the wall for fear that Tulsa Public Schools would not receive accreditation and they would be out of a job because of recent threats made by the Superintendent,” said Rep. Provenzano. “Businesses are questioning whether they want to come and remain in Oklahoma because of the toxic environment that has been created. It’s time we stand up together, regardless of party and take the time to investigate and ask. Did these behaviors suggest incompetence, corruption, lack of moral turpitude, or willful neglect of duty? Sure feels like it.”
Rep. Trish Ranson, D-Stillwater, said she’s concerned Supt. Walters is not functioning within the guidelines of operating without corruption.
“[Supt. Walters] is making the safety of our children a piece in his political game. The safety and well-being of students, teachers and staff should never be a partisan issue,” said Rep. Ranson.
Another factor in Tuesday’s request was the list of competitive grants the State Department of Education has applied for this year.
“It turned out that they weren’t actually competitive grants. At least three of them were special education things that we traditionally get. We still are operating in the unknown and it’s time to get a comprehensive list. We know the list of the ones we should be getting and have gotten in the past,” said Rep. Provenzano.
Leader Munson said whipping votes on whether Supt. Walters should be impeached is not their first goal.
“We do feel it’s reaching that level, and that’s why we’re making this call,” said Leader Munson.
She added Democrats have been speaking with their Republican colleagues about what could potentially happen next.
According to Speaker McCall, he was not looped into the discussion of impeaching Supt. Walters prior to Tuesday’s press conference.
“Impeachment is not something that should be taken lightly, and the call by a group of House Democrats seems to be more of a ready, fire, aim approach,” stated Speaker McCall.
Representative Mark McBride, R-Moore, told KFOR he believes the Democrats’ request is premature.
“I have no problem with the request. But ultimately, it’s up to the Speaker. I would trust his judgment in how to go forward with this. If he asked me to be part of it, I’d be glad to be part of it. He’s done a good job for going on eight years now. I think it’s just all up to the Speaker at this point whether or not to do the request of the Democrats,” said Rep. McBride.
Rep. McBride added he doesn’t see any impeachable offenses for Supt. Walters yet.
“The conversation has changed since last week. It’s a lot more anger or, you know, questions about what’s going on. I’ve had House colleagues reach out to me. I’ve met with a few Senators, and everybody has lots more questions than they did prior to last week,” he added.
Rep. McBride doesn’t view Supt. Walters re-posting an altered video as an impeachable offense.
“I don’t think it would stand up. That’s the problem. You know, if you’re going to impeach somebody, you’re going to say something that would stand up in a court because that’s what it ends up is basically in a court type setting,” he added. “At the end of the day we’re supposed to be teaching, we’re supposed to be educating children in public schools and we’re not doing this crazy rhetoric stuff and making the whole system feel insecure, in my opinion.”
The State Department of Education Director of Communications, Dan Isett told KFOR, “These liberal Democrats will stop at nothing to defend their union bosses and push a radical agenda on our kids. In seeking to remove a popularly elected constitutional officer, they represent a direct threat to our democracy. It’s shameful, and Oklahomans won’t be fooled. Superintendent Walters is fighting to ensure Oklahoma parents have a place at the table and Oklahoma kids have a brighter future.”
If a special bipartisan committee is created and finds substantiating evidence to impeach Supt. Walters, impeachment cannot happen until the next regular session in February 2024.
If impeachment moves beyond conversations, the Senate would hold a political trial and determine if the claims stand.
Senate Democratic Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City
“We support our Democratic colleagues in the State House in their call for the Speaker of the House to convene a special bipartisan committee to investigate the actions of the state superintendent of public instruction amid bomb threats for Tulsa area elementary schools. These threats are a direct result of reckless rhetoric and must be addressed.
As elected leaders, we are obligated to our constituents to hold the government accountable to the people of Oklahoma. The safety of Oklahoma’s students and families depends on changes to the current situation.”