MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

April 10, 2014

Senate Dem caucus bumps leader-elect

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP)  — The 12-member Democratic caucus in the Oklahoma Senate ousted its previous pick as leader-elect and opted instead for state Sen. Randy Bass of Lawton to lead the group after the 2014 elections, both senators confirmed on Thursday.

Bass and state Sen. John Sparks, D-Norman, both told The Associated Press that Bass would take over as minority leader-elect in the fall, but declined to discuss the matter further. Bass said the caucus would release a statement after the filing period for candidates ends Friday.

Both Bass and Sparks are up for re-election this year and were vying to replace Claremore attorney Sen. Sean Burrage as Senate Democratic leader. Burrage decided not to run for re-election.

Republicans have a 32-16 advantage over Democrats in the Senate.

Sparks was picked in February as the Democrats’ next leader.

Two weeks ago, he wrote a newspaper editorial supporting a generous tax incentive for the oil and gas industry that many Democrats oppose.

 In the editorial in The Journal Record newspaper, Sparks wrote that “it’s bewildering that some of Oklahoma’s most high-profile elected officials are trying to raise taxes on oil and gas under the pretense that the industry needs to pay its fair share.”

Neither Bass nor Sparks would say whether the editorial played a role in the caucus’ shift.

Caucus meetings take place behind closed doors, and legislators typically don’t publicly discuss caucus matters.

The tax incentive involves horizontally drilled oil and gas wells, which qualify for a reduction in the state tax on the production from 7 percent to 1 percent for four years.

Now that horizontal wells have become commonplace, the incentive is costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars in potential revenue.

Negotiations between the governor, legislative leaders and oil and gas industry officials on adjusting the incentive are expected to heat up before it expires in 2015, but many Democrats and Republicans have publicly called for the rate to go up.

Bass, 60, was a longtime professional baseball player. The former Lawton city councilman was elected to the state Senate in 2004.

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