If Brent Rinehart survives what could be a brutal primary battle for Oklahoma County commissioner this summer, he should not expect any help from his fellow Republican candidates in the fall.
Rinehart, who currently represents District 2 on the Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners, faces two GOP challengers who badly want him out of office. Both J.D. Johnston and Brian Maughan said they would be in the race regardless of Rinehart's legal problems, which include felony charges of allegedly violating campaign finance laws.
The challengers said they would not support Rinehart if he wins the primary.
"I think he has put the Republican Party in quite a fix here," Johnston said. "If he wins the primary and loses in court "¦ the Democrat automatically wins."
"It is that critical," Maughan said. "I just don't think he is representative of the Republican Party."
Rinehart is facing several felony counts of money laundering, conspiracy and perjury stemming from his 2004 campaign for county commission. The charges, alleging Rinehart received campaign contributions beyond the legal limit from three donors, were filed by the state attorney general's office in April of 2007. Rinehart claims the charges are false and continues to battle them out in court. Hearings are scheduled during the weeks leading up to the primary, with the trial set to start in September.
But the incumbent is steadfast in his confidence of winning the election and prevailing in court. He chastises his opponents for exploiting the legal troubles.
"Based on my door-to-door campaign, I have confidence that many citizens have seen through the tactics of criminalizing an opponent," Rinehart said. "My opponents are the good ol' boys of the courthouse who have a Democrat attorney general willing to do their political dirty work by filing unfounded politically motivated charges against me.
"I am sure that at least one of my political opponents will make the mistake of throwing mud by trying to exploit the fact that I will not get to clear my name until September when I go to trial. Republican voters want an issue-orientated campaign without personal attacks. Ronald Reagan's 11th commandment of 'thou shall not speak ill of a fellow Republican' has served the Republican Party well."
Through an opinion issued by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, Rinehart has been able to stay on the commission. Within days of the charges being filed, fellow commissioners asked the district attorney if they could remove Rinehart. But after researching the question, Prater said because the charges deal with alleged activity before Rinehart was sworn in as a commissioner, the board had no legal ground to remove him.
Both challengers said they have issues with Rinehart aside from the felony charges.
"Mr. Rinehart has conducted himself poorly in my estimation as county commissioner," Maughan said.
Johnston and Maughan are critical of Rinehart's behavior toward his fellow commissioners and county elected officials. Throughout his term on the board, Rinehart has clashed with other officials. Heated words were exchanged between county officials when he and former Commissioner Stan Inman voted to eliminate the county budget board, which is comprised of county elected officials. Rinehart also has had a war of words with Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel over the sheriff's handling of the jail and the budget.
Rinehart defends his actions and words, claiming feathers are ruffled when elected officials come into office and try to make change.
"The bottom line, the voters know that I am a fighter willing to take on the liberal special interests, the good ol' boys and militant homosexuals," Rinehart said. "In other words, I am willing to fight for the values that the majority of Oklahomans hold."
Johnston's main goal as commissioner would be to instill a conservative and business approach to the county's budget, as well as reduce taxes. While supporting the recent bond issue to purchase the defunct General Motors Corp. plant and lease it to Tinker Air Force Base, Johnston said the lease agreement could have been worked out better for the county.
Maughan said at the top of his priority list is working with the Legislature to bring about property tax reform and reducing the county budget.
Rinehart said from the time he first came into office, he has already reduced his budget by nearly 50 percent.
If none of the three candidates earn at least 50 percent of the vote July 29, a runoff will be held Aug. 26. The three Democratic candidates are Bob Boyster, Jim Dickinson and Charles Saunders. "Scott Cooper