by Rob Morris
Jan 09, 2012
Anger, controversy and division.
Those three words capture much of the mood of the state and the country as we begin another election cycle in 2012. Over the past four years, State Representative Randy Terrill (R-Moore) certainly has to be considered one of Oklahoma’s most polarizing figures, attracting supporters and detractors who are passionate in their love or hate for the man.
Terrill acknowledges that the way he works as a legislator is going to create plenty of enemies as well as friends.
“I am an articulate, unapologetic and unwavering advocate of conservative ideas—and that tends to polarize people,” Terrill said. “Conservatives appreciate that I fight hard for my beliefs, while liberals resent me for that very same reason.”
MMTV’s Political Insider hosts, Pat McFerron (Republican) and Ben Odom (Democrat), both agree that Randy is an effective legislator and that effectiveness attracts differing opinions.
McFerron said, “He’s effective in understanding where you go to get things done and to get things fixed, and I think he’s very bright and I think he can be effective. It all depends on whether you agree with what he’s trying to be effective for or not.”
“He uses a lot of extreme rhetoric when he makes his arguments,” said Odom. “The question I’ve always had for Randy is how much of that is political theater and how much of it is truly a deeply held belief.”
Odom, who calls Terrill “a good guy and a friend,” also points out that there are few legislators who work as hard for their constituents as the Moore representative.
“He’s virtually a full-time legislator. If you contact him with a problem, he follows up on it and he jumps on that stuff like a rat on a Cheeto,” Odom said. “So, if you’re one of his constituents, then he’s a voice for you in state government.”
That’s an assessment Terrill himself agrees with.
“And with all humility,” he said, “I might add that most of the visceral reaction I receive is due largely to my effectiveness at advancing the conservative agenda or killing liberal legislation.”
The one piece of legislation that for many of Terrill’s friends and enemies defines “what they love or hate about him” is House Bill 1804 (HB1804). Terrill authored the bill that has been called the most meaningful reform of illegal immigration in the nation.
The bill focused on determining work eligibility, but also contained provisions designed to ensure taxpayer-supported benefits are made available only to American citizens and legal immigrants. House Bill 1804 passed both chambers of the legislature by overwhelming bipartisan margins.
That bill passed both chambers of the Oklahoma state legislature by wide bipartisan margins and was signed into law by Governor Brad Henry on May 9, 2007. The outcry over the bill was immediate and visceral, mixed with charges of hate and racism.
“In essence, HB 1804 began the real state-level immigration reform movement that has now spread to across the country—most notably to Arizona and Alabama,” Terrill said. “I am very proud to have been the author of HB 1804, but its impact on me personally or professionally was never a consideration.”
“People in Moore, Cleveland County and Oklahoma agree with him on House Bill 1804,” McFerron said. “Randy’s been able to use that to say of those who are opposing him, ‘People are coming after me because I was able to get passed the nation’s number-one law to crack down on illegal immigration.”
Terrill and his supporters argue that his looming trial on federal bribery charges is an example of his opponents “coming after him.” The charges stem from an alleged deal Terrill made with then-Democratic state senator Debbe Leftwich to trade a job with the state medical examiner’s office in exchange for her agreement to not run for another senate term, clearing the way for a Republican to run for her vacated seat.
The case is currently working its way past the preliminary hearing stage through pre-trial maneuvers. Terrill says he doesn’t believe the case will make it to court, but even if it does, he’s sure he’ll be completely vindicated.
In the meantime he still has to campaign for re-election in 2012. While there are those who believe his legal problems make him vulnerable, savvy political observers are saying you can’t count Terrill out.
“If anybody can pull off an election while dealing with this trial, Randy can,” McFerron said. “Unlike someone like Mitt Romney, Randy Terrill really is a self-made man, and that makes a big difference in his willingness to fight. He’s not afraid of failure, but he’s willing to do everything in his power to be successful.”
Odom said, “To use an old Civil War saying that really applies to Randy, ‘He ain’t skeered.’ He’s not afraid to go into the lion’s den. In today’s politics, if anybody can win an election in these circumstances, it’s him. He’s always won his district by landslide margins and he knows his district almost house-to-house. He also echoes the views of his district, so he’s predisposed to surviving this thing.”
Ironically, Terrill says he’s less interested in politics and much more interested in public policy.
“I did not seek public office to be someone, but rather to do something - namely advance a solid conservative policy agenda as part of a new Republican majority in the Oklahoma House of Representatives,” he said.
Terrill is a graduate of UCO and the OU School of Law who spent most of his early years in politics working behind the scenes. Among the jobs he held were a press intern for Governor Henry Bellmon, legislative assistant to House Republican leader Larry Ferguson, director of Legislative Research and Special Projects for Governor Frank Keating and special assistant to Labor commissioner Brenda Reneau.
In 2004 he ran for and won the seat given up by State Representative Carolyn Coleman because of term limits. Terrill says should he win re-election, he’s really not thinking much about a political career beyond 2016.
“Right now, most of my attention is focused on the upcoming legislative session,” Terrill said. “In particular, stopping the liberal agenda of our pro-big government, borrow-and-spend, nanny-state, RINO [Republican in name only] Speaker of the House, Kris Steele.”
Should Terrill win his race this year, Odom and McFerron both believe he is a legislator who knows how to get things done.
McFerron said, “Randy is really good at putting together coalitions as well. He understands that politics makes strange bedfellows and is able to put together disparate groups to pass legislation effectively.”
Odom said, “I think than Randy is someone that—when this is all over—he’s someone that, one way or another, might actually take a moment or two for self-reflection about what this all really means to him.
As for Terrill, he’s focused on the task at hand and is busy preparing for the 2012 legislative session. If the legal issues he’s facing are taking a toll on him, he’s not letting it show.
“I’m just an ordinary guy of faith with a wife who was my high-school sweetheart, two kids who are the best gifts God has ever given me, and the primary caregiver for my elderly mom to whom I owe more than I could ever possibly repay,” Terrill said.
He also wants his supporters and opponents to know that he has no plans to change his way of doing things.
“Even though our political system is broken, there are still certain beliefs, ideas, principles and values that are worth fighting for,” Terrill said. “I fully understand and accept that not everyone will agree with me, but I won't ever change my position as a matter of political expediency or to win a popularity contest.”