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Government of Oklahoma facts for kids

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This article is about the political and administrative structures (executive, legislative and judiciary) of Oklahoma. For information about political groups and tendencies in Oklahoma, see Politics of Oklahoma.

The government of the U.S. State of Oklahoma, established by the Oklahoma Constitution, is a republican democracy modeled after the federal government of the United States. The state government has three branches: the executive, legislative, and judicial. Through a system of separation of powers or "checks and balances," each of these branches has some authority to act on its own, some authority to regulate the other two branches, and has some of its own authority, in turn, regulated by the other branches.

The state government is based in Oklahoma City and the head of the executive branch is the Governor of Oklahoma. The legislative branch is called the Legislature and consists of the Oklahoma Senate and the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals are the state's highest courts.


A popular referendum approved the constitution of the Oklahoma on September 17, 1907, which came into effect upon Oklahoma's ratification of the United States Constitution on November 16, 1907. The ratification of both documents marked Oklahoma as the 46th US State.

The constitution contains a bill of rights in itself, but its preamble mentions the principles the government of Oklahoma is to uphold. The constitution's preamble states that the state government is to:

" and perpetuate the blessing of liberty; to secure just and rightful government; [and] to promote our mutual welfare and happiness..."

Among these foundational principles protected by the Oklahoma bill of rights are: political power derives from the consent of the people; the people have the inherent rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry; the right to peaceful assembly; a ban on the interference with suffrage; the definition of treason; the right to trial by jury; and that marriage in the State of Oklahoma is defined as being between a man and a woman.

Executive branch

The executive branch is the branch of the Oklahoma state government that executes the laws of Oklahoma. The branch, consisting of over 300 state agencies, boards, and commissions, is headed by the Governor of Oklahoma, who is assisted by eleven other statewide officials.

Governor of Oklahoma

The governor is both head of state and head of government for Oklahoma. Under the constitution, the governor is elected to serve a four-year term. Originally, the governor was term limited to only one term in office at a time but this has since been modified to allow up to two consecutive terms. The governor presides over the executive branch, commands the militia of the state, and makes sure that the laws of the state are enforced and that the peace is preserved. The governor is the state's chief representative and spokesperson to the other states within the United States, the United States federal government, and foreign nations. The governor must sign bills passed by the state legislature in order for those bills to become law. Should the governor veto a bill, the state legislature may override his veto with a two-thirds vote.

In certain emergencies the governor may assume special, comprehensive powers. These powers involve greater police power and near absolute control over state, county, and local agencies and resources. During emergencies, the governor is also allowed a limited-form of rule by decree. State, county, and local officers and personnel become subject to the governor during the emergency and must obey his directions. With the exception of the members of the state legislature, any official who fails to obey any of his orders may be removed from office by the governor.

However, in normal times, the governor may not enact legislation or directly control the county and local agencies. The governor may issue executive orders (when empowered to do so by a specific provision of the Oklahoma Constitution or an act of the legislature) which are binding throughout the state. Such executive orders do not have the force of law and may only be issued when related directly to the governor's duties.

In order to be elected governor, any gubernatorial candidate is required to obtain a statewide plurality of votes cast in their election. Given the dominance of the two-party system in Oklahoma (between the Democrats and the Republicans), the plurality is often a majority as well. However, in case the event that two or more candidates have an equal number of votes, the state legislature, by joint ballot, elects one of those candidates governor.

The constitution names the governor the state's chief magistrate and vested in him the supreme executive power. As a consequence, the governor is the preeminent figure in Oklahoma politics. Though he shares power with many other executive officers, in the event of a vacancy anywhere in the executive branch, he appoints their successor. The governor appoints the heads of state departments and agencies as well as the members of most state commissioners and boards. However, these appointments do require Senate approval. Some serve at his pleasure while others serve fixed terms.

Mary Fallin became governor on January 10, 2011, succeeding Brad Henry.

2010 gubernatorial election, Oklahoma
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Republican Mary Fallin 625,506 60.45
Democratic Jari Askins 409,261 39.55
Turnout 1,034,767
Republican gain from Democratic

Other elected officials

The Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma is the second highest official in the Oklahoma government and the first in line to succeed the governor in the event of a vacancy. Though both the governor and lieutenant governor are elected in the same year, the two are not running mates. In the absence of the governor, the lieutenant governor assumes the powers and duties of office of governor. However, as long as the governor remains in the state and is capable of discharging his or her duties, the lieutenant governor's main role is that of the president of the Oklahoma Senate, a position of limited de jure influence.

The lieutenant governor's de facto power is based primarily upon the individual holding the office. When the governor and lieutenant governor are of the same political party, the governor often uses the lieutenant governor as a chief adviser or appointee. However, when the two are differing political parties, the lieutenant governor's influence is minimal.

Oklahoma also has nine other independent executive offices that do not owe loyalty to the governor as they are elected statewide and exercise authority outside the control of the governor. The general rule is that, while independent of the governor, the other statewide executive officers are at the disposal of the governor as he is the chief executive. This is enforced through statutory restriction on the independent offices authority to act without the governor's approval and the ability of the governor to force the independent offices to act according to his will. The greatest power of the governor over the independent executive offices is the governor's ability to determine each office's annual budget.

These executive officers have some specialized regulatory power, some executive power, and some quasi-judicial power. The governor and state legislature often consult them on matters before enacting new laws.

The independent executive offices are as follows:

  • The Attorney General of Oklahoma serves as the state's chief legal officer and adviser. Either the attorney general himself or one of his officers represents the state in litigation or hearing before boards and commissions. One of the main responsibilities of the attorney general is to issue opinions on laws to state officials. The attorney general can also call multi-county grand juries to investigate crimes that have occurred in more than one county.
  • The Oklahoma State Treasurer is the administrator and manager of the state's depository of state funds collected by Oklahoma's various state agencies. The office's major duty is to select banks and investments in which to place state funds to yield profit for the state at large. The treasurer maintains an accurate account of the money received and distributed by the Oklahoma State Treasury. The Treasurer also delivers state warrants, checks, and bonds to the Oklahoma Office of State Finance.
  • The Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction, often referred to as the Oklahoma State School Superintendent, supervises and manages the public school system of the state and serves as the chair of the Oklahoma State Board of Education. The superintendent publishes school laws, opinions of the laws, and submits annual reports to the governor on the condition of public schools. The superintendent as also an ex officio member of the State Emergency Fund Board and chairman of the State Career Tech Board.
  • The Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner administers state laws dealing with insurance companies operating in Oklahoma. The commissioner audits insurance companies to make certain that they pay claims to their policy holders. Whenever an insurance company faces financial issues, courts usually appoints the commissioner to serve as a trustee.
  • The Oklahoma Corporation Commission consists of three commissioners, each of at least 30 years, serving staggered six-year terms. The three commissioners regulate public utility rates and supervise public utilities doing business within the State. The commission also regulates cotton gin, trucking, and public transportation businesses. The commission enforces oil and gas conservation laws and regulates pipeline companies. The commission is empowered to inspect the books and records of companies operating under their supervision and have extensive power to punish violators of its orders. In order to serve on the commission, a candidate cannot own personal interests within the companies the commission regulates.
  • The Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector prescribes a uniform system of bookkeeping for the county treasurers and the State Treasurer. Twice annually, without notice, the state auditor audits the books and accounts of the state treasurer and the county treasuries. If wrongdoing is suspected in the state, county, or local governments, the state auditor is empowered to investigate, audit the books of the suspect in question, and make recommendations to solve the problem.
  • The Oklahoma Labor Commissioner is responsible for supervising the administration of state laws relating to labor and workplace safety and gathers and publishes information about the workforce of Oklahoma.

State Cabinet

With the exception of the independent constitutional executive offices, the executive branch is organized into agencies that are grouped together under cabinet positions to reduce the number of people who report directly to the governor. For example, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority are organized under the state transportation secretary.

The cabinet officers hold the title of "secretary". Agency heads are called "directors" or "commissioners". A cabinet secretary may serve concurrently as an agency director. The governor appoints, with the approval of the Oklahoma Senate, the cabinet. Each secretary advises the governor on policy changes or problems within the agencies under their supervision, represent the governor in administering their area of supervision, and coordinate information gathering for the governor or state legislature. The secretaries are not authorized to act without authorization by the governor through executive order.

The secretaries together make up the Oklahoma State Cabinet, which was created in 1986 under the Executive Branch Reform Act of 1986 to "improve the effectiveness, efficiency and accountability of state government."

Within 45 days of assuming office, the governor must organize his or her cabinet. State law requires only the creation of a secretary for the state department of veteran affairs and for the information technology department. Within those first 45 days, the governor may create other secretary positions. The governor must create at least 10 positions, but no more than 16.

The Secretary of State of Oklahoma and the Adjutant General of Oklahoma are the only ex officio members of the Oklahoma State Cabinet. The Secretary of State does not head a department as the other secretaries do, but the Office of the Secretary of State instead. The Adjutant General is second-in-command of Oklahoma National Guard, under the governor, and serves as the chief military adviser to the governor and the head of the Military Department of Oklahoma as the Secretary of the Military.

Independent judicial bodies

Though part of Oklahoma's court system, there are two courts that operate without the oversight of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

The Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary, one of the two independent courts, is responsible for removing judges from their position if they have committed illegal acts. One of two such courts in the United States, the court insures that other courts best administer justice.

The Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary consists of a nine-member trial division and a five-member appellate division. The court's jurisdiction may be called into force by the governor, attorney general, Oklahoma Supreme Court, the Oklahoma Bar Association, or by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Also, private citizens can file a formal complaint against a judge to be heard by the Oklahoma Council on Judicial Complaints. It the complaint is approved, the case is heard by the trial division of the court.

Cases brought before the court are heard by the trial division. Any appeals from the trial division are heard by the appellate division. There are no appeals from the appellate division's decisions, and not even the Oklahoma Supreme Court may change its rulings.

The Oklahoma Senate serves as the Court of Impeachment, the second independent court in the Oklahoma judiciary. Impeachment charges are brought by the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and they are heard by the state senate, with the Chief Justice of Oklahoma presiding, unless the chief justice or any member of the Oklahoma Supreme Court is charged, in which case the state senate shall select one of its own members to preside.

Impeachment charges may only be brought against the governor and other statewide officials (including justices) for willful neglect of duty, corruption in office, habitual drunkenness, incompetency, or any offense involving moral turpitude committed while in office. If impeached, officials are immediately suspended in discharging their duties. Should the impeachment fails, the officer in question returns to their duties. However, if the impeachment is successful and the defendant found guilty, the person is removed from office.

The Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission is a body which selects potential justices and judges for gubernatorial appointments for judicial positions on Oklahoma's appellate courts. In the event of a vacancy, for whatever reason, within the Oklahoma Supreme Court or appellate courts, the commission screens a list of applicants that desire that job. The commission selects three qualified nominees and presents the names to the governor, who may appoint one of the nominees. If the governor fails to appoint a nominee to the position within sixty days, the Chief Justice of Oklahoma may make the selection.

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