The Oklahoma Republican Party’s choice of former state Rep. John Bennett as its chairman last weekend did not go unnoticed by the men Bennett once denounced as terrorists or by others who’ve been smacked between the eyes by Bennett’s blunt language and unbending adherence to the world as he believes it should be.
“The Oklahoma Republican Party has officially branded itself as a party of hatred and bigotry,” Adam Soltani, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations-Oklahoma, wrote on Facebook. “There is no getting around that fact.”
Bennett, R-Sallisaw, did not reply to a text asking for comment about his plans for the party.
During his eight years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, 2011-19, Bennett was known for his fiery rhetoric and verbal attacks on Muslim Americans.
He labeled CAIR, Soltani and Imam Imad S. Enchassi of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City as terrorists during a House interim study during October 2016.
CAIR is a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group working to enhance the understanding of Islam.
Bennett was equally outspoken in his opposition to gun control and abortion rights, and he often clashed with even fellow Republicans. Agencies warning of cutbacks in senior services because of huge budget shortfalls in 2017 also were terrorists, and tax increases to address the situation were unnecessary, he said.
If some were put off by Bennett’s polemics, many others were enthralled. At Saturday’s convention, he defeated three other candidates on the first ballot.
Shane Jemison, a Chickasaw Nation water resources analyst, was reelected vice chairman after being appointed to the post in September.
Whether Bennett still considers Islam a “cancer” to be “cut out” of American society, as he claimed while a legislator, is unclear. He doesn’t seem to have ever apologized to Soltani or to Enchassi, who offered the opening prayer in the state Senate last week just a few days before Bennett did on Monday.
Of some note, perhaps, a Muslim now serves in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
“By accepting and embracing the most vile, Islamophobic lawmaker in the history of our state, (Oklahoma Republicans) have endorsed his hatred and bigotry and proved themselves to be a party that is void of integrity and responsibility,” Soltani wrote.
With the board now made up completely of Stitt appointees, the Department of Veterans Affairs deputy director and general counsel quit prior to Friday's meeting, and the commissioners unanimously agreed to hire former Attorney General John O'Connor, who was a Stitt appointee.
"We're not going to beat these bills by rehashing the same far-left rhetoric and playing victim," said Brittany Novotny, who founded the PAC. "We're going to defeat these bills by finding common ground with Republicans in the Legislature and helping them to see this isn't necessarily the winning issue they think it is."
“This case includes allegations of fraud involving millions of dollars in taxpayer funds,” Gentner Drummond said in announcing that his office would join with the OSBI in scrutinizing a sweetheart deal between the Oklahoma Tourism Department and Swadley's Bar-B-Q.
"We're definitely concerned for our neighbors and families that have really become used to having this extra amount after three years," a DHS official said, adding resources are available for those in need.