Old political grudges and feuds appear to have slowed the White House selection process for Oklahoma’s Northern District U.S. Attorney.
While Sanford “Sandy” Coats has been nominated to for Oklahoma’s Western District, no one seems to know who will get the Tulsa-Based Northern post. Assistant U. S. Attorney Rob Wallace is believed to be in line for the Eastern District job now held by Sheldon Sperling ” (UPDATE: And now it appears as if the Eastern District’s future is cloudy as well. The Tulsa World reported Tuesday that Assistant U. S. Attorney Rob Wallace was out of the running for the Eastern District in what a source called called “a total shock.)
Susan Brandon, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District, is the only name floating around Oklahoma’s legal community for the Northern District. But she appears to have run aground. Brandon declined to comment.
There appear to be at least two political cross-currents whipping Brandon. Oklahoma’s conservative Republican senators don’t like her ties to the Edmondson family, a Democratic political dynasty in Oklahoma, people with knowledge of the situation say. The other potential factor is lingering bad blood between the family of Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.) and people — including Brandon — who were close to the late Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.)
Let’s start with the Edmondson problem first. ”Her aunt married my uncle,” the state’s long-time attorney general, Drew Edmondson, told us about Brandon.
And that tie doesn’t sit well with Sens. James Inhofe and Tom Coburn, according to Brandon’s longtime friend, Tulsa attorney Frank Frasier. “Her name was submitted, but neither of them approved,” Frasier told us. Coburn sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, putting him in a position to throw up hurdles to U.S. Attorney and judicial nominations — one reason the White House is likely to be deferential to his views.
Drew Edmondson is the son of former U.S. Rep. Ed Edmondson and the nephew of former Gov. J. Howard Edmondson. Drew’s brother is James Edmondson, who sits on the state Supreme Court. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe (R) has made a career running against the Edmondsons, criticizing their long family service in politics and liberal-leaning ideas. (Here we’ll just note that Inhofe himself is one of those “career politicians” he likes to criticize. He’s been in Congress since 1987 and before that served as mayor of Tulsa).
Moreover, the Edmondson home base is Muskogee – putting them in direct conflict with another Okie from Muskogee, Tom Coburn. ”It’s like small-town politics over there all the time,” one person close to the process told us.
Frasier praised Brandon. “She is an outstanding lawyer. She would serve the people of Oklahoma well.” A spokesperson for Coburn declined to comment. Jared Young, a spokesman for Inhofe, said the Republican senators were taking a back seat in the process. “Given that it’s a Democrat in the White House, and the state’s governor is a Democrat, they’re kind of the lead on this,” Young said.
Now, the second apparent problem for Brandon: The old Boren-Synar feud.
The late Rep. Mike Synar (D-Okla.) was a liberal who often pushed then-Sen. David Boren (D-Okla.) to lean left. Boren, a conservative Democrat, didn’t appreciate Synar’s ideas, and the two often clashed. Boren later retired from the Senate to be president of the University of Oklahoma. His son, Dan Boren, is the Democratic House member from Muskogee. The younger Boren is said by people who keep up with Oklahoma’s Faulknerian politics to be opposed to Brandon because she — or her family, we’ve heard it both ways — was close to Synar.
Because both of Oklahoma’s senators are Republicans, Boren has been forwarding names to the White House for judicial and other posts. A spokesperson for Boren declined to comment.
But another person with knowledge of the process said Brandon’s name was put in play by Gov. Brad Henry (D), even though governors don’t typically get directly involved in U.S. Attorney recommendations. But in a break from tradition, Henry weighed in with his own list of recommended nominees, the Tulsa World reported on May 3.
The Tulsa World quoted Dan Boren saying the process was “something I had never experienced before.”
Northern District of Oklahoma U.S. Attorney David E. O’Meilia and John C. Richter, his counterpart in Oklahoma’s Eastern Western District, resigned earlier this summer.
Richter took a position at the University of Oklahoma’s College of Law, where his wife Liesa Richter serves as associate dean of admissions. O’Meilia entered private practice at Richards & Connor PLLP.