Bartlett's Trump card
He may already be done with Tulsa
That’s all I can stands, I can’t stands no more
“I support the Republican philosophies, and I think it’s a process that they have gone through fairly and he appears to be the, probably will be the, nominee for the Republican Party,” Bartlett said. “And I support him, absolutely I can support him.”
For the love of Terry Simonson, mayor, really? You climbed on this bandwagon?
Dewey Bartlett, who is seeking to become Tulsa’s longest-serving mayor, is now, like many in the GOP, goose-stepping behind Donald Trump, a man who has alienated Latinos (Tulsa, it should be noted, is home to 71,000), African Americans (Tulsa, it should be noted, is home to 63,000), Native Americans (Tulsa, it should be noted, is home to 21,000), and women (Tulsa, it should be shouted from atop Turkey Mountain, where the mayor thought a restaurant would be a good idea, is home to 200,000).
How can a mayor “absolutely” support a man who disses this many in the city he leads?
Ever since Dewey F. Bartlett, Jr., son of Oklahoma’s former governor and senator, proclaimed in 2008, before his first campaign, “I am dead serious in becoming the most job-gettingest mayor this city has ever seen,” he has had an uneasy relationship with the English language, his words meandering, lost in a sea of consciousness and tortured syntax that has (badly) defined his tenure. Dead serious ... job-gettingest … Republican philosophies … And there will be water in the river. I can’t tell you how it’s going to happen, specifically, but there will be water in the river … I won’t kick the can down the road of passivity. You often need a mining helmet and a map to find the point. It was innocuous— most of it, anyway. His Aw Shucks/Harmonica playing persona actually resonated for those who couldn’t see themselves having (or wanting to have) a beer with Tom Adelson, whom he beat in 2008, or Kathy Taylor, whom he beat in 2012. He was onomatopoetic—Dewey—for better or worse. If he wasn’t a transformative figure, so be it, he wasn’t entirely without nuance, for he could be counted on to do, if not the right thing, not the worst thing.
In 2010, for instance, he said of a proposed name-change to the Tulsa Downtown Parade of Lights, “If it was up to me, I’d call it a Christmas parade, but I also understand that we have a diverse community, and I’m sensitive to the importance of the many cultures and traditions that make up our city.”
Not the A answer, but good enough.
But then, as his party moved ever more right (I’d say off a cliff and into an insane asylum), something happened. Bartlett inexplicably followed it, embraced it, held open its door. He cozied up to the likes of Rick Santorum, who claimed the GOP would never attract the smart people, and Jim Bridenstine, who once laughed when a constituent talked of hanging the president. Bartlett, too, promised to protect the city from Obama. It was so unnecessary, so uncalled for, yet here was Dewey Bartlett, acting as one of the party’s butlers, towing the company line, with an attitude, a meanness that had f**k-all to do with Arkansas River development or zoo funding.
Here, by way of contrast, was his statement on that same Christmas parade in 2015.
“Build a float make a statement about our community about the giving nature we have of the birth of Christ.”
So what happened to the town’s diversity, the sensitivity needed to address those disparate religious views?
What happened to our mayor?
In supporting Trump, a casual racist, sometime misogynist, and incurious carnival barker, Bartlett—and here he was like Senator McCain, Governor Fallin, and even Ben Carson, whom Trump called a pedophile—has now drunk the GOP Kool-Aid. And for what? Just to appease the loonies on the right, just—in Bartlett’s case—to make sure the fringe doesn’t stay home on election day.
G.T. Bynum, his opponent in what is laughably known in these parts as a non-partisan election, will pick up the majority of the Democratic vote, as there’s no Democrat running; the two will split the vote of moderate Republicans (if such a group exists any longer); so, for Bartlett to win (the primary is June 28, the runoff, August 23), he’ll need the almost universal support of those in Tulsa, the Tea Party Republicans, those who still believe Obama is an undocumented Kenyan who’s coming in a black UN Agenda 21 helicopter to personally take away their guns and diesel powered vehicles.
This is now Bartlett’s base.
Here’s where it get interesting.
Congressman Jim Bridenstine says he’s not running again in 2018. Senator Jim Inhofe will be 86, when his term is up in 2020, and I’ll bet you all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets, if Bartlett wins a third term as mayor, he’s running for one of those seats. And he’s not going to win unless he can prove his right wing chops.
If Bartlett, who’s 69, loses to Bynum, his political career is over; if he wins, get ready for Dewey 2.0.
So, he’s taken positions on the Affordable Care Act, gun control, and Syrian refugees. It’s boilerplate, feckless stuff, but it’s not for local consumption. He doesn’t want a third term because he enjoys arguing with Blake Ewing on Facebook. Tulsa is his springboard to Washington.
Something happened last December that may be instructive about how he plans to play this. The same day—the same day—Bartlett penned that declaration to President Obama about keeping out Syrian refugees—in which he talked of “heart of the country values” (his rhetoric is truly mind-numbing sometimes)—he showed up unannounced at a fundraiser Vice President Biden was holding in town. Now, Bartlett is smart enough to know there are official ways to meet the vice president, channels by which a sitting mayor can get an audience. It’s easy. You’re the mayor. Announce you’re headed to the airport to meet the vice president, to welcome him to the city—that is, unless you don’t want to be seen seeing him. So, what do you do then? You bum rush the Summit Club, try to strong arm your way into a Democratic event, and start throwing your mayoral weight around, as if such a stunt sways a secret service that’s heavily armed and frowns on people driving up to secure areas.
(Incidentally, Bartlett was turned away. The official word was because he didn’t have a ticket to the well-advertised invitation-only event.)
But why, you’re asking, go through all that, why, if you’re Bartlett, do you care about seeing Joe Biden?
Because it’s still a good photo op: you, the vice president, mano a mano. Maybe someone snaps a picture of you two in deep thought or captures you thrusting your finger in the vice president’s grill. It’s the proximity to power you’re after. And if you’re seen as bipartisan to the 14 people in your party to whom that still matters, all the better.
Bartlett is playing the long game—unless he’s just a duplicitous glad-hander. Maybe this new Dew is just an act. Maybe the old one was. Maybe when it comes to Dewey Bartlett, there’s no there anywhere.
People often say Tulsa is to Oklahoma what Austin is to Texas—an oasis of sorts—a place for art and music, creativity and acceptance surrounded by statewide lunacy. As such, it deserves a mayor, whether this is the last stop on his political train or not, who, if he can’t completely embrace the city’s quirky DNA, should be smart enough to not harsh its mellow by throwing a sop to the most insular and bigoted parts of his party and the country. It reflects badly on all of us, which is one thing a mayor, especially one in Oklahoma, needs to avoid—any more bad publicity, any more ridicule. Tulsa needs a mayor smart enough to think from the inside out, beyond politics, beyond party, beyond pettiness … beyond Donald Trump.
For more from Barry, read his article on Oklahoma's inconsistent rape laws.