A Fearless Public Servant:
Bob Anthony's Crusade

by Frosty Troy

The Oklahoma Observer - August 10, 1999

One man with courage makes a majority. --Andrew Jackson

Visualize this scenario: Some future group of Oklahoma historians are mulling over this era.

"Whoa!" one of the exclaims. "I keep bumping into the name of Bob Anthony? Anybody up to speed on this guy?"

"Funny that you should mention it," another replied. "He may be Oklahoma's best kept secret. It's the old story of getting things done if you don't care who gets the credit."

Who is this quiet, balding, unprepossessing Republican and why will he be considered the most notable independent political spirit of his time?

Anthony, scion of the C.R. Anthony Co. empire, went on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission 10 years ago and has profoundly changed the way that body does business.

And it you think you don't have a dog in that fight, guess again. Virtually everything that touches commerce in Oklahoma-- utilities, transportation, oil & gas, etc., are subject to Corporation Commission regulation. Nobody can pick an Oklahoman's pocket quicker.

If average Sooners knew how many tens of millions of dollars Anthony has saved them, they would erect a statue and declare a holiday in his name.

Until Anthony showed up, the agency was a wholly owed subsidiary of the very entities it was supposed to regulate. Honest men and women who went on the commission ended up compromised, if not outright corrupted, by the sea of money and influence.

There had been a few who bucked it-- the late Jan Eric Cartwright was notable for taking on the economic powers, such as "the only phone company in town."

Anthony has paid a price, not unlike the late Democratic governor J. Howard Edmondson, who drove the Old Guard money changers out of the Capitol and virtually reconstituted state government as a noble and honest enterprise.

Consider the Anthony decade:

Under his prodding, the commission adopted the strongest ethics policy of any state agency.

He personally sponsored and persistently defended the commission's 1992 rate order which resulted in Southwestern Bell making the largest refund and rate reduction in state history.

In an effort to perform his constitutional duty to correct the abuses of regulated utilities and to stop utility lawyers and lobbyists from distributing "walking around money," he wore a wire in a 1989-1994 FBI investigation.

It resulted in felony convictions and prison terms for an ex-chairman and an ex-Commission general counsel who was subsequently working for Bell. Other Bell officials involved exercised their Fifth Amendment privilege. One of those who offered Anthony money was hurriedly transferred to Texas.

(The Bell lawyer who went to prison, Bill Anderson, was an attorney for the Gaylord clan when they owned Publishers Petroleum and an express trucking company doing business before the commission.)

Processing of oil and gas applications and improved collection of fines for violation of pollution prevention rules were streamlined.

Instead of a decade of more utility rate increases, gas, electric and telephone customers have actually seen occasional rate reductions and even a few refunds in recent years, thanks to Anthony.

By agency rule making and commission orders, Oklahoma now has the two largest toll-free calling areas in America, including statewide modern telephone equipment and technology standards which have benefited distance learning, telemedicine and economic development, especially in rural areas.

The commission adopted a set of modern and progressive rules to bring customer choice and competition to gas utility service. It also adopted requirements for a prudence review and hearing before any of the millions of dollars in claimed "stranded costs" can possibly be charged to ratepayers.

Deregulation of intrastate motor carriers occurred without the disruption opponents had predicted.

He supported Governor David Walters against a legislative legal challenge to the governor's line-item veto authority. The State Supreme Court adopted his position, upholding the constitutional limitation that a legislative bill must deal only with a single subject. This opinion stopped the practice of legislative "logrolling" in Oklahoma.

It was Anthony's request for an Attorney General's opinion-- later supported by a Supreme Court opinion-- which reversed an attempt by the Legislature to amend the Constitution without a vote of the people. The amendment would have given an illegal mid-term pay raise to the commissioners.

That decision so angered Democratic Commissioner Cody Graves he quit the commission and turned to consulting and lobbying for those the commission regulates.

In the simple and direct manner that has come to characterize this remarkable public official, Anthony says of his service:

"On January 9, 1989 I accepted a position of public trust and took a constitutional oath to enforce the law, supervise rates, correct abuses, and prevent extortion and discrimination by regulated companies."

He has kept his pledged word to a degree rare in politics.

Anthony took an unsuccessful fling at the Sixth District congressional seat, only to be met by icy indifference-- if not outright hostility-- from the moguls in the GOP who resented his picking on their golden geese.

His position is not unlike that of one of Oklahoma's greatest governors, Republican Henry Bellmon, who was hissed and booed by some at a Republican state convention. his offense? Raising taxes to improve woefully inadequate public education.

A former aide tells the story of Anthony being upbraided at a country club for his aggressive posture on the commission-- especially toward Bell.

Knight in armor

Anthony says that all the facts of the bribery probe are not yet available to the public.

It was his gutsy decision to help the FBI that nearly brought down fellow Republican Commissioner J.C. Watts, who took "walking around money" from utility lobbyists without reporting it as required by law. FBI secret tapes on Watts were highly damaging.

Watts, who had friends in high places, dodged an indictment. The FBI was appalled.

The United States Supreme Court dismissed a 1994 suit filed by none other than Kenneth W. Starr, lawyer for Southwestern Bell. Starr claimed Anthony was biased because he helped the FBI investigate the bribery scheme that operated at the Corporation Commission.

In 1995, the FBI recognized Anthony with the Louis E. Peters Service Award, its highest honor given to a citizen, "who at great personal sacrifice, has unselfishly served his community and the nation."

The commission adopted new exploration incentives and new procedures to accommodate horizontal drilling, seismic testing, and production from tight sands. Also, under Anthony's leadership they added new oil and gas rules and utility provisions to help prevent the premature plugging of marginal wells.

Not one in a hundred Oklahomans would recognize Anthony if they bumped into him on the street. His efforts were usually relegated to the business page of the Daily Disappointment-- the least read section of the paper.

Not once in a turbulent decade did the investigative team of the Daily Disappointment turn their resources toward overt corruption on the commission. Anthony could have used their help.

One of their reporters said off the record that they had asked to pursue the commission mess but were re buffed. Why did the paper look the other way? The Gaylord clan which owns the paper was business partners of Southwestern Bell in Texas. One Bell executive was a fishing buddy of E.L. Gaylord, then publisher of the paper.

OG&E and ONG are important advertisers and their executives are big dogs at the country club.

To Anthony, when the election is over, it's not what party you belong to but your level of integrity in doing the right thing.

He has been a blend of matchless energy and a combination of intelligence and dogged persistence.

Don't let anybody tell you there is no such thing as an honest politician.

They haven't met Bob Anthony.

© 1999 The Oklahoma Observer

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Bob Anthony - Corporation Commission

Honesty. Integrity. ANTHONY.

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