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One that got away: Loss of Bassmaster Classic disappoints officials, fans

It’s a little like finding out there is a giant fish lying behind that spot where you cast your bait but now you’ve got a tangle in your line and that big bruiser is just sitting out there — unattainable.

News that an ongoing dispute between the city and a group of hoteliers over the Tourism Improvement District cost Tulsa the chance to host the 2021 Bassmaster Classic came as a disappointment to area fans and officials.

Most didn’t know the Classic was coming in the first place because Tulsa was one of several in contention and no announcement had been made. Now that the word is out, people just want to see the city hurry up and get its lines untangled so it can make another cast, so to speak.

“We hadn’t been brought in on anything about the Classic yet,” said Grove City Manager Bill Keefer. “In 2016 it was about a year before the event, after agreements were finalized with (Tulsa), that we were brought in.”

Grand Lake and the city of Grove have been partners in the past two Classic events — in February 2013 and March 2016 — and the economic benefits and international reputation gained for the lake and surrounding towns paid off in added tourism and tournament fishing interest year after year at Grove in addition to the rewards reaped by Tulsa.

“We had been told a long time ago that there was interest in the Classic returning and that it was tied to completion of improvements to the Cox (Business) Center that would have accommodated them with more space, but we had not been notified of a date,” Keefer said.

“This was really disappointing to see, but we’ll hope that the opportunity presents itself again. It was a great event and a fantastic experience for everybody.”

BASS CEO Bruce Akin affirmed that Tulsa is still on a favored list for hosting the granddaddy of all bass fishing tournaments again someday.

“Whether it was our first Oklahoma-hosted Classic in 2013 or the Elite Series and Central Open tournaments this year, BASS has always enjoyed a great relationship with both Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma as well as fantastic fan support,” said Akin. “While there are a variety of communities in contention to host this iconic event, it’s disappointing that Tulsa had to withdraw their bid to host the 2021 Bassmaster Classic from consideration. We hope to partner again in the future.”

The past two Classic events each saw attendance from across the country that numbered well over 100,000 and brought economic impact gauged in the range of $23 million.

The 2020 Classic is the 50th Anniversary event and is set for Birmingham, Alabama. The 2019 event in March at Knoxville, Tennessee, was recognized as the 2019 Champion of Economic Impact in Sports Tourism (Mid-Market Division) by Sports Destination Management for record attendance of 153,809 spectators and an economic impact of more than $32 million in that area.

The city of Tulsa estimates it has lost an estimated $292,500 each month it hasn’t collected revenue from the Tourism Improvement District. Revenue hasn’t been collected since June 25, when District Judge Linda Morrissey issued a temporary injunction in a lawsuit brought by a group of Tulsa hoteliers.

The city of Tulsa offered a statement in support of the improvement district through the Mayor’s Office.

“The purpose of the (Tulsa Improvement District) is to position Tulsa to be more competitive in bringing world-class events to our city and to generate new opportunities for local businesses that support those events,” it stated.

The Bassmaster Classic isn’t the only world championship tournament out there anymore, either.

Tulsa is home to Major League Fishing, with its Bass Pro Tour and Redcrest Championship. Oklahoma angler Edwin Evers, the same man who won the 2016 Bassmaster Classic at Tulsa, won the inaugural Redcrest tournament held at LaCrosse, Wisconsin, in late August.

The MLF, which features the top 80 anglers in the sport — most of whom competed in the 2016 Classic — has its eye on Tulsa for an event, too.

“We have been watching this issue closely because obviously we’re very interested and would love to bring an event to Tulsa. It’s my hometown and is our company headquarters,” said MLF President and CEO Jim Wilburn. “We would hope this gets resolved quickly. It (a tourism improvement district) is a model we’ve seen work well in other cities we have worked with, and hopefully they get it done in time for us to bring a big event here. We just hope it doesn’t go on and on.”

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Democrats revive ‘Medicare for All’ fight at Atlanta debate

ATLANTA — The top Democratic presidential candidates spent large chunks of prime-time television clashing over “Medicare for All” — again.

Like a string of previous debates, Wednesday’s prominently featured squabbles over a program that could alienate general-election swing voters who may be wary of fully government-run, universal health care and that will be extraordinarily difficult to get through Congress — even if Democrats take the White House and make significant 2020 congressional gains.

The latest faceoff, in Atlanta, came against the backdrop of impeachment consuming Washington, President Donald Trump making major foreign policy moves and well-known Democrats having left — or recently joined — the race. But the White House hopefuls just couldn’t stop debating Medicare for All, in part because it represents an important ideological divide between progressive candidates and moderates but also because the party sees health care as a winning issue — especially after it helped Democrats win the House last year.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the race’s strongest progressive voices, staunchly defended Medicare for All.

“The American people understand that the current health care system is not only cruel; it is dysfunctional,” Sanders said.

Former Vice President Joe Biden said many people are happy with private insurance through their jobs, while Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, complained about others taking “the divisive step” of ordering people onto universal health care “whether they like it or not.”

The debate came at a critical juncture for the Democratic Party — less than three months before the first voting contests and with big questions hanging over the front-runners. Some Democrats have grown worried about Biden’s durability, while others fear that Warren and Sanders are too liberal to win a general election. Those concerns have prompted former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick to launch a late bid for the nomination, with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg expected to jump in in the coming days.

In the moderators’ chairs were four women, including Rachel Maddow, MSNBC’s liberal darling, and Ashley Parker, a White House reporter for The Washington Post. It’s only the third time to date that a primary debate has been hosted by an all-female panel.

Buttigieg was asked about how being mayor of a city of 100,000 residents qualified him for the White House, and he said he was more than up to the challenge.

“I know that from the perspective of Washington, what goes on in my city might look small,” Buttigieg said. “But frankly, where we live, the infighting on Capitol Hill is what looks small.”

Going into Wednesday’s debate, it seemed that Buttigieg, who has been rising in recent polls, would be a key target for attacks as his rivals tried to blunt his momentum. But other than the early question about his credentials, few candidates took many shots at him.

That could reflect the fact that candidates who previously have hit the front-runners hard have seen it backfire. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., was very critical of Biden for once working with segregationist senators and saw a small bump in the polls quickly vanish. Former Obama administration housing chief Julián Castro had been tough on Biden but failed to qualify for Wednesday night’s debate.

A memorable exchange occurred when Biden — who was absent for large periods of the debate and didn’t face any real attacks from his rivals — was asked about curbing violence against women and responded awkwardly, “We have to just change the culture. Period. And keep punching at it. And punching at it. And punching at it.”

Another clash erupted early between two candidates with relatively low polling who were looking for big moments: Harris and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who has criticized prominent Democrats, including 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton.

“I think that it’s unfortunate that we have someone on the stage who is attempting to be the Democratic nominee for the president of the United States who during the Obama administration spent four years full time on Fox News criticizing President Obama,” Harris said.

“I’m not going to put party interests first,” Gabbard responded.

The discussion kept finding its way back to Medicare for All, which has dominated the primary — especially for Warren. She released plans to raise $20-plus trillion in new government revenue on universal health care. But she also said implementation of the program may take three years — drawing criticism both from moderates like Biden and Buttigieg, who think she’s trying to distance herself from an unpopular idea, and Sanders supporters, who see the Massachusetts senator’s commitment to Medicare for All wavering.

Sanders made a point of saying Wednesday that he’d send Medicare for All to Congress during the first week of his administration.

The latest debate also comes amid an impeachment inquiry, with testimony in the House continuing almost until the candidates took the stage. The top Democrats running for president support Trump’s impeachment, leaving little room for disagreement. But Biden has long argued that Trump is most nervous about the prospect of running against him in 2020 — and said so again Wednesday.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker faced especially intense pressure since he’s yet to meet the Democratic National Committee’s polling requirements for the December debate in California. He spent several minutes arguing with Warren about the need to more appropriately tax the wealthy but also called for “building wealth” among people of color and other marginalized communities.

“We’ve got to start empowering people,” Booker said.

Businessman Andrew Yang was asked what he would say to Russian President Vladimir Putin if he got the chance — and Yang joked about that leader’s cordial relationship with Trump.

“First of all, I’d say I’m sorry I beat your guy,” Yang grinned, drawing howls of laughter from the audience.

Trump directed Ukraine quid pro quo, U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland testifies at impeachment hearing

WASHINGTON — Ambassador Gordon Sondland declared to impeachment investigators Wednesday that President Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani explicitly sought a “quid pro quo” with Ukraine, leveraging an Oval Office visit for political investigations of Democrats. But he also came to believe the trade involved much more.

Besides the U.S. offer of a coveted meeting at the White House, Sondland testified it was his understanding that the president was holding up nearly $400 million in military aid, which Ukraine badly needed with an aggressive Russia on its border, in exchange for the country’s announcement of the investigations.

Sondland conceded that Trump never told him directly that the security assistance was blocked for the probes, a gap in his account that Republicans and the White House seized on as evidence that the president did nothing wrong. But the ambassador said his dealings with Giuliani, as well as with administration officials, left him with the clear understanding of what was at stake.

“Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’” Sondland asked. “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”

The rest, he said, was obvious: “Two plus two equals four.”

Later Wednesday, another witness undercut a main Republican argument — that there could be no quid pro quo because Ukraine didn’t realize the money was being held up. The Defense Department’s Laura Cooper testified that Ukrainian officials started asking about it on July 25, the day of Trump’s phone call with the country’s new president when Trump asked him for “a favor.”

Her staff received an email, Cooper said, from a Ukrainian Embassy contact asking “what was going on with Ukraine’s security assistance.” She said she could not say for sure that Ukraine was aware that the aid was being withheld, but “it’s the recollection of my staff that they likely knew.”

Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union and a major donor to Trump’s inauguration, was the most highly anticipated witness in the House’s impeachment inquiry into the 45th president of the United States.

In often-stunning testimony, he painted a picture of a Ukraine pressure campaign that was prompted by Trump himself, orchestrated by Giuliani and well-known to other senior officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Sondland said he raised his concerns about a quid pro quo for military aid with Vice President Mike Pence — a conversation a Pence adviser vigorously denied.

Pompeo also dismissed Sondland’s account.

However, Sondland said, “Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret.”

The ambassador said he and Trump spoke directly about desired investigations, including a colorful cellphone call this summer overheard by others at a restaurant in Kyiv.

Trump himself insists daily that he did nothing wrong and that the Democrats are just trying to drum him out of office.

As the hearing proceeded, he spoke to reporters outside the White House. Reading from notes written with a black marker, Trump quoted Sondland quoting Trump to say the president wanted nothing from the Ukrainians and did not seek a quid pro quo.

“I want nothing. I want nothing,” insisted the president, who often exhorts Americans to “read the transcript” of the July phone call in which he appealed to Ukraine’s leader for “a favor” — the investigations.

He also distanced himself from his hand-picked ambassador, saying he didn’t know him “very well.” A month ago, he called Sondland “a really good man and a great American.”

The impeachment inquiry focuses significantly on allegations that Trump sought investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son — and the discredited idea that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election — in return for the badly needed military aid for Ukraine and the White House visit.

In Moscow on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was pleased that the “political battles” in Washington had overtaken the Russia allegations, which are supported by U.S. intelligence agencies.

“Thank God,” Putin said, “no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore. Now they’re accusing Ukraine.”

Sondland said conditions on any potential Ukraine meeting at the White House started as “generic” but that more items were “added to the menu, including Burisma and 2016 election meddling.” Burisma is the Ukrainian gas company where Biden’s son Hunter Biden served on the board. And, he added, “the server,” the hacked Democratic computer system.

During questioning in the daylong session, Sondland said he didn’t know at the time that Burisma was linked to the Bidens but today knows “exactly what it means.” He and other diplomats didn’t want to work with Giuliani, but he and the others understood that Giuliani “was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president,” he said.

He also came to understand that the military aid hinged on the investigations, though Trump never told him so directly.

Sondland, a wealthy hotelier, has emerged as a central figure in an intense week in the probe that is featuring nine witnesses testifying over three days.

The envoy appeared prepared to fend off scrutiny over the way his testimony has shifted from closed-door settings, saying “my memory has not been perfect.” He said the State Department left him without access to emails, call records and other documents he needed in the inquiry. Republicans called his account “the trifecta of unreliability.”

Still, he did produce new emails and text messages to bolster his assertion that others in the administration were aware of the investigations he was pursuing for Trump from Ukraine.

Sondland insisted twice that he was “adamantly opposed to any suspension of aid” for Ukraine. “I followed the directions of the president,” he said.

The son of immigrants who he said escaped Europe during the Holocaust, Sondland described himself as a “lifelong Republican” who has worked with officials from both parties, including Joe Biden.

Dubbed one of the “three amigos” pursuing Ukraine policy, Sondland disputed that they were running some sort of “rogue” operation outside official U.S. policy. He produced emails and texts showing that he, former special envoy Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry kept Pompeo and others apprised of their activity. One message from Volker said, “Spoke w Rudy per guidance from S.” Sondland said “S” means the secretary of state.

Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff of California commented that “the knowledge of this scheme was far and wide.”

Schiff warned Pompeo and other administration officials who are refusing to turn over documents and testimony to the committee that “they do so at their own peril.” He noted that obstruction of Congress was included in articles of impeachment against former President Richard Nixon during the Watergate investigation.

The top Republican on the committee, Devin Nunes of California, decried the inquiry and told the ambassador, “Mr. Sondland, you are here to be smeared.”

Nunes renewed his demand to hear from the still-anonymous whistleblower whose complaint about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy led the House to open the impeachment inquiry.

Sondland’s hours of testimony Wednesday didn’t appear to sway Trump’s GOP allies in the Senate, who would ultimately be jurors in an impeachment trial.

Mike Braun of Indiana said the president’s actions “may not be appropriate, but this is the question: Does it rise to the level of impeachment? And it’s a totally different issue, and none of this has.”

“I’m pretty certain that’s what most of my cohorts in the Senate are thinking, and I know that’s what Hoosiers are thinking — and most of middle America.”

Oklahoma's uninsured motorist diversion program reaches 10,000 participants

The Uninsured Vehicle Enforcement Diversion program hit 10,000 participants Friday, a year after it began scanning license plates across Oklahoma.

The program started scanning plates Nov. 1, 2018, in metropolitan areas but has since reached nearly all of the state’s 77 counties. Using a mixture of camera-equipped vehicles, one trailer and several fixed locations, UVED scans license plates and checks them against the state’s daily insurance database for compliance.

Participants enroll in the program if they’re caught driving an uninsured vehicle and must pay a $174 fine and agree to maintain insurance for the next two years to keep the violation outside the court system.

UVED prosecutor Amanda Arnall Couch said the milestone makes Oklahomans safer on the roads.

“Since last November, we have been working to address the problem of uninsured driving in Oklahoma,” Arnall Couch said. “Having 10,000 fewer uninsured vehicles on our roadways benefits us all.”

UVED uses a daily “hot list” of vehicle registrations that can’t be matched with an insurance policy on file with the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Scanners detect those plates, and notices are sent to the vehicle owners.

It’s hard to estimate the number of uninsured drivers because commercial insurance isn’t reported to the program, and Arnall Couch said a sizable number of Oklahomans lack personal insurance but their vehicles are covered under commercial policies.

Using the hot list as a baseline, as many as 200,000 vehicle registrations didn’t match up to insurance policies in the program’s database when the program began, Arnall Couch said.

Assuming some of those 200,000 in fact have commercial insurance, Arnall Couch said it’s likely the state has seen at least a 5% decrease in the number of uninsured drivers since the program began. Still, she said the program is at or exceeding expectations.

“Ten-thousand in the first year is definitely on pace with our expectations, maybe even a little better since we got a slow start,” Arnall Couch said.

UVED hasn’t forwarded any cases to prosecutors yet for two reasons. Arnall Couch said both the July 1 change to Oklahoma’s license plate law and a general grace period as the system launched this year persuaded her against sending cases to district attorneys this year.

But Arnall Couch said don’t expect it to last forever.

“All 27 district attorneys have been notified that prosecutions will begin soon,” Arnall Couch said. “I expect some charges will be filed during the first quarter of 2020.”

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