07/01/2014 01:35 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

"Conservatives Don't Like Taxes" and Other Lessons on Running for Office (from a 27-year-old Oklahoman Who Couldn't)


Two years ago, a 25-year old "entrepreneur" named Mike Turner ousted a four-term incumbent to become a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Touting his refusal to take donations from PACs or lobbyists, his fresh-eyed conservatism had brought Turner a surprise victory, and the future looked bright.

Turner played the conservative game quite well in his first two years. He signed Grover Norquist's Taxpayer Protection Pledge with much fanfare. He championed a much-touted (though mostly toothless) gun bill, and a ban on marriage. Not gay marriage - all marriage. In 2014, with one whole State House term under his belt, 27-year-old Turner ran for U.S. Congress. It seemed his bid was going well. WPA Opinion Research announced in early April that Turner was "the one candidate positioned as the conservative alternative to Clark Jolley," the leading candidate among five others in the primary.

Then, Turner co-sponsored the anti-renewable energy Senate Bill 1456. The bill was designed to impose a fee on the 200 or so Oklahoma residents who produce their own energy with solar panels or small wind turbines.

The bill drew major bipartisan uproar over this new solar tax (the latest in a series of attacks backed by the fossil-fuel loving Koch brothers and ALEC). This ad, run by the solar advocacy group TUSK (Tell Utilities Solar Wont Be Killed), highlighted that conservatives don't like new taxes (shocker), and they do like solar. TUSK founder Barry Goldwater, Jr., former Congressman and son of the great conservative icon of the same name, circulated a letter condemning the bill.

Turner's Facebook response was enigmatic: "I'm getting mad lulz at rinos squawking like chickens because their [sic] being weaned off generous subsidies. If it is free market, then let it stand on merit, not being a lobbyist subsidy parasite."

Turner actually introduced the anti-solar bill like this: "Members, this bill effectively allows our senior citizens as well as our lower-income individuals in this state to no longer bear the cost of the way we do accounting." How could any conscientious Oklahoman representative vote against our senior citizens? The bill passed 83-5 on April 14th, with no debate. You have to admire his gumption.

Governor Fallin, perhaps having a better understanding of how much national conservative opinion is shifting toward rooftop solar, signed an Executive Order that effectively neutered Turner's provision.

His double-dealing, however, did not go unnoticed by solar advocates or by Republican voters. On June 24th, Turner was soundly defeated in his primary election, garnering only 14% of the vote and coming in 4th place, despite outspending his nearest competitor by $430,000.

Politicians like Turner willfully sling about phrases like "the big hand of government" and "despotic solar subsidies" while ignoring the fact that increasing numbers of conservatives are adamantly pro-solar. One would hope that he has learned that wearing the mantle of "true conservative" comes with the responsibility of staying true to conservative ideals. It's too late for Turner - at least for his political career. But maybe the Turner parable will teach other young conservative hopefuls that attacking solar is a career killing move.