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Paula Sophia For HD 88; Connie Johnson For U.S. Senate; Freda Deskin For Schools Superintendent

Paula Sophia

I have three endorsements for Tuesday’s Democratic runoff election.

First, runoff elections are notorious for their lack of voter participation. It’s vitally important for Democrats to get out the vote in this particular runoff election if only to show they are still viable as a political force in conservative, Republican-dominated Oklahoma.

It should only take a few minutes to vote given the paucity of races. The voter lines shouldn’t be that long even with a robust turnout since the ballot will be short.

The clear choice in the Oklahoma House Representative District 88 race is retired police officer and accomplished writer Paula Sophia, pictured above. The winner in this race will win the overall election because no Republican or Independent filed for the seat. This is important to realize. HD 88 voters are deciding the race tomorrow, not in the general election against a Republican.

Sophia faces Jason Dunnington, a former pastor and a candidate who extols his right-wing religious past as a reason you should vote for him. Don’t we have enough right-wing religious folks at the state Capitol? People I know who have met Dunnington on the campaign trail claim he comes off as charming and impressive, but his past just doesn’t fit with the liberal spirit and funkiness of HD 88, which includes the Paseo and Plaza districts. Dunnington is the candidate that most Republicans, undoubtedly, want to win tomorrow. Remember: The race will be decided tomorrow.

Let’s be clear. A vote for Dunnington tomorrow is a vote sanctioning right-wing religious and conservative ideology. A vote for Sophia is a vote for progressive values, such as embracing diversity and equality.

Sophia is a perfect fit for HD 88. Here’s my earlier endorsement for her in which I argued:

This is what Sophia . . . will bring to the job: Intelligence, vast historical knowledge of Oklahoma City because of her award-winning police work in a 22-year career and the ability to serve the varied interests of her constituents in a district considered one of the most liberal in the state.

As a prose writer and poet, often seen wearing a signature beret, she will also bring style and difference to a staid legislature now dominated by ultra conservatives intent on denying people equal rights and underfunding education at all levels.

As someone who struggled with gender conflict as she eventually transitioned from a man to a woman, Sophia will bring empathy and understanding to those constituents in need of help for a variety of reasons or those constituents who don’t feel part of the conservative Oklahoma status quo or who define or want to define themselves outside of the rigid, cultural codes of heteronormativity.

Again, here’s my full endorsement. HD 88 voters also have a chance to make history if they elect Sophia. She would become the first openly transgendered candidate to win office in a state legislature in the nation. That would send a huge message to the world that there are, indeed, Oklahomans who embrace diversity and equality.

Someone in HD 88 casually mentioned to me a couple of weeks ago that they were afraid Sophia could get beat by a Republican in the general election.

Let me repeat: The vote tomorrow determines the winner of the seat because no Republicans filed to run for the position.

Image of Constance Johnson

My next endorsement is for state Sen. Connie Johnson, pictured right, who faces what everyone in the media here calls a “perennial candidate” in the race to replace the retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn. That perennial candidate is 79 years old and apparently makes it a hobby to run for various state offices to make some point that’s difficult to discern. He also apparently does very little actual campaigning. Johnson received the most votes in the primary election, but she didn’t garner enough votes to get beyond the 50 percent threshold needed to prevent a runoff.

I wrote about the 62-year-old Johnson and her career here. In that post, I argued:

. . . Johnson, on the other hand, is an accomplished state senator with bona fide progressive credentials. She’s running a credible and viable campaign with volunteers and donors. She may face an uphill battle against the better-funded Lankford in the general election, but this runoff election is simply a waste of Democrats’ time and money. They need to come out in big numbers Aug. 26 to support Johnson, and that means party workers at all levels throughout the state need to work to get out the vote for her.

I do expect Johnson to win this election and face U.S. Rep. Lankford in the general election for Coburn’s seat, but a big turnout for Johnson could energize Democrats here.

I also wrote this about her:

Johnson is well known in the Oklahoma City area as an advocate for corrections reform, reproductive rights for women and wider medical access. While some Democrats have either lost their voice during the recent conservative wave in Oklahoma or given up the political scene entirely, Johnson has been an unwavering fighter for economic equality and the rights of women and minorities.

In the end, it’s simply a no-brainer. Johnson has the political and work experience that makes her by far the best Democratic candidate in this race. There’s simply no question about it. Again, here’s my full endorsement.

I also support Freda Deskin for state Schools Superintendent in the Democratic runoff against John Cox. Deskin has received the endorsement of Victor Hutchison, a founding member of Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) and an emeritus zoology professor at the University of Oklahoma. The Tulsa World has also endorsed Deskin.

Hutchison is concerned that Cox, at a recent meeting, didn’t take a stance against those who oppose the teaching of evolution in schools. In a recent email to OESE supporters, Hutchison personally endorsed Deskin, arguing:

Deskin is clearly the best candidate, with a long and wide-ranging experience in education at all levels. At the meeting in Norman Cox’s answer to a question about teaching evolution, his first response was “I believe in God.” In follow up statements he made it clear that evolution in public schools was not one of his concerns; he did this by quickly changing to other topics. He was not well-received by that audience and many there thought he was the worst of the four candidates who appeared on different dates.

The World argued:

Deskin understands public schools, and we believe she would be the kind of collegial leader that Oklahoma education needs to follow Barresi.

Her platform is not ideal, but it is closer to the reform agenda the state needs than her opponent.

I especially think voters should note Hutchison’s concerns.

Should it be Al McAffrey or Tom Guild for the U.S. Representative seat in Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional district runoff election on the Democratic side? It’s just too close to call for me. I have known and talked to both candidates through the years. Guild was a colleague of mine at the University of Central Oklahoma where we worked together on the UCO and state affiliates of the American Association of University Professors. McAffrey made history by becoming the first openly gay Oklahoma legislator, an event that is extremely important in the march to equality here. Each candidate would be a solid representative on the Democratic side in the race, which pundits have argued is a sure victory for Republicans in the general election.

Teenage Pregnancy: Solutions No One Will Talk About In Oklahoma

Image of church and Oklahoma state Capitol

(Here are the obvious solutions to the teenage pregnancy problem in Oklahoma: (1) Establish more comprehensive and required sexual education courses in public schools starting in early grades that continue through high school. (2) Offer students at an appropriate age free contraception, including Plan B and condoms. (3) Ensure women here retain the right to have an abortion. (4) Stop electing right-wing politicians who oppose these sensible ideas.)

It should come at no surprise that Oklahoma continues to have one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the nation.

But a story in The Oklahoman about the issue omits this crucial factor: It’s the right-wing religious folks here who oppose appropriate and extensive sexual education that goes beyond abstinence-only dogma. Until public schools can offer more required courses that directly and explicitly address sex and its ramifications, and even offer birth control to students at an appropriate age, Oklahoma will continue to struggle with this problem, which obviously costs taxpayers.

Let’s be real. Oklahomans elect numerous right-wing Christian politicians who profess themselves to be deeply religious. These politicians, using their religious beliefs, prevent the state from realistically addressing the state’s numerous social problems, such as the state's high teenage pregnancy rate.

The Oklahoman, of course, endorses many of these right-wing politicians or supports their overall ideology on its editorial page.

The story in The Oklahoman was written by Jaclyn Cosgrove, described somewhat redundantly as a “Medical and Health Reporter” on NewsOK.com. She does a thorough job presenting the statistical information. Oklahoma had the second highest teenage pregnancy rate in the nation in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It had the highest rate among women 18 and 19 years old. The story does, indeed, quote a couple of experts that argue for more sexual education. This is a long, tragic story in the state.

Here’s what’s so bad about teenage pregnancy, according to the site StayTeen.org:

More than half of all mothers on welfare had their first child as a teenager. In fact, two-thirds of families begun by a young, unmarried mother are poor.

Children who live apart from their fathers are 5 times more likely to be poor than children with both parents at home.

The daughters of young teen mothers are 3 times more likely to become teen mothers themselves.

The sons of teen mothers are twice as likely to end up in prison.

Cosgrove’s story doesn’t really delve into these issues, though it does quote the CDC report about how daughters of teenage mothers are more likely to become pregnant as teenagers themselves. The accompanying video for the story does a good job presenting basic facts.

But by omitting the crucial political and religious reasons for the teenage pregnancy problem in the state, the story is basically unhelpful and perhaps even untruthful on one level. We have a problem in this state with teenage pregnancy. There’s a reason why. It’s because the right-wing religious folks and the politicians they elect oppose comprehensive sexual education in our schools. The story doesn’t really address it. To be fair to Cosgrove, her editors undoubtedly wouldn’t allow such blunt realism.

The Oklahoman has always been a major part of the problem when it comes to the state’s numerous social problems, which along with a high teenage pregnancy rate include overall poor medical outcomes and access. On the one hand, it reports the dismal information in a grave, hectoring style. On the other hand, its editorial page supports politicians and ideology that ensure the state remains backwards.

Here’s some information from the news organization Oklahoma Watch that should simply astound and shock everyone:

Among the state’s five largest districts, the largest, Oklahoma City Public Schools, provides no sex-education classes to students at any grade level, although the district used to offer a comprehensive program two decades ago.

Here are the obvious solutions to the teenage pregnancy problem here: (1) Establish more comprehensive and required sexual education courses in public schools starting in early grades that continue through high school. (2) Offer students at an appropriate age free contraception, including Plan B and condoms. (3) Ensure women here retain the right to have an abortion. (4) Stop electing politicians who oppose these sensible ideas.

Complicit Local Media Fails On Earthquake Coverage

Image of  protest sign

The media coverage of the 4.3-magnitude earthquake that shook central Oklahoma Tuesday was complacent and routine.

That’s probably just what the oil and gas industry wants.

A glance at online reports about the quakes from The Oklahoman, News 9, KOCO/Channel 5 and NewsChannel 4 shows they didn’t even mention how scientists claim the dramatic surge in earthquakes here are caused by the oil and gas drilling process known a hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

The rhetorical structure of how the local media now covers stronger earthquakes has become a pattern: Note the magnitude of the earthquake, quote the impressions of people who felt it and then offer up some video of stuff shaking on the walls, ceilings and shelves.

When a larger, frightening earthquake strikes these days we end up reading quotes like this: “My dad said maybe the good lord was trying to tell someone something, and I said if he was talking to me, I sure got the message.” Here’s another one: “The hummingbird feeder on the front porch was moving and a swing seat on the porch was rattling pretty good.” Colorful, right?

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with these standard person-on-the-street statements, of course, but they are presented with a gaping lack of context.

I want to point this out in harsh terms. The local corporate media coverage of our state’s earthquake problem and the problems inherent in fracking is biased and unethical. If and when a major earthquake strikes here causing large-scale damage and bodily harm, the corporate media will be as much to blame as state leaders who have failed to act with urgency to address the state’s obvious earthquake emergency.

Any media outlet reporting on an earthquake here that’s 3.0-magnitude or above should at the very least mention the growing scientific evidence that it was probably caused by disposal wells used in the fracking process. The failure to do so is a cover-up for the oil and gas industry.

So let me reiterate. Fracking is a drilling process in which water laced with chemicals is injected underground into rock formations, releasing oil and gas from crevices or veins. The wastewater is then injected by high pressure into what are called disposal or injection wells. The disposal well process is what scientists believe is causing the hundreds of earthquakes the state has experienced in the last few years.

The numbers are staggering. Here’s just one: Reuters recently reported that there have been 292 earthquakes of a 3.0-magnitude or higher so far this year in Oklahoma, but that was at least a week ago. The number is surely close to 300 or more by now.

There have been some recent developments about growing protests against fracking. I wrote about those developments here.

The corporate media here is undoubtedly dependent on the oil and gas industry for advertising dollars. The oil and gas industry political lobby is large and well funded here and elsewhere and that plays into the media’s complicity as well.

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