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Higher Wages, Better Health Care? Not in Oklahoma

Image of Oklahoma State Capitol

It bears repeating that Oklahomans continue to elect Republican politicians that work against their economic and health care interests.

Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican who is expected to win reelection in a landslide this November, recently signed a bill into law that would ban cities from raising the minimum wage and requiring specific vacation and sick leave time. That, of course, impacts virtually everyone who is paid on a per hour basis in the state because any boost in the minimum wage would have a trickle up effect on paychecks.

Meanwhile, some Republicans here—Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt comes to mind—have pretty much devoted their entire political careers to bashing President Barack Obama over his Affordable Care Act, which is fast becoming one of the great worldwide economic success stories in the last few decades while providing health care to millions of people.

Higher wages and better health care? That’s not what a majority of Oklahoma voters seem to want, the reason for which defies logic. Sure, some low-information voters here are swayed by cultural wedge issues over guns and abortion, and that’s their right, but wouldn’t it be better to fight under the right-wing flag with more money in the wallet and in better health?

Fallin’s decision to sign the new bill into law, which has drawn national criticism, seems to be a direct retaliation against an ongoing initiative petition drive that is trying to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour in Oklahoma City. I’ve written about that here. But, more importantly, it symbolizes the state GOP’s utter disregard for the working poor in a state that has a high number of minimum wage workers.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow calls Fallin’s decision “callous.” He writes:

. . . it should be noted that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “In 2012, Oklahoma’s proportion of hourly paid workers earning at or below the prevailing federal minimum wage ranked third highest among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.”

Meanwhile, Paul Waldman, writing in The Washington Post argues, “She [Fallin] isn’t just saying No to a minimum wage hike. She’s saying No with a sneer — adopting an unusually mean-spirited and overtly ideological stance.” Again, this is a governor that is expected to easily win reelection.

According to Waldman, polls are now showing 65 to 75 percent support for raising the minimum wage across the country. But here in Oklahoma, we elect politicians like Fallin that actually “sneer” at the working poor and other low-income workers.

Meanwhile, virtually every Republican candidate for office in this state is running on an anti-Obama platform, using the supposed failure of the ACA as the number one reason for their sanctimonious discontent.

Yet despite the problems with ACA rollout, the numbers are beginning to show its success. According to an article in the New Republic, “Eight million people have signed up for private insurance plans through the new federal and state marketplaces. And within the federal marketplaces, 28 percent of enrollees are ages 18 to 34. This is good news—very, very good news.”

So as the good news about Obamacare pours in, Oklahomans continue to elect politicians such as Pruitt, who has literally made his entire political career about suing the federal government over the ACA. Pruitt is so popular here he didn’t even draw an opponent in his reelection bid.

Progressives like me have long lamented the growing income inequality between the wealthiest 1 percent or so and everyone else in this country and around the world. Surely there is a breaking point and just as surely the extremely rich and their surrogates will take it to the breaking point. It’s an unfolding drama that might take another generation or two to resolve.

What is clear is that far too many Oklahomans have been tricked into voting against their interests by GOP political rhetoric and the right-wing media here. Decent wages and health care access are pretty basic to living a life with some sense of security and happiness.

Waging Retaliation

Image of Mary Fallin

A new law banning cities in Oklahoma from establishing a minimum wage for workers seems like an obvious retaliation against an ongoing initiative petition drive.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed a measure into law Monday that prohibits municipalities from creating their own minimum wage and mandatory benefits, such as sick leave and vacation time. The bill passed 68 to 23 in the House and 34 to 9 in the Republican dominated Oklahoma Legislature.

Fallin and others who support the bill publicly argued it would prevent the state from having multiple minimum wage requirements in different cities, which could be confusing and damaging to businesses. Fallin also argued that it could lead to fewer part-time jobs for younger people.

But it’s probably no coincidence that an initiative petition drive, conducted by the Central Oklahoma Labor Federation and attorney David Slane, is underway here to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma City from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour. President Barack Obama is also pushing to raise the federal minimum wage to that level and local efforts are underway elsewhere in the country to do so as well. Connecticut, for example, recently passed a bill raising the minimum wage there to $10.10 per hour.

The bottom line is that $7.25 per hour is simply not a livable wage, and those who want to keep it that low are ignoring poverty and the growing income inequality in this country and across the world. According to the organization Raise The Minimum Wage:

Low-wage occupations have dominated job growth in the post-recession recovery, accelerating a decades-long shift in the U.S. economy toward lower-paying jobs. At the same time, the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which translates to just $15,080 per year for a full-time worker, remains decades out of date, and the federal minimum wage for tipped workers – $2.13 per hour – has not increased in over twenty years.

The minimum wage, if it had kept pace with inflation over the last 40 years, would actually be $10.74 per hour, according to the same organization.

Meanwhile, the poverty-fight organization Oxfam International notes, “Almost half of the world’s wealth is now owned by just one percent of the population, and seven out of ten people live in countries where economic inequality has increased in the last 30 years.”

The new law in Oklahoma, however, raises more than just moral implications about poverty and income inequality. It also raises the issue over whether the state legislature and the governor can directly circumvent a specific initiative petition drive, which the bill seems to do. Another basic issue, then, is whether people in Oklahoma communities have the right to establish laws. Could the bill face a legal challenge?

Another EPA Bashing

Image of Jim Inhofe

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe continues to berate the Environmental Protection Agency with sweeping generalizations and political sloganeering.

Inhofe’s contrarian demeanor as a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee doesn’t really accomplish anything, but it does give all of us a preview of what could happen if Republicans take control of the Senate in the November midterm elections.

In a statement issued last week for an EPW Committee hearing, Inhofe criticizes President Barack Obama and “the EPA’s War on Fossil Fuels” for what he calls a “regulatory onslaught.” It’s sheer political hype.

Inhofe has been arguing against new EPA regulations, primarily the Utility MACT rule, for quite some time now. Maximum Achievable Control Technology Standards were authorized under the 1970 Clean Air Act and have been used to lower the amount of pollution going into the air. Older electric plants, generated by coal, in particular, have been affected by the standards.

Inhofe’s rhetoric on the issue shows he cares little to nothing about pollution and its impact on the environment and our health.

One of Inhofe’s claims is that the loss of electricity to the grid by plant closings or refitting could result in “rolling blackouts,” an argument used by the power industry to delay meeting new standards. Inhofe uses it as a fear mongering tactic. No one wants or is going to tolerate electric blackouts.

In the statement, Inhofe also claims “the Administration is making strides to regulate hydraulic fracturing and methane emissions from the natural gas production and transmission processes, which could further drive up the price of energy and electricity.” Again, note the lack of any regard for the environment. Inhofe is just piling on supposed grievances.

Here’s the bottom line: Manmade carbon and other toxic emissions are polluting the air. The EPA, which was formed under the former President Richard Nixon administration, is tasked with protecting the environment and the health of citizens. What it does isn’t sinister or anti-business. If anything, the EPA doesn’t do enough.

Inhofe, of course, is famous for claiming that global warming is a worldwide hoax committed by liberal scientists intent on bringing down the oil and gas industry. Inhofe has also received more than $1.5 million in campaign contributions from oil and gas interests since 1989. It doesn’t get more politically obvious than that.

Inhofe, 79, has claimed that he will end up as chair of the EPW Committee if Republicans take control of the Senate. If that’s the case, expect EPW Committee meetings to turn into EPA-bashing sessions. That won’t bode well for the planet.

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