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Brain Drain Officially Commences In Oklahoma

Untitled acrylic and mixed media on canvas by Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1984

So another Oklahoma brain drain officially begins.

This is when a lot of teachers and other intellectuals leave the state because they either can’t find jobs here or they’re paid so poorly here they almost have to go elsewhere because other states will pay them much more money.

This brain drain has been brought to you by conservative policies that have led to a current revenue failure and a $1.3 billion budget shortfall for next fiscal year, which begins in July. Teacher and other school positions are getting eliminated in droves and the oil and gas industry layoffs—some of those fired people are highly educated as well—continue. It’s a real disaster.

Here’s how the conservatives created the brain drain:

In recent years, they cut income taxes, cuts that primarily benefited the rich. They also handed out major tax breaks to the oil and gas industry. They encouraged that industry’s reckless production policies through the GOP “drill, baby, drill” mantra, and that has led to a worldwide fossil fuel glut and a decline in gross production tax revenue here. It’s bad times here for a lot of people.

I realize you can go back to the governance of former Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, when it comes to the income tax cuts, but here are the two caveats: (1) Democrat and conservative are not mutually exclusive words in Oklahoma, and (2) Henry’s actions were a compromise with Republicans when the state’s coffers were full many years ago.

The impact of a brain drain cannot be understated. Obviously, it means schools and universities will be stretched thin, and students can expect larger class sizes, and, in some cases, less personal attention. College tuition will go up. But what a brain drain also does is lower the overall quality of life in any given place and create a real leadership vacuum. The leadership pool shrinks, and that trickles down and impacts all sorts of lives.

I’m encouraged that some Democrats, such as House Minority Leader Scott Inman, are calling the conservatives out on their reckless financial policies, but, as I’ve been writing here, it needs to happen on just about a daily basis. If we get anything out of this, then at least let it be that more people wake up to the fact they’re voting against their own interests.

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I think there’s a real chance for some progressive gains this election season in Oklahoma for a variety of reasons, but it’s probably not going to happen if liberals spend money and energy supporting The Oklahoma Observer in its present form, or The Oklahoma Policy Institute in any form whatsoever.

One reason for the “chance,” and, yes, it’s just a slight chance, is that the national Republican Party is a real mess right now with the Trump and Cruz spectacles. Many conservatives are bewildered and confused. This confusion may trickle down to minor, local elections in which Democrats and liberals—in Oklahoma, folks, they aren’t the same thing—are speaking out boldly and sensibly about, say, funding for schools or trying to prevent elderly people from getting kicked out of nursing homes.

The other reason for the chance is that Oklahoma conservative leaders have absolutely broken this state with their careless, reckless fiscal policies. The economy is sinking here, the state is in a revenue failure, and we’re facing a $1.3 billion budget shortfall in a tiny overall discretionary budget of less than $7 or $6 billion or so. I know there are some not-so-smart people in the Oklahoma leadership pool, such as David Blatt, but it’s so so obvious the conservatives have damaged this state in a major way. Everyone gets it even if they relish it, like they do at the conservative Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and The Oklahoman. I bet Blatt loves it, too.

But progressives and Democrats—again, these words are really exclusive—face two major obstacles in bringing about change. One is The Oklahoma Observer, which needs to immediately modernize its corny hard-copy layout and web site and start really speaking truth to power. Editor Arnold Hamilton, a nice enough intelligent guy, has dropped the ball and made a mess out of Frosty Troy’s legacy. People have approached both of them about modernizing The Observer cornball approach in order to attract a younger audience, but they are reluctant. I’ll give Frosty the benefit of the doubt because he deserves it as the founder of the publication many, many years ago. I grant no such concession to Hamilton. What does the guy even do each day? He writes about three pieces a month, including the ancient, outdated Observerscope. Dart: To Arnold Hamilton for laziness. I write many more words than you, and I teach FULL-TIME and direct a graduate studies program in my academic department. I feel like you’re lazy and arrogant. Certainly, lazy, folks. I get it that “arrogant” is subjective. I get it that you might think I’m arrogant, too. The truth is arrogant. Miss Truth, she don’t play well with others.

So here’s Miss Truth having a nice feel-good shoutout: Four of us in the Oklahoma City community—two active local working journalists, a technology expert and a tremendous line editor, approached Frosty Troy in the early 2000s and offered our services for FREE to get The Observer online. See, we wanted to do something for our state and make this a better place. We were summarily dismissed as ridiculous and outlandish people. By cracky, we’ll see if this here Internet thing is going anywhere says the great Frosty Troy, who later anointed Arnold Hamilton to destroy his and his late wife’s legacies. We weren’t even given the time of day to make our case. Three of those people live in much better cities than Oklahoma City right now and are highly successful. I’m stuck here facing state budget cuts that affect me greatly trying to get Arnold Hamilton to write more and modernize his cornball publication. Yes, I would trade places with them, and, no, I don’t hold out much hope Hamilton will up his game. Who knows about Frosty? Maybe Hamilton is keeping him behind the pay wall. Has anyone checked recently?

So let me make it a public proposal: I will assemble a team of people to modernize The Observer. If this doesn’t fit Hamilton’s archaic business and old-fashioned model, which we would work around at his SAME or MORE level of pay or income, then fine. I will then urge everyone to stop supporting the cornball publication financially as much as I can. The publication is a joke, a compilation of cornball humor and three-week-old Internet articles, all for only $40 a year. Yeah, right. The problem is that The Observer wastes financial resources and has zero street credibility. Give that $40 a year to a real progressive site, and, no, I’m not talking about Okie Funk. This is my personal intellectual territory, my mind and body. Let’s start a real, modern site that might attract younger people and give us some momentum. I will help as much as I can, but there’s only so many progressive dollars here, and Hamilton is taking a lot of them and producing a really bad product. It’s shameful and immoral.

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Now Playing: The Silence Of The Oklahoma Republicans

Then there’s this rhetorical gem from conservative Oklahoma State Treasurer Ken Miller about the state’s major fiscal crisis, “. . . we’ve seen this cycle before and know Oklahoma will recover – hopefully having learned lessons on how to better weather the storm the next time.”

This obvious downplaying of the ongoing economic devastation in Oklahoma—no big deal people, happens all the time—came in a news release that reports extremely grim statistics about March gross receipts. Miller says revenues in March were the lowest for its month in the last four years. Miller also reports, “Monthly collections from oil and natural gas production taxes have been lower than the same month of the prior year for 15 consecutive months.”

Yes, “we’ve seen this cycle before,” but only in extremely precarious times, such as the 1980s or, yes, even during The Great Depression in the 1930s. We’re in a period of revenue failure in state government, which faces a $1.3 billion budget shortfall next fiscal year beginning in July. The layoffs continue in the oil and gas industry and related fields. The state is now planning a full-out assault on state health care systems through Medicaid cuts, which I wrote about in my last post.

Make no mistake that Miller and his fellow Republicans, whether in a spoken or unspoken orchestrated effort, are trying to downplay the negative impact their conservative policies have had on the state. But they can only hide for so long, and they can’t hide it through the November elections, which is what they really want to do.

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