Fallin Approval Drop Opens Opportunity For Dorman

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Gov. Mary Fallin’s large drop in her voter approval level opens up a real opportunity for her Democratic opponent Joe Dorman in the November election.

Until now, the prevailing wisdom has been that Fallin and her Republican colleagues are virtually invincible given the unpopularity of President Barack Obama and the supposed trickle-down effect on the Democratic ticket in Oklahoma.

But a recent poll, conducted by SoonerPoll for the Tulsa World, shows Fallin’s approval rating has dropped by 19 points from last September to early June. What especially bodes well for Dorman is that her approval rating among registered Democrats has dropped approximately 14 points, from 56 percent to 42 percent during this time frame. Obviously, Dorman has to win his own party substantially to become governor.

In a short article accompanying the poll results SoonerPoll’s Bill Shapard said that Fallin’s decline in approval could be because of her refusal to expand Medicaid here under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and “revolt against important elements of the governor’s education agenda.”

These arguments ring true, although Fallin’s support for controversial and outgoing State School Superintendent Janet Barresi and her actions is probably more of a factor in terms of swaying political opinion. The ACA, of course, known as ObamaCare, is the president’s signature legislature, and other Oklahoma politicians, such as Attorney General Scott Pruitt, have seemingly used their criticism of it to their political advantage. Is that changing?

Another argument is that many voters here are recognizing that the Republican-dominated government is not serving their interests by cutting pensions, disallowing cities from setting their own minimum wage and giving huge tax breaks to the oil and gas industry, which scientists now argue are causing the dramatic surge in earthquakes here with their drilling processes.

After the November election, Obama will have only two more years in office. Is it possible that some Oklahoma voters are simply resigned to this now and are becoming more focused on a local level? What is going to be the point of denigrating lame duck Obama over and over once the 2016 presidential campaign begins in earnest and there are new punching bags to work over.

Dorman should continue to link Fallin to Barresi’s draconian approach to high-stakes testing in the state and the botched A-F assessment of schools. Fallin supported these initiatives. There’s no reason to use attack language to show the connection, which is clear and on record. A measured plan to develop new education standards would probably work well right now against the Fallin-Barresi, schools-are-failing hyperbole.

I also believe the staggering increase in earthquakes in the state has become an election-year issue. (Oklahoma now leads the nation in the number of earthquakes.) A recent earthquake in Harrah, for example, caused damage to some buildings. Scientists have tied the earthquakes to wastewater disposal wells used in the oil and gas fracking processes. Is this an opportunity for Dorman as well? How can we reconcile the interests of property owners with sensible drilling regulations?

There’s no doubt that Dorman, much like former Gov. Brad Henry, is a centrist Democrat in an extremely conservative state. I didn’t agree with every Henry policy, but as the conservative juggernaut swept into office, the former governor gave the state political balance. Dorman can do the same, and now he has an opponent sinking in the polls.

Uptight Oklahoma

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A new study ranks Oklahoma high in “tightness,” or perhaps it might be better to describe it as “uptightness.” It’s not bombshell news for many of us here, but uptightness does influence the quality and personal freedom of day-to-day life here

Two University of Maryland psychologists, Jesse R. Harrington and Michele J. Gelfand, have developed a theory they call “tightness-looseness,” which they use to rank geographical places. As you might expect, tight places have little tolerance for people breaking minor rules or living outside the box while loose places give people more leeway to express themselves freely.

Oklahoma is ranked the fourth tightest state, right under, respectively, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas. As you might expect, most of the tight states have numerous negative social problems, such as high incarceration rates, and poor medical access. They have more consistent severe weather. They have fewer artists, such as writers and painters. In Oklahoma’s case, I would definitely stress that overt right-wing religious extremism palpable here on a daily basis is a part of our “tightness.”

The report notes "a negative and linear relationship between tightness and happiness.” That means the authors make the claim that, overall, people in loose states are happier than people in tight states. How happiness gets measured on any scale seems problematic to me, but I tend to agree generally with the assumption, especially when you examine depression and anxiety levels.

The ranking corresponds pretty much to the red state/blue state divide in the country and, consequently, the information could have substantive political potential. Yet I wonder if the study really only gives an academic frame that most open-minded and progressive people here in Oklahoma already known in a deep-seated manner. Sometimes, it takes a visit elsewhere to make it more manifest. In the freedom of Paris recently, I was struck by this very dichotomy.

Tea Party voters here yell “freedom” at every opportunity but it’s difficult to know what they mean on a personal level. Oklahoma is a place with oppressive laws, from the banning of same-sex marriage to the arcane restrictions on alcohol to the severe implementation of draconian drug laws. Because of our tightness, we end up with poor health outcomes and depression.

For some of us who stayed in Oklahoma and made our lives here for whatever reason or responsibility, this study probably just states the obvious. It can be suffocating to live here. The local, mainstream news, for example, is often enough to remind us of this place’s ultra-tightness level. The solution, of course, is to seek open-minded communities and friendship groups, which do exist here. This is easier for some people more than others. We can work to change things as well, but success can only be measured in generational terms at this point.

The bottom line is that tight Oklahoma can be an oppressive place for open-minded people. I believe we lose an extraordinary number of creative people to other places because of the overall ambience of sternness and intolerance here.

Dorman Offers Up School Funding Plan, Links Fallin To Barresi

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Joe Dorman’s campaign for governor took a strong step in the right direction Thursday when it linked Gov. Mary Fallin to controversial outgoing State Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi and offered up a plan to better fund schools.

In a press release, Dorman, the Democratic nominee for governor, pointed out, “Governor Fallin failed students. On her watch, hundreds of millions of dollars were cut from education, in contrast to other states that have chosen to invest in education. She allowed her State Superintendent, Janet Barresi, to run amok.”

Of course, Republicans might see this as typical attack politics, but it’s simply a fact that Barresi’s aggressive stances were supported principally and myopically by Fallin and the editorial board of The Oklahoman, which had its own personal vested interest in Barresi. Oklahoman Republicans disapproved of Barresi's actions so much that she came in third in the primary of her reelection attempt. She’s now a lame duck. Joy Hofmeister won the election and is the Republican nominee for the position.

Fallin’s support for Barresi in how she implemented the A-F assessment system for schools and high-stakes testing, especially reading tests for third graders, remained consistent through Barresi’s stormy tenure. If Hofmeister is elected, and Republicans are expected to sweep state offices again in November, will she be pressured by Fallin to follow Barresi’s lead, only in a softer, less aggressive demeanor?

But is Fallin infallible when it comes to her reelection because of national politics, primarily President Barack Obama’s unpopularity here, which is outside Dorman’s control? That might be so, but that doesn’t mean an honest, aggressive campaign doesn’t stand a chance at all or that it isn’t worth it for Democrats down the road.

Dorman’s plan, called “Classrooms First,” would dedicate the state’s business franchise tax to classroom instruction. In a press conference about his plan, Dorman said it would add about $50 a year per pupil. This doesn’t seem like a lot of money, and trying to use franchise tax money is problematic because Republicans have indicated they want to end this tax on businesses altogether, but the point is to stop Oklahoma’s race to the bottom when it comes to funding its education systems. Let’s at least explore the possibilities.

What always gets overlooked in the recent debate over the state’s schools is the fact that funding for them was cut by a drastic 22.8 percent since The Great Recession in 2008, the most in the nation. It’s a form of outright cruelty to make such massive cuts in education and then implement draconian assessment measures that are designed to show failure.

Dorman’s plan is not a game-changer when it comes to increased funding for education, but it starts a debate that needs to happen in Oklahoma. He should also continue to expose the specifics of Fallin’s support for Barresi. It doesn’t even have to be couched in attack language. It’s just a fact, backed by copious amounts of evidence.

It’s illogical to think we can cut our school funding the most in the nation and expect high test scores in return. Dorman apparently recognizes this. No, this doesn’t mean money solves every issue in education, but everyone should know that cheap stuff breaks easier.

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