It was revealed this week that some Oklahoma state agency heads are receiving astronomical raises while regular state worker salaries continue to remain stagnant.
Here are some of the numbers: Oklahoma Tourism Executive Director Deby Snodgrass recently received a $40,000 pay increase; Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation Director Stan Florence recently received a $47,000 pay increase; Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Director Terri White recently received a $40,000 pay increase.
No matter how you qualify it, those are substantial raises, especially in a state like Oklahoma.
According to media reports, the raises were based on information presented to state leaders by a consulting firm, the Hay Group, which found the salaries for at least some top state positions to be low.
Regular state workers, whose salaries are also under review, haven’t received an across-the-board raise for several years. The raises for those at the top are a real slap in the face for them, and for other rank and file employees, such as teachers and state troopers.
It would be nice to get a $40,000 a year raise, wouldn’t it? Do you think that is going to happen for dedicated teachers, social workers and first responders?
It remains to be seen if leaders in the GOP-dominated state government will consider raises for all state workers once the salary issue has been studied, but if it doesn’t happen or if the raises are minimal, it should come as no surprise.
The Oklahoman editorial page, of course, supported the raises and argued the backlash was simply unavoidable, but the sheer size of the raises are a real issue in a state where education funding has been shrinking and state workers have gone without raises for years. It’s a matter of priorities, not perception. I’m sure the state could find someone to do Snodgrass’ job just as competently at her pre-raise salary of $86,000.
Better yet, here’s an idea: Why don’t we just make $86,000 the starting salary for new teachers and social workers?
I’m not begrudging anyone a raise, but the vast majority of state workers have a right to be terribly frustrated with this latest news.
In the end, former state Rep. Randy Terrill’s demise was marked publicly by the same type of generalizations and paranoia he used to pass one of the strictest anti-illegal immigration laws in the country years before.
After testifying in his trial, Terrill, who was convicted of political bribery Tuesday, told reporters, “This prosecution has done more damage to our political system than anything that I can think of in recent history.” Really? What about the testimony of witnesses? What about the actual case, the actual evidence?
The prosecution had argued that Terrill, who served as a Republican, offered then state Sen. Debbe Leftwich a job in the medical examiner’s office in exchange for not running for reelection. Leftwich, a Democrat, also faces political bribery charges. Terrill, prosecutors contended, tried to create the job through last-minute legislation and was hoping to help his friend, state Rep. Mike Christian, win Leftwich’s seat. The legislation was later vetoed by former Gov. Brad Henry.
The 12-person jury convicted Terrill of the charge early Tuesday evening and recommended a one-year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine.
Terrill’s comments to reporters displayed the same type of paranoid attitude he used when pushing House Bill 1804 in 2007. That was the anti-illegal immigration bill that made national headlines. I wrote about it here.
Here is some of the bill’s initial language:
The State of Oklahoma finds that illegal immigration is causing economic hardship and lawlessness in this state and that illegal immigration is encouraged by public agencies within this state that provide public benefits without verifying immigration status.
Just like his reported comments about the damage caused by his prosecution, the illegal immigration claims were sweeping generalizations that seemed devoid of real substance. What about the evidence? How exactly are illegal immigrants “causing economic hardship”?
But if those Democrats who actually opposed Terrill’s bill, which was signed into law by Henry in 2007, are thinking he has received some type of political karmic comeuppance, they should remind themselves that this bribery case is definitely a bipartisan affair.
Leftwich, a Democrat, was elected to her late husband’s Senate seat during a special election in 2003. Her late husband, Keith, who died of cancer that year, has both a college library and a stretch of interstate named for him, indicating he was generally revered as a politician. The charges against Debbe Leftwich were greeted with shock by some Democrats at the time they were announced and they obviously don’t help the party itself. Her trial is set for December.
Right now, one person who seems above the political fray is Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who once again carefully considered evidence and proceeded in what he knew was going to be a high-profile case. His office presented a thorough case that won over jurors.
Terrill says he plans to appeal his case, and he may well win, but for now he’s a convicted felon. Political bribery remains a serious charge in our culture. It’s wrong, and it should be punished. That’s how the jury also apparently viewed it.
In the end, Terrill’s comments about the alleged damage caused by his prosecution is just another generalization that will go down the collective memory hole of Oklahomans who even cared about this trial. Terrill is doing himself no favors.
Why does Oklahoma continue to lead the nation in female incarceration on a per capita basis?
Do women commit more crimes here than they do elsewhere? Is it because of strict drug laws? Is it the state’s law-and-order mentality? Is it rigid sentencing and punitive approaches in our legal system?
It seems we’ve all known for years that it’s wrong for Oklahoma to lead the nation in this dubious category of imprisoning women and that it’s a waste of taxpayer money, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough political will to change the status quo.
Recently, a University of Oklahoma sociologist, Susan Sharp, blamed the high rate of female incarceration on “mean” laws here, especially strict drug laws, which often lead to lengthy prison sentences for women here. She also pointed out the lack of more drug treatment programs and mental health facilities.
An interim legislative study about the issue was even conducted last week by state Rep. Kevin Matthews, a Tulsa Democrat, who said in a media release:
I understand that Oklahomans want to see criminals locked up, but we are No. 1 in incarcerating females, because we may be locking up women who would not be considered criminals in other states, and who have unresolved mental, emotional and substance abuse problems. I think that while the state successfully rehabilitates a small percentage of these women, we need to expand successful alternate sentencing and diversion programs. The study also looked at how incarcerating women leads to trauma, financial hardship, social stigmas and instability in their children. Today’s presenters made several policy recommendations that I want to share with my colleagues and see if there is anything we can do to create better outcomes through legislation in the upcoming legislative session.
Note, “. . . we may be locking up women who would not be considered criminals in other states . . .” That’s a key point in this debate.
But can anything really happen in our Republican-dominated legislature to address the issue? That’s the real question. No one can dispute the facts or the basic comparison between Oklahoma and other states. It has resulted in a major waste of taxpayer money and damaged lives. One could make the argument that the lock-them-up mentality actually creates more crime here by turning non-violent offenders into hardened criminals. We actually make criminals through draconian laws and sentencing, creating a cycle that doesn’t get broken.
I’ve written recently about new reports showing how women are not faring so well in Oklahoma these days. The state’s high female incarceration rate when compared to the national average is yet another example of basic discrimination and tells yet another bad story to the nation about how women are treated here. It all adds up, and it’s way past the time to do something about it.