Even The Oklahoman editorial page has expressed caution about more income tax cuts this upcoming legislative session.
But that hasn’t stopped Gov. Mary Fallin from announcing she plans to call for tax cuts in her upcoming state of the state speech to open the next Oklahoma legislative session, which begins Feb. 3.
Fallin won’t say yet how much she wants to reduce Oklahoma’s top income tax rate of 5.25 percent, but House and Senate bills have been introduced that would slash the rate to 4 percent over the next four years.
The state currently faces a $170 million budget shortfall, education funding has been drastically cut over the last several years and the state’s corrections system desperately needs more money. Many state workers have gone without raises for seven years. The state Capitol building is crumbling and still needs vital repairs.
Given that bleak outlook, it would seem prudent for lawmakers to stabilize the budget by finding additional revenue, not push for irresponsible tax cuts, but this is an election year and the GOP controls both the House and Senate and executive branch of government. Those up for re-election, like Fallin, are likely to try to outdo one another in proving their conservative bonafides. Tax cut rhetoric will obviously be part of their campaign arsenals.
The real question is whether all these tax-cutting Republican lawmakers actually believe that their actions spur economic development or if they are engaging in a systematic process to defund government as much as possible without a shred of concern for the overall quality of life here.
A tax cut passed last year was tossed out by the Oklahoma Supreme Court because it obviously violated the state constitution’s single-subject rule. I’ve argued that it’s even possible lawmakers actually intentionally poisoned the legislation so it wouldn’t go into effect. Maybe that’s wishful thinking and gives them too much credit.
The political dynamic this year, however, is vastly different. U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s announcement that he’s retiring has unleashed a great deal of political maneuvering. U.S. Rep. James Lankford, for example, is seeking Coburn’s Senate spot, which puts his 5th Congressional seat in serious play. House Speaker T.W. Shannon might just be among those who also run for Coburn’s position, according to reports, and he could step down from his position soon.
What all this means on a larger level is that Republicans will be pitted against Republicans in highly contested and visible elections. The conservative extremism and ambiance will trickle down to less visible state legislative races, which will affect how incumbents approach this year’s session.
Will schools, state workers and corrections once again get left behind in all the political jockeying and extremism?
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s decision to retire early from the Senate has so far set off a flurry of commitments and considerations for both his seat and the 5th District Congressional seat now held by U.S. Rep. James Lankford.
Lankford, pictured far right, has announced he’s running for Coburn’s seat, which means he has to give up his Congressional seat, which is up for re-election as well. At this point, he seems like a frontrunner for the position, but that could change. Conservative groups, such as the Senate Conservatives Fund and Club For Growth are indicating they won’t support Lankford for the position.
Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon, a Lawton Republican, has announced he’s considering a run for the Senate seat. U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine of the 1st District Congressional seat has been mentioned as a candidate as well.
Is there an opportunity for Democrats or even real progressives wedged into this new political mix somehow? Will more positions open up as other office holders announce they will run for Coburn’s seat?
The answers, in order: Probably not, and we’ll know soon enough. Serious candidates for Coburn’s seat will need to commit much earlier than the April 11 filing deadline if they want to have a chance of winning.
I can at least envision (perhaps, “dream” is the right word) the unlikely scenario in which a big-name Democrat, such as former Gov. Brad Henry, runs for the Senate seat, and the Republicans splinter in the primary because of Tea Party squabbles, leaving them with a weak candidate in the general election. But that’s probably wishful thinking.
Democrats might have a better chance for Lankford’s Congressional seat. Democrat Tom Guild is already in the race. There’s a grassroots movement to get Democrat Jim Roth, a former Corporation Commissioner, pictured right, to run as well. On the Republican side those mentioned as possible candidates include State Sen. Clark Jolley of Edmond, Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Patrice Douglas, former state legislators Steve Russell of Oklahoma and Shane Jett of Tecumseh. Let’s don’t forget that Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett once ran for the seat. Would he do it again?
Again, it’s possible that a crowded Republican field in the primary election could result in a winning GOP candidate that’s not as appealing in the general election. That’s why it’s important Democrats elect the strongest candidate possible in the primary.
If Shannon does run for the Senate seat that could change the dynamic in this year’s legislative session.
In the end, though, the “Obama effect” may well doom any U.S. Senate or House campaign for any Democrat in Oklahoma. Anyone with even a small chance of winning knows this reality far too well. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t run in order to present alternative views to the conservative dogma here, but a Democratic victory in either of these races or in even other races if more Republican office holders decide to run would be a major upset.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s decision to leave the Senate before his second term is finished should have progressives here in Oklahoma at least a tad worried.
Could Oklahoma elect someone even more conservative to fill his seat? That’s absolutely possible. Unless a big-name politician, such as former Gov. Brad Henry, steps into the race, Democrats have little chance to replace Coburn. Some of the Republicans who have been mentioned as possible candidates include ultra-conservative politicians that pander to the most extreme elements of their party.
Coburn, widely known as a fiscal conservative, announced last week that he was retiring from the Senate, where he has served since his 2004 election. Coburn has been dealing with a reccurence of prostate cancer, and he said he wanted to spend more time with his family. He had earlier pledged not to serve more than two terms in the Senate. I respect his decision to step down. There have even been times when I’ve actually agreed with Coburn on issues. For example, I agreed with Coburn recently that the National Football League should not be exempted from taxes.
I was quoted Friday on the NPR.org site about Coburn’s retirement. As I argued, I found some of Coburn’s Senate actions through the years--his numerous holds on legislation that earned him the nickname “Dr. No”--as political theater and simple constituent pandering. Yet Coburn has to be considered the lesser of the two evils when compared to U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who remains reviled in major pockets of this country and world for his radical views disavowing climate-change science and his antiquated position on gay rights. Inhofe will be up for reelection this year as well and has drawn a Democratic opponent, which means both the state’s U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs.
Gov. Mary Fallin set the dates for the special election for Coburn’s seat on the regular election schedule, which means some of the politicians mentioned as candidates would have to give up their current positions in order to run. This could make the election extremely intriguing and could open up opportunities for Democrats and progressives if a bevy of Republicans decided to run.
Some media outlets locally and nationally, however, have already opined that Democrats have no chance for either Senate seat, and that Inhofe will easily coast to reelection. Anti-Obama hysteria or the “Obama effect,” fueled by the corporate media here, especially The Oklahoman, is the major reason Democrats have been sidelined over the last several years in the Oklahoma political scene.
Republicans have super majorities in the state House and Senate, hold all the major statewide offices and make up the state’s entire Congressional delegation.
So could the state’s political scene get even more radically conservative? Yes. Some of those Republicans mentioned as possible candidates for Coburn’s seat include U.S. Reps. James Lankford and Jim Bridenstine. (Lankford, in particular, is expected to run.) Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon has also been mentioned. What about Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who once ran for a Congressional seat on an ultra-conservative, anti-gay rights platform? He certainly knows how to dish out the shallow, right-wing rhetoric and work the corporate power structure here.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt have issued statements stating that they would not run for the seat. Of all the possible Republican candidates mentioned in the media, Cole would have been the most palpable for progressives.
It’s my perception that Lankford, Bridenstine, and Shannon have all identified in one way or another with right-wing extremism in ways deeper than even Coburn and would probably be even more ideological. Cornett is involved in a highly contested mayoral election, but it wouldn’t surprise me if he ran for the position or ran for Lankford’s Congressional seat.
So it goes in Oklahoma these days. Progressives can probably only hope for less radical Republicans to win elections. This will change one day, but, for now, that’s the reality.