Oklahoma GOP Schism?
(What's the difference between pro-life and pro-life intimidation? Read DocHoc's commentary this week in the state's finest alternative publication, the Oklahoma Gazette.)
Has the Oklahoma Republican corporate power structure finally hit the breaking point with GOP social conservatives?
It’s difficult not to ask this question in light of its vigilant and correct opposition to a bill that would have criminalized the practice of embryonic stem cell research in Oklahoma. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Reynolds, an Oklahoma City Republican, passed the state House and Senate, but was met with a veto by Gov. Brad Henry. The Senate sustained Henry’s veto, but Republicans may attempt to override the veto again.
Both the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Chambers of Commerce, which primarily take ultra-conservative, pro-big business positions on political issues, urged Henry to veto the bill, arguing it could inhibit the growth of the state’s health care industry, which they say make up 13 percent of the state’s workforce. The Oklahoman editorial page opposed the bill as well.
They also argued the bill would send the wrong message to the nation about the state’s commitment to bioscience research. The mission of this research is often to help sustain and enhance life.
Researchers use a limited number of frozen embryos to seek cures for a number of diseases and medical conditions, including diabetes and Alzheimer’s. These embryos, created for pregnancies, aren’t from abortions and would have been discarded anyway.
The facts didn’t stop the right-wing, social conservatives from making it a “pro-life” issue, however. House Speaker Chris Benge, according to a local news report, said this about Henry’s veto: “Oklahoma is a pro-life state, and its citizens are overwhelmingly opposed to research that would result in the death of an unborn child.”
According to a press release, this is what Reynolds said about the bill after the Senate passed it: “For me personally, the single-most important issue we deal with as legislators is protecting the right to life. The idea that we should condone the harvesting of children for ‘well intentioned’ research runs counter to all morality. Human embryos are human beings and the state cannot condone their destruction for research purposes.” Again, these embryos would have been discarded.
Is all this a significant political schism in the Republican Party here? This isn’t the first time the corporate power structure has been in conflict with the social conservatives in the GOP in recent years. The two took opposite positions on the illegal immigration issue, for example. But this issue has the potential to alienate the two groups even further. This is good for Oklahoma.
It’s difficult for the business community to push for economic growth in Oklahoma without caring about its national image. By speaking up on this issue, they have indicated they will fight backwards and anti-science legislation sponsored by Republicans in the House and Senate. If the corporate power structure wants real change, it will start to target individual legislative elections.
But this will surely embolden the social conservatives who will feel frustrated that the GOP majority is not passing its full agenda. There are conservative Democrats who support this agenda as well. Will the Republicans take more issues to the ballot box like they have with Voter ID?
The other related issue lurking in the background is the 2010 election. If the Republicans are able to win the governor’s seat and retain their majorities in the House and Senate, then more ideological legislation will likely become law and Oklahoma will become even more isolated as a state enslaved to the dead neoconservative movement.
The potential GOP schism here is reflective of the problems faced by Republicans nationally. The party continues to struggle with identity problems. U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter for example, announced recently he plans to change his party affiliation to Democratic from Republican. How much this will affect the Oklahoma political scene remains to be seen, but the GOP will have to move to the center nationally if it wants to win back the presidency and more Congressional seats.