This is a blog of populist and liberal information and ideas, advancing the cause of truth and justice while fighting the ugly tyranny of right-wing oppression in Oklahoma and its surrounding environs.

Rice Introduces Steffanie’s Law

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With all the corruption charges and cultural wedge issues flying around in Oklahoma politics these days, it is always nice to note when a state politician is actually working on a real issue to help people.

State Sen. Andrew Rice (D-Oklahoma City) continues to lead on health care issues in the legislature.

Rice, who is also running against U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe this year, has introduced a bill called “Steffanie’s Law,” which would require insurance companies to cover routine medical costs for patients participating in clinical trials.

The bill is named after Steffanie Collings, a young Noble woman who recently received extensive surgery for a brain tumor. Her family’s health insurance company balked at paying for the procedure, which they considered to be a clinical trial. Now Steffanie, 18, and her family have hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.

According to a news report, the bill is similar to legislation already passed in 23 other states. The bill is co-sponsored by state Sen. John Sparks (D- Norman). The House author is Kris Steele (R-Shawnee).

Jim Stafford, in an insightful piece for The Daily Oklahoman, quotes Rice:

"We think it's unfortunate that we've got this new medical research that we're all excited about and behind and offer up to our citizens, and then the insurance carriers won't cover it. It's an important issue.

"I think we're finding that frustrations on insurance coverage for people who have private insurance is something that cuts across income lines and political affiliations. We just want it to get a fair hearing."

McMahan Should Take Administrative Leave

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State Auditor and Inspector Jeff McMahan should step aside until criminal charges against him are resolved.

McMahan’s position is one that demands people accept and trust his authority and integrity. The charges against him, whether valid or not, leave that authority and integrity in question.

The auditor, a Democrat, pictured right, has been charged with receiving excessive campaign contributions in 2002 from a businessman identified in the media as Steve Phipps. In return, McMahan did special favors for him as auditor, the charges allege. McMahan’s wife has been charged with him, and they face a total of 135 years in jail.

Phipps is a longtime business associate of former state Sen. Gene Stipe, a Democrat, and has pleaded guilty to mail fraud and paying kickbacks to three state legislators. Stipe pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2003 for funneling illegal campaign contributions to Walt Roberts, who ran for a congressional seat in 1998.

McMahan’s indictment and Stipe’s conviction play into the local Republican narrative that the Oklahoma Democratic Party is the party of “politics as usual.” Gary Jones, the chairperson of the Oklahoma Republican Party, ran against McMahan unsuccessfully in 2002 and 2006. During the 2006 campaign, he claimed McMahan accepted questionable campaign contributions in 2002.

Will these recent developments hurt state Democrats overall in elections this year? Well, obviously, it will not help. The state Democrats need to recast their image given the McMahan indictments and the ongoing Stipe spectacle. This may take some time. Obviously, the Republicans have their own image problems. House Speaker Lance Cargill, a Republican, was recently warned for not filing his state tax returns and faces other questions for his handling of some GOP campaign contributions, but McMahan’s dilemma will no doubt be in the news much longer.

Gov. Brad Henry has suggested McMahan take an administrative leave from his position. This is a good idea.

No Excuses: State Legislators Must File Tax Returns

Image of Lance Cargill

I know Oklahomans without health insurance, people who make around $30,000 a year or less, and they have had to PAY more in state taxes at the end of year. But they filed their taxes on time.

So is it too much to ask Oklahoma’s elected officials to file their state taxes?

The Daily Oklahoman reported Sunday five state legislators—House Speaker Lance Cargill, state Sen. Connie Johnson and state Reps. Don Armes, Ryan McMullen, Jabar Shumate—were warned recently by the Oklahoma Tax Commission for not filing state tax returns. Nolan Clay and Randy Ellis wrote the copyrighted story, headlined "5 legislators are warned for not filing" on Newsok.com. It is an insightful and telling piece of reporting.

Speaker Cargill’s failure to file his state tax returns over the last two years until warned by state officials seems especially hypocritical. Cargill, a Republican from Harrah, pictured right, simply said he made a mistake, had a miscommunication with an accountant and hurried to file the returns. But the attorney's excuse does not add up. Is he so important and rich and busy he does not even know if his taxes are filed? If so, then he is completely out of touch with the vast majority of Oklahomans, who would never even think about not filing their taxes.

Cargill, in his powerful position, has much to say about how state tax dollars are spent, and that is why his failure to file his state taxes on time seems so hypocritical. As Clay and Ellis point out, he voted in favor of a 2003 law that requires state agencies to fire employees who consistently do not file state taxes. So should Cargill get fired? What about state employees who did not file their taxes for two years in a row? So does Cargill think they should get fired, but he should not get fired? This would be an obvious double standard.

According to the story, "Intentionally failing to file a state income tax return is a misdemeanor, even if no further taxes are owed. The crime has a maximum punishment of a year in jail and a $5,000 fine."

Johnson, a Democrat from Oklahoma City, was warned for not filing taxes in 2004, 2005, and 2006, according to the story. She blamed it on a 2002 divorce. The excuse seems bogus. Divorces can be tough, and there are often money issues involved, true. Many of us can relate. But common sense argues someone who can take the time to get elected to a state legislature in this country to represent taxpayers can certainly find the time and the means to file tax returns no matter what. How exactly did the 2002 divorce prevent her from filing taxes? She said, “the paperwork, you know, the ex has it and some accountant has it . . .” Can Johnson not obtain her tax-related documents elsewhere? How does a 2002 divorce prevent someone from filing a tax return in 2006?

Armes, a Republican from Faxon, according to the story, said he did not file his 2005 and 2006 returns because he had “too many irons in the fire.” Whatever. Armes should resign his position as a legislator—a position we can assume he actually spent time campaigning for—if it means he cannot file his state taxes on time or, you know, maybe he can remove an iron and replace it with filing a tax return. Is he really that busy?

McMullen, a Democrat from Burns Flat, was notified he had not filed his 2001 and 2006 tax returns. According to the story, McMullen said he was a college student in 2001 and consequently did not have to file a return. Okay, fair enough. But he blamed his failure to file his 2006 return on “the rigors of this job.” He, too, should resign his position if the legislature gig is so terribly difficult and time consuming. What if a welder or a mechanic or a teacher used the “rigors of the job” excuse for not filing taxes?

Shumate, a Democrat from Tulsa, was warned he had not filed tax returns in 1999, 2001, 2004, 2005 and 2006. His response, according to the story, was this: “It was a shock to me.” So apparently he did not file state tax returns for five years, and it is a shock because by law he was reminded of this fact by a state agency. Shocking, indeed! Did Shumate really not know he had failed to file the returns? How does that even happen? Even if his excuse were true, what type of person would not know he/she had not filed a state tax return for five years?

No one right now is claiming these politicians owe tax money or are evading taxes, but the fact is none of the excuses pass the smell test, and it just shows again how many politicians today remain out of touch with the vast majority of citizens in this country. These politicians and others obviously do not have much in common with most ordinary Oklahomans, who would never even consider for a second not filing their state taxes.

I know Oklahomans without health insurance, people who make around $30,000 a year or less, and they have had to PAY more in state taxes at the end of year. But they filed their taxes on time.

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