It's Henry In A Landslide
Democrats locally and nationally did well in Tuesday’s elections by representing the country’s pragmatic center and triumphing over the GOP politics of extremism and polarization.
Overall, the results mean the country has come back to its senses—again the pragmatic center as envisioned by the nation’s founders--after several misguided years following the September 11, 2001 attacks and the lies and constitutional violations of the President George Bush administration.
Locally, Democrats swept virtually all the executive offices, from Gov. Brad Henry’s landslide victory over the religious extremist Ernest Istook to Lloyd Fields’ victory over Brenda Reneau for Labor Commissioner. In a bellwether lieutenant governor’s race that showed just how much voters are tired of the GOP politics of hate and anger, Democrat Jari Askins beat former House Speaker Todd Hiett, the Republican ideologue from Kellyville.
In two other significant races that show voter discontent with the “stay-the-course” GOP, Democrat Wallace Collins beat religious extremist Thad Balkman, another Republican ideologue, in a House race, and rising political star and state Senate candidate Andrew Rice trounced his “hedge-of-thorns” candidate Joshua Jantz, a GOP Bible-thumper who obviously envisions Oklahoma as a grand quasi-theocracy.
Meanwhile, David Prater beat incumbent Wes Lane for Oklahoma County District Attorney in an election that, again, showed voters wanted change.
Unfortunately for Oklahoma, however, is the fact the Oklahoma House remains under Republican control, and our Congressional delegation continues to be dominated by the GOP. The GOP congressional delegation will do little for our state over the next two years. Don’t count on U.S. Senators “global-warming-is-a-hoax” Jim Inhofe or “rampant lesbianism” Tom Coburn to do anything but help rich oil company executives get richer on the backs of hard-working Oklahomans.
Unfortunately as well, the Oklahoma Senate ended up tied 24-24 between Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats formerly controlled the Senate. Askins, as lieutenant governor, will break tie votes, but there are certainly conservative Democrats in the Senate. Expect a lot of religious-driven legislation next session on issues such as intelligent design and prayer in school. Expect TABOR to come back in some form. All this legislation will harm the state’s image and hurt economic development. Our centennial year will be marred by huge political fights just as the country turns back to the pragmatic center.
This is what the intrepid Dr. Victor Hutchison, who runs the major listserv that follows the intelligent design movement in Oklahoma, says about the Oklahoma election's outcome:
"The Republicans held the House majority, although Democrats gained a few seats, and the Senate is now tied 24 – 24. In the past few years creationism bills (and other ideological measures) passed the House but were killed in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Any creationist bill in either house that makes it to a floor vote is likely to pass. Thus, we believe that there will continue to be attempts (as in the past six years) to promote creationism in the Legislature. It is not clear yet just how the Senate committees will be formed, what party will control the chairmanship of committees and thus the fate of bills, etc. It appears that the efforts to prevent the diminishment of science education will require major new strategies and efforts. We will post information as the committee structure of the Senate becomes clear."
So the story is that state Democrats have a lot more work to do. Democrats also need to start developing candidates for U.S. Congress. Andrew Rice would be a great candidate for District 5 in two years.
On the national level, Democrats took over control of the House, and they were leading in the U.S. Senate race in Virgina that would give them control of that political body. Even if that race goes to the GOP, Democrats will still have the leverage and power to force changes in flawed White House policies that have created a terrorist haven in Iraq and made us a despised country throughout the world.
The new House leadership needs to create investigative and oversight committees about the Iraq debacle and the lies leading up to it, the torture of prisoners in American custody, and the wiretapping of American citizens. Also, where has all the Iraq reconstruction money gone? All this could inevitably lead to impeachment proceedings against Bush. It could be ugly and messy, but it may be needed to reconcile the administration’s massive abuse of power with the emerging center. It depends on forthcoming decisions from the Bush administration on issues such as government transparency and sharing records.
What doesn’t get spoken about much in the mainstream media in Oklahoma is the fact that the netroots—blogs and political websites—played a major role in bringing about the resurgence of the Democrats.
No site deserves more credit locally than the Democrats of Oklahoma Community Forum. It was relentless in providing up-to-date campaign information for progressives and giving them a voice in conservative Oklahoma. These grassroots operations—and I humbly count Okie Funk among them—are changing the face of politics. Who needs The Daily Oklahoman’s mush when it comes to what’s going on politically here in this state? And these sites are only in their infancy.
Democrats simply could not have won here and elsewhere as much as they did without the rising netroots. The Democratic power structure in Oklahoma needs to embrace the local netroots with more vigor if it wants to recapture the House and Senate. The Democratic leadership made tentative, baby steps this year in this regard, but it needs to do much more.
Election Board Computer?
So, speaking of electronic communication, one of the weirdest facts that emerged Tuesday night was this: Michael Clingman, state election board secretary, said results for the election were parsed through 1990 computer equipment. He attributed slower tabulations to the old equipment in a local news article. (Yes, you read that right. It’s 1990.)
I don’t know how many times I have seen this technology weirdness in Oklahoma. Somewhere, I bet, excellent, new, unused computer-related equipment is sitting in some closet in a state government office while those who need it are using outdated equipment. We need to get the right technological equipment to the right people. Obviously, the board needs new equipment. This is a non-partisan issue. The governor and legislature should make this a top priority.
If Democrats can’t take back the Oklahoma House and retain control of the state Senate in Tuesday’s election you can expect another year of religious-driven politics that will ultimately harm the state’s economic development.
The Oklahoma and national GOP these days remain dominated by Christian extremists. The Republican business-oriented, libertarian types—you know, those people with whom you use to be able to argue about the economy over some beers—have sold their party out to the lowest common denominator for personal profit.
All the potential GOP-sponsored religious legislation, such as eliminating science studies by mandating schools teach intelligent design or requiring school prayer, ultimately tarnishes the state with a “hick” image. Businesses do not want to locate here. People do not want to move here. The state’s intelligent residents want to leave. It’s the state’s sad story. Don’t think for a minute the state’s most influential political and business players don’t know this. That's why they bailed on Ernest Istook, the Republican religious extremist running for governor.
The GOP needs to pick up only three senate seats to gain a majority in that political body. Unfortunately, that could happen. Republicans already hold a majority in the House. Unless state Democrats, who should be motivated by the historic failure of the Republican government on a national level, can show up in big numbers at the polls, Oklahoma’s centennial year will be a wash for progressives.
It’s true Governor Brad Henry, a Democrat, is almost certain to win reelection. But if both legislative bodies go Republican, Henry can do little to fight back, especially if he plans to run for the U.S. Senate in the future and worries about making enemies.
If Republicans pick up two seats in the Oklahoma Senate that will mean it will be equally divided. In that case, the lieutenant governor breaks any tie votes. That’s why it’s important for Oklahoma that Democrat Jari Askins is elected to the position. She is running against Todd Hiett, the Republican who led the House majority last legislation session. If elected, Hiett is sure to work closely with local GOP religious extremists to ensure Oklahoma becomes one of the first quasi-theocratic states in the country.
National polls are now predicting Democrats have a good chance gaining a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives in the midterm elections. Some pundits even think the Democrats have a chance to take back the U.S. Senate. These polls reflect the country’s growing anger at President George Bush’s failed Iraq war policies and the growing wealth disparity between the country’s richest people and the middle class
Yet Republican gerrymandering and unethical election engineering preventing Democrats from voting in some major cities could mean Republicans retain their majority. It has happened before. Why do some progressives, who are obviously optimistic about the Democrats' chances, think the GOP will not take the low road again or that they will be able to stop it? Voter suppression is the GOP's modus operandi. It's from Karl Rove's playbook.
But, regardless of what happens nationally, this is Oklahoma, where the largest newspaper declines to offer real alternative views to its right-wing propaganda. This is a state with a church on every other corner yet it leads the nation in hungry families and has the second highest number of children without health insurance in the country.
The state will pay a high price in terms of economic development and its residents’ personal freedoms if it continues to support the new corrupt-laden GOP, the party that combines the obvious contradiction of hypocritical religious extremists like Ted Haggard and accused hypocritical sexual predators like former U.S. Rep. Mark Foley with the supposed business-oriented, small-government people, with the supposed "law-and-order" crowd. This coalition of consistent corruption and immorality has failed miserably on the national level. How long will it take Oklahomans to realize it has failed us here and will continue to do so?
Your progressive vote Tuesday is critical to ensure Oklahoma offers opportunities for all people, not just for religious extremists/hypocrites and those people who use them for their own short-term profit. In the words of Oklahoma’s native son Woody Guthrie, “This land is your land, this land is my land.” Vote.
Polls Show Henry With Commanding Lead
You know it’s a bad year for the Republicans when even The Daily Oklahoman won’t endorse the GOP candidate for Oklahoma governor.
The newspaper, one of the most conservative publications in the nation, recently ran an unsigned editorial (“Two good men: Race to set pace for state’s future,” October, 29, 2006) in which it declined to endorse either Democrat Brad Henry or Republican Ernest Istook.
This non-endorsement of Istook is a big slap in the face to his misguided campaign, which has been floundering for months. It also shows that the state’s oppressive, right-wing power structure is either (1) certain Henry will win and is fishing for new corporate tax cuts this coming legislative session or (2) truly believes as many do that Istook’s public theocratic religious agenda would harm the state. Maybe it’s a little of both.
Congressman Istook’s religious agenda includes his infamous Religious Freedom Amendment, which was nothing more that an attempt to break down the wall separating government and religion. If elected governor here, Istook, a Mormon, will surely propose religious legislation or enact executive decrees that would bring religion into state government.
Istook’s election would also be a serious red flag to progressives and liberals in the state. Who would want to live in such a close-minded place with an obvious religious extremist as governor?
Polls show Governor Brad Henry with a commanding lead. Henry, a moderate Democrat, obviously deserves a second term as governor. He has worked to fund public education while cutting taxes. He plays to the pragmatic center. Many people are sick of Istook’s brand of GOP extremism as the Iraq war debacle drags on.
Meanwhile, the Istook campaign is taking the low road with pathetic attack ads and ugly campaign rhetoric. Istook, for example, has criticized Henry for signing a bill allowing a few children of undocumented workers to get in-state college tuition. It seems so petty and senseless. None of the ads have gained any traction.
Istook’s campaign has also suffered because of the country’s low approval of current Republican leadership on the national level. Istook uses the immigration issue to criticize Henry, but he was actually in a position to do something about it and failed to do so. Istook merely draws attention to his failed tenure in the U.S. Congress when he brings up immigration.
Will The Dems Win?
It’s okay to be optimistic that Democrats will capture a majority in the House or Senate, and it’s fine to be optimistic about the Democrats chances here in Oklahoma from governor on down the ticket.
Public opinion shows the country is sick of the Bush administration and the Republican Congress, but does the country still have the democratic tools to force a correction? Republican gerrymandering makes it nearly impossible for Democrats to compete in some congressional districts. In addition, the GOP political machine will undoubtedly employ, as usual, unscrupulous tactics to prevent Democrats from voting in major cities.
Progressives here should realize we’re engaged in struggle against an entrenched right-wing machine that may take many more years to win. What’s important is that we vote this coming Tuesday and stay focused on changing the political landscape no matter what the outcome.