Gov. May Fallin’s halting and stumbling state of the state speech—she lost her place more than once as she read her prepared remarks—should be noted for what it didn’t say as much as what it did.
This is not to necessarily pick on Fallin’s oratory skills too much, but in terms of delivery it was not one of her finest speeches and, in terms of content, it undoubtedly left some of the state’s ultra-conservatives and, of course, most progressives highly disappointed.
The speech on Monday had been publicized enough for people to know Fallin was going to recommend a small income tax cut without offsets, which the state cannot afford, and, contrarily, more money for some health programs. This is what she did, dishing out the typical Republican, “starve-the-beast” fare, and I will comment on this later, but what she didn’t say spoke volumes as well.
In what had to be a disappointment for the GOP’s uber-conservative legislators or what some are now calling its fringe element, Fallin held back on the President Barack Obama hatred, the Second Amendment fanaticism and the support for legislative religious-based initiatives, including anti-abortion efforts and the attack on science in schools.
Note carefully that I wrote “held back.” There were only two references to Obama by name. Both criticized his expansion of Medicaid. There was a general reference to partisan gridlock and the so-called better “Oklahoma Way” (yes, Way was capitalized in the written version of the speech and, yes, it seems cultish), but it lacked any reference to Obama specifically. This whole trope about how Washington can learn from Oklahoma has never had any credibility, and it still doesn't.
There was a reference about “jeopardizing our freedoms, like our right to keep and bear arms,” but it was short and innocuous. I couldn’t find a single reference to the Second Amendment in the speech.
Meanwhile, besides a short, obligatory reference to women’s wombs, as in “we must provide better care for children in the womb and at birth,” Fallin didn’t give the anti-abortion fanatics, who have floated the controversial Personhood bill again this session, much to cheer about.
The downplaying of Obama hatred, Second Amendment fanaticism and anti-abortion rhetoric had to be a disappointment to the more conservative members of the GOP-dominated legislature, which has veto-proof majorities.
On the progressive side, the lack of empirical evidence and basic logic in the speech, especially surrounding Fallin’s financial proposals, were especially disheartening.
Fallin, for example, wants to lower the top income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent without any offsets. I’ve seen estimates that this could cost the state budget from $100 to $140 million a year. She also made the point that the top rate kicks in at the income level at $8,700, presumably to argue how important it is that lower-income residents will benefit from the cut.
In her speech, Fallin left out the answer to these questions: If the state cuts a major revenue stream again, isn’t it imprudent to allocate additional dollars for health programs until we see how the tax cut will affect the state budget? How is such a cut responsible governance?
The reference to those people with lower incomes brings up another question. If Fallin is so concerned about low-income people, why doesn’t she simply recommend the state raise the income level at which the top rate kicks in? She would never say it in these words because of its crassness, but it’s obviously because the tax cut is designed to benefit the wealthiest Oklahomans.
Of course, last year, Fallin wanted a much steeper income tax cut and a rewrite of the state’s overall tax code, but that turned into a swamp of special interests and ideological posturing and what happened was nothing. Fallin had nothing to say about that GOP failure in her speech either.
Progressives should praise Fallin for her focus in the speech on rectifying “the continued poor health of Oklahoma and its families” and for recommending more money for mental health issues, but her recent rejection of Medicaid funds from the federal government is a historical blunder.
Fallin also left out any mention of how education funding has drastically declined in recent years because of Republican-sponsored tax cuts and the Great Recession.
Finally, Fallin offered up a paltry $10 million to begin fixing the crumbling state Capitol and its sewage problems. It will probably take $150 million or more to make the repairs. Fallin had indicated previously the legislature should consider using bond money to repair the building right away. She didn’t mention in the speech why she had changed her mind, though GOP opposition to it was undoubtedly the reason.
In an ad-lib moment of the speech, Fallin called attention to state Rep. Richard Morrisette, an Oklahoma City Democrat. Morrisette has rightly called for fixing the building right now, even if it means dipping into the state’s $600 million Rainy Day fund. Fallin joked that “Richard” must like smelling the sewage stench at the Capitol. On television, the camera panned to Morrisette and the moment came off as extremely awkward, if not an outright cheap shot. Morrisette wants to actually do something significant to fix the Capitol while Fallin has apparently given up on the project to appease members in her own party. Fallin then said something like, “just kidding, buddy” after the public teasing. It was a weird moment.
Here’s a another question left unanswered by Fallin: Does the stench of Republican hubris and irresponsible governance only add to the sewage smell, making the Capitol one stinky mess these days? Just kidding . . . ?
House Speaker T.W. Shannon, a Lawton Republican, and Gov. Mary Fallin, who grew up in Tecumseh, are the two major political players to watch as the Oklahoma Legislature convenes today.
Can these two leaders, in particular, along with Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, a Sapulpa Republican, temper the Tea Party ideologues and other extremists in their own party and prevent a GOP implosion as the session unfolds?
Bingman may have the easier job in the Senate just because it has fewer extremists that need to be appeased, and, anyway, his own support for radical anti-abortion legislation last year ties him closely to the ultra-conservative agenda.
Both Shannon and Fallin face larger, rowdier factions, all with political agendas, whether it’s cutting the income tax drastically or giving civil rights to fertilized human eggs or exempting Oklahoma from federal gun laws.
The Republicans, with their staggering veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate, have made it to the free legislative candy store, but will they stumble and trip over themselves in a stampede to gorge on the sweet treats of self-righteous, ideological purity? Duh-licious.
Republicans have a 72-29 majority in the House and a 36-12 majority in the Senate.
Shannon, the state’s first African American House Speaker, will probably have the toughest task corralling the social conservatives and Tea Party adherents, such as state Reps. Sally Kern and Mike Reynolds, both Oklahoma City Republicans, while pushing a right-wing fiscal agenda. Last year, for example, the anti-abortion personhood bill granting rights to fertilized eggs effectively died in the House. This year, the bill is back, even though the Oklahoma Supreme Court has ruled the entire idea unconstitutional. What will Shannon do?
But, like Bingman, Shannon has his own flirtations with what some may see as extremism. In a most recent example, Shannon has formed a States’ Rights Committee because, as he put it, “the need for our state to focus on our sovereignty is crucial to the future prosperity of Oklahomans.” Really? Crucial? What’s really crucial is to not jeopardize all the federal funds that flow into the state each year. The sovereignty idea came from another legislator, but Shannon made his endorsement extremely clear undoubtedly for political reasons. Is this mere anti-President Barack Obama secessionist drivel or something more recklessly substantial? Could this committee grow into another embarrassment to the state, which, of course, would actually diminish “the future prosperity of Oklahomans”?
The major fiscal issue this year will be whether the GOP has the intellectual apparatus and political unity to pass more tax cuts, including an income tax cut. Budget analysts, state agencies, educational institutions and the state’s think tanks will follow this issue closely, and all eyes will initially be on Fallin.
The governor has indicated she will propose an income tax cut without any offsets in her state of the state speech, but she has also stated her focus this year will be on the state’s overall health outcomes. Fallin wants her state’s citizens to be healthier, which is admirable enough, but it’s difficult to see how that can happen without more state spending and commitment to the issue. She, in fact, has already called for more funding for mental health issues.
How will Fallin reconcile her health-care ambitions and a tax cut, especially given the prevailing GOP philosophies about “individual responsibility” and “makers and the takers” expressed within the rank and file of her own political party in Oklahoma? Last year, Fallin’s desire for an income tax cut went unfulfilled because her own party couldn’t find agreement. Will that happen again?
What level of political power does Fallin, who remains a popular governor, even yield with the legislature given the veto-proof Republican majorities in the House and Senate?
One issue where that will obviously manifest itself is the division among Republicans on how to fix the state Capitol, which is literally and figuratively crumbling under Republican dominance. Fallin has proposed, among other ideas, that the state use bonds to pay for the repairs, a proposal labeled imprudent borrowing and denied by Republicans last year. Even the state’s ultra-conservative newspaper, The Oklahoman, owned by a Colorado billionaire oilman, has endorsed the bond-issue idea, but it’s doubtful Republicans here will go for it this year.
So the people’s Capitol crumbles away before our eyes as the various Republican factions flex their political muscles and accelerate the intraparty squabbling. It’s a fitting juxtaposition and defining image as the 2013 legislature convenes. Will the entire place just finally collapse this year from all the right-wing righteous indignation, Obama hatred, Republican in-fighting and lack of basic GOP foresight?
One of the first kooky pieces of legislation to get introduced for the next session of the Oklahoma Legislature is a typical and unoriginal conservative rant against the United Nations.
State Sen. Patrick Anderson, an Enid Republican, has introduced Senate Bill 23, which, if signed into law, would prohibit Oklahoma from adopting any recommendations from Agenda 21, a United Nations’ nonbinding measure focused on fostering sustainability and decreasing poverty. It was adopted by the United Nations in 1992 at its Conference on the Environment and Development in Brazil and endorsed by then President George H.W. Bush, also a Republican.
Agenda 21 has no power of law, but tell that to Anderson. This is from his bill:
This state and all political subdivisions shall not adopt or implement policy recommendations that deliberately or inadvertently infringe or restrict private property rights without due process, as may be required by policy recommendations originating in, or traceable to "Agenda 21" adopted by the United Nations in 1992 at its Conference on Environment and Development or any other international law or ancillary plan of action that contravenes the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of this state.
Let’s be clear: Agenda 21 could never contravene the Constitution of the United States because it merely recommends policies. It would definitely take government action within the United States and by United States’ citizens to “restrict property rights without due process.” Any claim otherwise is simply ludicrous and ridiculously paranoid.
Anderson told the media he’s worried how Agenda 21 could dictate federal policy when it comes to land use in Oklahoma, but that’s simply impossible or too generic in any legal sense to make any sense. For example, Agenda 21 promotes walkable communities. Oklahoma City has been building sidewalks and promoting walking. Federal money was recently used to build sidewalk ramps here. Does that mean the city, helped by the federal government, has adopted an Agenda 21 policy?
The anti-Agenda 21 movement backed by the floundering Tea Party—Anderson is definitely NOT being original here—has already reached several states, including Kansas and Alabama, which have passed similar legislation. The John Birch Society, an ultra-conservative organization, has a Stop Agenda 21 project, which claims the measure “seeks for the government to curtail your freedom to travel as you please, own a gas-powered car, live in suburbs or rural areas, and raise a family.”
The organized movement against Agenda 21 is similar to the birther movement that claims President Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Both are based on paranoia, fantasy and ideology. Some of their most fervent adherents should be considered mentally ill. I’m not saying that about Anderson, but one birther activist, Field Searcy, told a group of Georgia legislators that “Obama and the U.N. are using ‘mind control’ to implement Agenda 21 and [.. .] the alleged plot was similar to genocide programs promoted by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and Chinese leader Mao Zedong.” Does Anderson believe this? Don’t count on the Oklahoma corporate media to hold him accountable.
Don’t Anderson and his fellow Republicans in the Oklahoma legislature have better things to do than to engage in fantastical conjecture? Anderson’s legislation is frivolous and inane. Its real intent is to promote needless paranoia, as if it needed more, among the GOP base here.
The legislative session begins Feb. 4. If Anderson’s bill is any indication, we’re in for another bizarre spectacle.