Republican Gov. Mary Fallin isn’t generally known for possessing brilliant oratory skills or known for making witty and resonating off-the-cuff remarks to the press, but that held true for her Democratic predecessor Gov. Brad Henry.
Maybe a majority of Oklahoman voters just don’t trust slick talkers. Certainly, there’s a lot of distrust here for President Barack Obama, one of the best orators ever elected to political office. The use of soaring rhetoric and ironic, witty retorts, the result of intellectual insight and practice, must be an anathema to the down-home spinners here.
Given all that, it didn’t surprise me in the least that Fallin supposedly fumbled her way verbally through an attempt to defend the Ten Commandments monument, which still stands on state Capitol grounds despite the recent 7-2 Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling that it must be removed.
The media made a big deal about Fallin’s definition of the three branches of government when she talked to reporters about supporting the monument recently. This is really just a side issue to what she was trying to say, and I’m fairly certain the college-educated Fallin knows the three branches of government include the executive, legislative and judicial. Here’s the Fallin quote that caused the media storm:
You know, there are three branches of our government. You have the Supreme Court, the legislative branch and the people, the people and their ability to vote. So I’m hoping that we can address this issue in the legislative session and let the people of Oklahoma decide.
I’m not the first to point this out, but the so-called gaffe (or, really, was it a gaffe?) is far less important than a governor openly ignoring a court ruling so people can decide to impose their religious beliefs on other people. The judicial branch of government was established, among other things, to prevent such occurrences. The rule of law prevents the rule of mob and tyranny over minorities.
Fallin’s specific point seems to be that she wants the legislature to create a ballot title so voters can repeal Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma Constitution in a general election. That section states:
No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.
At this point, I’ve written about this section and the ruling so much I’m losing some interest in its legal and historical specifics. Here’s my last post on the issue. Here’s the one before that. The court’s ruling, it should be noted, is not at all controversial in any legal sense. Read the section. Note that the Ten Commandments monument is currently on public property.
What everyone should be concerned with, however, is that Fallin has NOT ordered the monument removed and is acting defiantly against the basic rule of law. Even if Oklahoma voters eventually vote to repeal the section, which is a reasonable expectation, then the monument should be removed until they do so. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has essentially asked the court to reconsider the decision, but the 7 to 2 vote represents a solid majority.
Both Fallin and Pruitt probably also know, along with their three branches of government, that there’s still constitutional arguments to be made on the state level against the public location of the monument beyond the use of Article 2, Section 5, or at least I think so. There’s also the federal court system as well, the overall issue of the separation of church and state and the First Amendment. It’s highly unlikely the American Civil Liberties Union will give up on the case if the state constitutional section is repealed. This case is going to go on.
I have a deep appreciation for the historical civil disobedience practiced peacefully by Dr. Martin Luther King and his followers during the civil rights movement, but the Ten Commandments monument case doesn’t begin to rise to this level. The vast majority of people in Oklahoma have broad access to the Ten Commandments. It’s in the Bible. It can be found on the Internet. Study it. Promote it. Talk about it in Sunday School classes. The monument’s public location isn’t a matter of a violation of rights or an action for equality, precepts guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
The monument is a stone with some words on it put up in 2012 and paid for by the family of state Rep. Mike Ritze, a Republican from Broken Arrow and a Southern Baptist ordained deacon and Sunday School teacher. Put up the monument on some private property. Allow people to view it. I would bet most people against the monument’s public location wouldn’t mind or care. I certainly wouldn’t care. But Fallin should comply with the court ruling and get it off state property.
The lesson taught here is not that our governor doesn’t even know the three branches of government, which she most likely does, but that it’s okay to ignore the rule of law and the judicial branch of government. Ignoring the rule of law in this case is not heroic civil disobedience. This is about publicly privileging Judeo-Christian religious edicts above other religions and people without religious affiliations. It’s a clear violation of the separation of church and state.
The fact that Gov. Mary Fallin’s approval rating has significantly dropped and that she now finds herself in a competitive race in her reelection bid may well be part of a national growing dissatisfaction with the Republican Party on a state level.
A recent post on PoliticusUSA shows how Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who has practically bankrupt our neighboring state through radical tax cuts, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal are also in highly competitive reelection races with challengers.
A Daily Kos post published in April also cited even more Republican governors facing reelection problems.
Fallin was mentioned in the PoliticusUSA post because her approval rating has dropped over the last year by approximately 20 percent, according to SoonerPoll. A recent Rasmussen poll also showed Fallin had only a slim 45 to 40 percent lead in her race against Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman, pictured right with Fallin. Until now the prevailing wisdom has been that Fallin would coast to victory.
So are voters simply growing tired of Republican-dominated state governments with their litany of ideological initiatives, such as tax cuts for the wealthy and pension cuts for state workers? Has the backlash against President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in red states across the country, which began in the 2010, simply run its course?
It does appear likely that at least some of discontent with Fallin and other Republican governors can be associated with a general frustration among the electorate with one-party governance at the state level. Now that Obama is finishing his second term, he no longer serves as a catalyst for anger generated primarily by right-wing media outlets, such as Fox News. In essence he’s old news while the disaster of complete GOP dominance in red states has left behind its ruins. Just look at the financial shape of Kansas, which under Republican dominance led by Brownback implemented steep tax cuts for its wealthiest citizens and slashed its budget in draconian ways. Kansas has become a national spectacle of failed GOP ideology and extremism.
Pundits have argued that Fallin’s drop is due to her support of outgoing and controversial State Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi and her refusal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. I agree that Fallin’s support of Barresi, high-stakes testing and school privatization initiatives may have hurt her as well as her refusal to expand Medicaid under the generous terms set by the federal government. Fallin, of course, has recently tried to distance herself from Barresi, but she hasn’t bended yet on Medicaid. I also believe Fallin’s support for unnecessary tax cuts for the state’s oil and gas industry, along with inadequate funding for education, has created dissatisfied voters.
I also think Republicans with their supermajorities in the Oklahoma House and Senate have simply not delivered the panacea they promised. The state still has budget problems, a host of social problems, such as lack of medical access, and mind-boggling incarceration rates. Earthquakes, which scientists argue are caused by the oil and gas industry, now strike the state on a regular basis and state leaders, including Fallin, have been slow to react. Republicans promised efficient government, but that just hasn’t happened. They’re too busy passing meaningless, ideological bills or bills that don’t hold up to constitutional muster. Fallin, as the state’s top Republican, is probably facing a general dissatisfaction among Republican and Democratic voters over the state’s current direction.
In the end, if Dorman beats Fallin in the governor’s race, it will represent a major change in the political climate here.
I received a lot of supportive feedback about my last post in which I criticized Gov. Mary Fallin for trying to boost her reelection campaign by generating collective anger towards the refugee children now housed at Fort Sill in Lawton.
Fallin’s campaign has started a petition drive that aims to force President Barack Obama to move the Central American children—most of whom are fleeing violence in countries such as Honduras and Nicaragua—from the federal facility in Oklahoma. The petition drive is superfluous. Its only purpose is to create anger among conservative Oklahoma voters and activate them to support Fallin, who has been sinking in the polls recently.
The children are part of a widely reported exodus of Central American young people seeking asylum and refuge in the U.S. They have been labeled “migrant” or “illegal aliens” by the media and right-wing here, but the reality is they’re political refugees and victims of botched U.S. international and immigration policies.
The Oklahoma governor’s message is clear and simple: We don’t want these children in Oklahoma. As I wrote, this is a craven message and really tests the limits of Oklahoma voters. Do they really have that much hate inside themselves that they would allow children to suffer and even die and revel in it? Fallin’s campaign is banking on it. It’s also banking on the fact that voters won’t look more deeply into the issue and note a policy enacted under former President George Bush has prevented the federal government from acting more quickly to resolve the issue. Blame Bush, not Obama.
Here are some more extended arguments about the issue:
(1) Both the Catholic Church and, more importantly for Oklahoma, some Southern Baptist Church leaders have come out in support of giving aid to the children and treating them humanely, but the local right-wing religious folks have been fairly silent on the issue. Fallin’s campaign ploy really sets a new low in arousing “group hate” against a group of vulnerable children. It sets an unbelievable precedent in hatred and cravenness. The fact that Southern Baptist Church leaders here, in particular, aren’t fully criticizing Fallin’s lack of compassion shows how craven this religious denomination—rooted in racism—has become at the local level.
(2) To extend the argument further, I think about all the sanctimonious Oklahoma people who make mission trips to impoverished countries, preaching their gospel and undoubtedly furthering the anti-abortion cause among people. But now that these brown-skinned people are in their home state in the U.S., the home-grown “missionaries” turn their backs on them and become red in the face with anger and indignation. These people simply lack moral compunction. Their religious beliefs are twisted and sordid.
(3) What about American “exceptionalism,” the right-wing canard? So our country is so exceptional that we’re going to deport children back to countries in which they face death and misery and impoverishment?
(4) The cliché is that Oklahomans are so nice, but what type of craven people would support a politician who agitates essentially for the mistreatment of children? What type of people would get some type of visceral thrill by mistreating children? Let’s be clear: Many, many Oklahomans are not “nice” at all in any traditional sense. They burn inside with hatred and spite. It’s the state’s shame, and the dirty little secret you won’t find on any state tourist brochure.
(5) Let’s also be clear about this: Fallin’s campaign ploy is racist. If these children were white, would there even be a question about helping them? Fallin’s attempt to agitate the hateful mob is rooted in the darker side of the American story, the racist story, the one coated over with euphemisms in our elementary-school textbooks.
Conservative politicians, of course, have a long history of whipping up anger among voters in order to get votes while deflecting attention way from issues that matter, such as income inequality. So there’s nothing really new here, with the exception that these are young children who need our help. Fallin may well reverse her slide in the polls, but let it be noted at the very least that doing so at the expense of vulnerable children is an ugly way to do so.