Et Tu, Senate Democrats?

(Major bills pending in the Oklahoma Legislature attack the viable concept of diversity. Do Oklahomans really want to reject diversidad? Read DocHoc's commentary this week in the Oklahoma Gazette.)

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry is one of the state’s most popular governors in history so when legislators of both major political parties cut him out of the state’s budget process they are violating basic shared values of democracy.

Image of Brad Henry

Henry beat Ernest Istook in a landslide vote in November 2006. He won 66 percent of the vote. His recent approval rating, according to polls, is nearly 70 percent. This doesn’t give Henry a blank check, but surely this means Oklahoma voters want him involved in how the state spends its money.

But the Oklahoma Senate, tied evenly between Republicans and Democrats, voted unanimously this week to approve a $6.9 billion budget that had no input from Henry. The governor has rightfully complained and even threatened a veto.

In addition, according to a news report, “None of Henry's proposals are included in the package. They include more money for sentencing alternatives such as drug and mental health courts, a research center to develop alternative fuels and to match money for programs for low-income children” (“Criticism may set stage for budget veto,” The Daily Oklahoman, March 21, 2007)

All these proposals have merit and, at the very least, deserve discussion and debate, but the state legislature is busy isolating Oklahoma from the rest of the world with bills stripping women of reproductive rights and creating an Okie police state in its efforts to ensure not one single undocumented worker sets foot in this place. In contrast, all of Henry’s proposals actually do something positive and far-sighted for the state.

In a statement issued after the legislative budget deal was announced, Henry said, “I’m disappointed […] that legislative leaders have rolled emergency and regular spending items into what amounts to the largest spending bill in state history. By lumping $7 billion in spending into a single bill, legislative leaders have stifled debate about individual budget items and forced lawmakers to make an all or nothing decision without any real input. Fortunately, the line item veto provides the governor with more flexibility and discretion.”

Perhaps, Senate Democrats see the budget vote as a step in budget negotiations or maybe they face Republican threats about education funding or maybe it's just good ol' boy politics, but it’s difficult not to read their action as a basic betrayal. Henry is the leading Democrat in the state. Why create such a public display of dissension within the party?

Update: The Oklahoma House has now voted 84-16 to pass the budget measure approved by the Senate. It now goes to Henry for his signature. Some House Democrats complained about the process of bringing the measure to a vote so quickly, according to news reports.


State Legislation Criticizes Escalation, Occupation

Oklahomans Stand Against Occupation

All Oklahomans need to get behind a state legislative resolution criticizing the continuing occupation of Iraq and the president’s plan to escalate our involvement by sending more American troops to die in his botched debacle.

Image of state Sen. Connie Johnson

The legislation, Senate Concurrent Resolution 3, argues, “the United States government should not escalate its involvement in Iraq and other areas” and “President Bush should obtain explicit approval from Congress before sending more American troops to Iraq and that the United States Congress should pass legislation prohibiting the President from spending taxpayer dollars on an escalation in Iraq unless first gaining congressional approval.”

The resolution is sponsored by state Sen. Connie Johnson (D-Tulsa) and state Rep. Raymond McCarter (D-Marlow), two courageous legislators who run the risk of alienating the state's Bushbots and the neoconservative supporters of our new imperial-presidency form of government.

The bill notes the state’s vested interest in the issue: “Oklahoma is second only to Arkansas in the number of young men and women sent to the Army. Oklahoma contributed 1,296 of the 68,556 recruits signed by the Army in 2006, which represents a rate of more than two per 1,000 Oklahomans aged 15 to 24.”

Image of state Rep. Raymond McCarter

As the bill argues, “recent polls show that the vast majority of Americans do not support increasing the number of troops in Iraq, and that most military experts, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, oppose escalation in Iraq as a strategy. Legal experts on all sides have determined that Congress has not only broad authority, but a long tradition of limiting escalation or forcing redeployment of troops through the constitutionally designated power of the purse.”

The resolution has little chance of approval because it states the truth and this is the George W. Bush era of The Big Lie, but at least it shows there are forward-thinking people here in this state. Contact your state legislator and tell them you want them to support this important bill. Sign this online petition opposing the escalation and occupation.

Meanwhile, the long, gruesome occupation goes on.

Henry Backs Education Proposals

Gov. Brad Henry’s State of the State Address Monday contained strong support for education. Here are some of the highlights:

“We are capable of doing better. This session, I ask you to support tough legislation to ensure that every Oklahoma teenager completes high school. Let us resolve that within five years Oklahoma will boast the highest high school graduation rate in the entire country.”

And then this:

“We must also work toward producing more college graduates. Fortunately, we're making great strides. College enrollment continues to increase, and the number of our college graduates has risen by more than 20 percent since 2002.

“We need to capitalize on that momentum. One of the best ways to do so is through our Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program. Also known as Oklahoma's Promise, it makes a simple, but profound, pledge to eligible students. If you take a challenging curriculum, make good grades and stay out of trouble, the State of Oklahoma will pay for your college education. Students who participate in Oklahoma's Promise are more likely to graduate from high school and go to college. They are less likely to need remediation and more likely to earn a college degree. “

And this:

“Three years ago, we embarked on an ambitious journey to increase teacher pay to at least the regional average. We agreed that no longer would Oklahoma stand by and allow neighboring states to lure away our best and brightest educators. This year we must reaffirm our commitment to our teachers with a pay raise.”

And this:

“And our commitment to teachers must be long-term. All of us know the teachers' retirement system has become a gaping budgetary hole that threatens the fiscal stability of our future. Will Rogers once cautioned that when you find yourself in a hole, the first step is to stop digging. Sensible advice. This year, let's begin serious work to shore up the teachers' retirement system and ensure its future viability for Oklahoma educators. “

It’s especially refreshing the governor is focusing attention on the massively unfunded teacher’s retirement system. Action on this issue is needed early in the legislation session. This is a nuts-and-bolts issue that shouldn’t be politicized.


Henry, Cornett Lead With Energy Issues

(Sites like Okie Funk are deeply rooted in the politics and writing of progressives such as the legendary Molly Ivins, who died Wednesday. Here is a tribute to her life and work. Go to Blue Okahoma for more links.)

Oklahoma Govenor Brad Henry and Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett recently announced far-sighted and bold initiatives that could help our state prosper in years to come.

Image of Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry

On Tuesday, Henry announced a proposal to create a bioenergy center here that would focus on researching alternative fuels. Meanwhile, in his recent 2007 State of the City speech, Cornett told Oklahoma Cityans that it is now time to start getting serious about creating more local public transportation systems.

The background for both initiatives is the country’s declining fortunes in The Oil Age. Fossil fuel based energy costs will continue to rise in years to come as supplies dwindle, threatening our geopolitical and financial security. Both Henry and Cornett are leading the way with their initiatives. This is real leadership at a crucial, precarious juncture in our history.

Henry’s plan is to create a $40 million Oklahoma Bioenergy Center. The University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation would be founding members of the center’s consortium. The legislature must and should approve Henry’s proposal in order to fund it over a four-year period.

“With 60 percent of the nation’s oil supply coming from foreign countries, many of which are openly hostile to the U.S., the need for renewable energy is clearly a matter of national security,” according to the governor’s press release about the proposal. “Not only would the Oklahoma Bioenergy Center play a vital role in reducing America’s dependence on foreign oil, but it would be a great boon for Oklahoma in a number of ways. This institute would help diversify our state’s economy, protect our environment, create high-paying jobs and contribute to a revitalization of rural Oklahoma.”

Among other things, the center will look into how certain crops can be turned into fuels. The center could then help state farmers switch to these crops.

“A thriving oil and gas industry certainly does not nullify our need to pursue other sources of energy,” the governor said. “In fact, more and more oil companies today are making the necessary investments in alternative energy. Aside from the concerns stemming from our dependence on foreign oil, the fact is that oil continues to get harder and harder to find and more expensive to produce. The emerging economic powers of China and India only mean more intense competition for the oil that does exist.”

Cornett’s comments about creating more public transportation in the Oklahoma City area were remarkable and refreshing for their bluntness about the area’s vast suburban sprawl.

Image of Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett

“… we must prepare for a day when traffic is more congested and gas is more expensive,” Cornett said in his recent speech. “If you asked one of our typical, learned residents to look at the city we’ve created and ask them to start thinking about a comprehensive plan for mass transit, their first reaction would probably be to have a heart attack. They would have a heart attack for two reasons. First, because adapting our sprawling community to mass transit seems so daunting, and secondly, because they spend so much time in their cars, they are out of shape and susceptible to heart disease.”

Cornett, who pointed to the Oklahoma Fixed Guideway Study, which identifies “futuristic” public transportation systems, said action on this issue must involve the state as well.

“We cannot ignore our public transformation problems forever. The study and research is done. Now, we as a regional community need to be thinking long-term about implementation.”