“I remember coming out upon the northern Great Plain in the late spring. There were meadows of blue and yellow wildflowers on the slopes, and I could see the still, sunlit plain below, reaching away out of sight. At first there is no discrimination in the eye, nothing but the land itself, whole and impenetrable. But then smallest things begin to stand out of the depths--herds and rivers and groves--and each of these has perfect being in terms of distance and of silence and of age. Yes, I thought, now I see the earth as it really is; never again will I see things as I saw them yesterday or the day before.”—Oklahoma native Scott Momaday, The Way To Rainy Mountain
“Something called 'the Oklahoma Standard' became known throughout the world. It means resilience in the face of adversity. It means a strength and compassion that will not be defeated.”—Brad Henry
It has been inspiring to watch Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry come into his own as a genuinely effective and excellent Democratic political leader these last three years. It has been one of the few real bright spots for Democrats in state or national politics.
Henry’s affable demeanor and personality contrasts tellingly with the state’s new angry Republicans, who won a majority in the House last year. Every time House Speaker Todd Hiett (R-Kellyville) throws a fit and stalls meaningful legislation, we know Henry’s calm and steady leadership will eventually win out.
Henry’s State of the State address on Monday was so inspiring it will only fuel speculation that he could serve our national government in some top position in the future. Before the speech, I was even contacted by someone connected to a national blog service wondering if I thought Henry was 2008 presidential material.
Of course, he is presidential material, and many are beginning to recognize it.
In his speech, Henry spoke in bold tones about education:
“Education transcends the boundaries of race, financial status and geography. It provides opportunity for all Oklahomans and makes Oklahoma competitive in today’s global economy. Building a better Oklahoma for tomorrow means investing in education today.”
He also recognized the need to strengthen Oklahoma families who face higher health care costs. Many Oklahoma families lack health insurance.
“Our commitment to Oklahoma families must be unshakable, “Henry said. “Family values are core values in Oklahoma. We must work unfailingly to honor and strengthen our families.”
The speech quoted Oklahoma natives Will Rogers and Scott Momaday, two progressives who, with others, have helped create an Oklahoma moral vision that has had a significant influence on the national politic throughout the country’s history.
(Check out my Okie Rebels With A Cause series, which features posts about Rogers, Momaday, and several other Oklahoma progressives. Click on the link on the right side of this page.)
After speaking of initiatives to raise the salaries of correction offices, hire more state child abuse investigators, and build new roads and bridges in the state, Henry had this to say:
“If I have grown convinced of the rightness of anything, it is this: Only through working together in a bipartisan spirit will we achieve real, meaningful, lasting results.
“It is with that spirit that we will tackle the challenges ahead, for the State of Oklahoma is strong. It is dynamic and visionary. It is creative and innovative. It is courageous and committed. And Oklahoma is definitely headed in the right direction.”
The governor led this state out of the financial and emotional doldrums starting in 2003, and state revenues just keep growing under his administration. He is approachable, truly concerned about ordinary Okies, and committed to the state, unlike his predecessor, former Governor Frank Keating.
Henry’s credentials as a new progressive have become overwhelming, though some state liberals might initially view him as a conservative Democrat. Think about it. Working with a new Republican majority in the House and in a state that is considered one of the reddest of reds, Henry has managed to get significant funding increases for education along with adding new programs such as all-day kindergarten. He has also given us a lottery that helps fund education, and now he is about to ensure we improve the state’s infrastructure.
Increasing educational levels and improving the state’s infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, will help this state increase its tax base a hundred times more than some corporate handouts in the form of tax cuts for General Motor or the big energy companies. (Look what the taxpayer handouts to GM got us in this state.)
In his speech, Henry quoted from the poem “Oklahoma 2003,” which was written for his inauguration by Oklahoma native Momaday, who was born in Lawton. Momaday, a Native American who wrote the critically-acclaimed The Way To Rainy Mountain, has spent much of his life arguing for our moral responsibility to nature and our fellow people and to “seeing” life in clear, substantive, and meaningful ways.
Here are some lines from that poem:
“Now we come in our turn
Now we come to a new destiny
Now we come to a new consecration of this holy place
Now we come in our turn
To stand on this ground between our forebears and our children
To build understanding on what has been
To build greatness on what will be.”
And here is what Henry said in his recent speech:
“We have achieved truly remarkable things for our great state, and the successes we have created will lead to future triumphs. We are on the cusp of greatness -- a new dawning in Oklahoma -- a bold, proud, prosperous Oklahoma where the full potential of every child can be realized.”
Like Momaday, Henry possesses a moral vision that embodies all of us and speaks to all of us. Henry has clearly earned another four years in office.