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.