I’m struck by what Gov. Mary Fallin’s State of the State address didn’t include this year.
Gone was the sanctimonious lecturing about how Oklahoma was going to teach the federal government a thing or two about good governance. Gone were the cliché calls for “right sizing” whatever needs to be right sized in this state. Gone were the calls for major tax cuts aimed to increase the take-home income of Oklahoma’s most wealthy people.
Fallin did argue, “Our people are known nationally – and internationally – as ‘Oklahoma Strong.’” This was in reference to our responses to all our natural disasters, and I don’t want to quibble too much here, but in all my travels outside the state I’ve never heard the “Oklahoma Strong” mantra from anyone at all, ever, and I don’t expect I ever will. Many people outside the state know us, really, only for people such as science unbeliever U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe or the LGBT intolerant state Rep. Sally Kern.
What we had then was a rather bland but competent speech, and I actually mean this in a fairly positive way, that drew attention to education and health issues, but came with the important and mostly unspoken caveat that state agencies were going to face budget cuts of approximately 6.25 percent and education funding was pretty much going to remain stagnant even though the state faces a major teacher shortage.
On education, Fallin stayed generic:
There are many things we can and must do to increase education levels in Oklahoma. Whether it’s raising academic standards to ensure our high school graduates are actually graduating with 12th grade level skills, increasing funding – which I support – or finding ways to empower parents and students, we must do more.
I look forward to working with educators, parents, and our new Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister in support of those goals.
One thing we know we can do NOW, that doesn’t require large sums of new money, is to help strengthen partnerships between local businesses and local schools where students can dual track their education and work skills.
Note that reference to the lack of “large sums of new money.” That’s the important part. I sense that as long as Republicans dominate state government here education funding will remain at some of the lowest levels in per pupil spending in the nation. Local businesses are not going to help in any significant way to solve our teacher shortage problems.
A point Fallin made in her speech that I really did like was her mention of our overcrowded incarceration system and how we need to become “smart on crime.” Fallin said:
It costs the state around $19,000 a year to house an inmate, but only $5,000 a year to send an addict through drug court and on to treatment. In addition to being less expensive, it’s also more effective; the recidivism rate for offenders sent to drug court is just one-fourth of the rate for those sent to prison.
This is a legitimate argument that I hope receives some attention from the legislature this year, although I’m not hopeful. Most law-and-order state Republican lawmakers still retain a myopic punitive mentality about crime, even for non-violent offenders, rather than a rehabilitation mentality about crime. Fallin, in her last term of governor, can speak as much common sense as possible at this point, but will anyone in her party listen to her and does she really even care that much?
Fallin’s call for “performance informed budgeting” and setting various goals for the state seemed overly bureaucratic and perhaps was just filler for her speech. The state has major problems related to health outcomes and education funding. It’s fine to set goals, but without a meaningful budget commitment nothing will improve here drastically.
But, in the end, Fallin’s speech could have been worse for progressives, and it did make a salient point or two.
“Mary Fallin. Because no one cares more about Oklahoma. No one.”
The above text or a version of it that end Gov. Mary Fallin’s reelection campaign television advertisements have become especially grating to me for different reasons.
I hear those lines, and I cringe. No one cringes more than me. No one.
I know I could be accused of nitpicking here, and I’m certainly not going to apply some faux-Pinocchio media test about truthfulness to Fallin’s ads, but I still do think it’s important to delve deeper into such hollow political discourse rather than just numbly and dumbly accept it as part of life as an American citizen trying to participate in the election process. No wonder voter turnout is so low here in Oklahoma and elsewhere.
So here are my problems with those particular lines:
(1) It’s a sweeping generalization that can never be measured or proven in any quantifiable manner. We can assume Fallin means that there are other people who care just as much as she does about Oklahoma, but that no one, absolutely no one, cares more. Does Fallin constantly care about Oklahoma throughout the day? How many hours? Does she ever not care about Oklahoma? What about when she’s watching a movie? What about other state leaders and the possibility they actually care more about Oklahoma than Fallin does at any given moment in the day? How do you measure it? How do you define it?
(2) What does it mean to care for a state, anyway? Is that necessarily a great attribute in itself? What if you care about more than one state or even more than one country? What if you care about four or even five states? By using the word care, we can also probably assume Fallin means she cares about people that live in Oklahoma as well as, say, the state’s natural beauty. Yet many people would argue that Fallin has a funny way of caring about certain groups of people who live in Oklahoma, such as students who attend underfunded schools and low-income people who can’t afford health care. Remember, no one cares more than Fallin does. No one.
(3) Generally speaking, I know that in the advertising world grating and annoying repetition in commercials can reap rewards for companies. Is this the intent of the Fallin campaign, sort of like the use of the Aflac duck? If so, it doesn’t make it any easier to stomach. I also wonder if the numbing repetition even works in the case of an incumbent governor who has fallen in popularity. Anyone still riding the fence in this gubernatorial election could conceivably view the lines as an insult to their intelligence or, probably more so, simply as an aggravating nuisance as they’re trying to watch the six o’clock news.
Does any of this really matter in the larger scheme of our political campaign system? Well, I’ll say this: No one cares more about this issue of reductionist and clichéd political discourse than me. No one.*
*Slight qualification. Okay, except for the millions of other people in this country who care about it, too.
Gov. Mary Fallin’s decision to prohibit the National Guard here from processing military benefits for same-sex couples is an embarrassment to the state and further damages Oklahoma’s national image.
It makes Oklahoma seem backwards and intolerant, hardly an image that can be used as a recruiting tool for new businesses and an educated workforce. It also makes Oklahomans seem mean-spirited and bigoted.
The decision, of course, was a political gesture, and this makes it even worse. Same-sex couples can sign up for benefits at federal facilities in Oklahoma so, in essence, Fallin is just making an anti-gay statement to pander to her ultra-conservative base of voters. If she can’t stop same-sex couples from getting benefits, at least she can inconvenience them, right? It’s ugly and petty.
The Pentagon recently announced same-sex couples in the military now qualify for the same benefits as heterosexual couples. The announcement came after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that required the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages.
But a Fallin spokesperson, according to media reports, said a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage passed in 2004 means the state can’t process benefits for same-sex couples married legally in other states.
Fallin’s decision, however, raises the issue of the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, which mandates that the states must follow federal laws. Is Fallin looking for another lawsuit that pits Oklahoma against the federal government upon which the state is so highly dependent for money?
Oklahoma is now one of four states that are refusing to process benefits for military same-sex couples. The other states are Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana, which also have laws banning same sex marriage.
The state’s drastic cuts to education in recent years, its high incarceration rates and political gestures like this most recent one by Fallin continue to do immense damage to the state’s national reputation.
What’s also clear is that it’s long past time for extremist right-wingers to give up the bigotry. Same-sex marriage is here to stay as more and more states incorporate equality into their legal frameworks. Oklahomans need to accept it.