No One

Image of Mary Fallin

“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.

State Won’t Process Same Sex Marriage Benefits

Image of Mary Fallin

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.

SQ 766 Supporters Distort Impact

This pro-SQ 766 advertisement clearly distorts the measure’s impact.

I’ve had several conversations with people about State Question 766, which, if approved by Oklahoma voters on Nov. 6, would exempt intangible property from taxes.

The above advertisement, which ends with a fear mongering distortion if not an outright lie, has made some people anxious that if SQ 766 isn’t passed their taxes will increase. That’s not true. If fact, if it IS passed, people who own property could see property tax increases and funding to schools will be cut.

SQ 766 is a measure that rewards big corporations, such as utility companies, with tax exemptions. Homeowners could pay for these exemptions because some millage taxation is mandatory—school bonds, for example—because of legal obligation. The taxation that isn’t legally mandatory will mean funding to schools and counties will be cut. Those cuts could even mean less funding to some fire departments and law enforcement agencies. One state school administrator argues education overall in the state will end up with a $33 million cut. Some have estimated the overall cost to local government entities as high as $68 million.

Fallin’s pro-SQ 766 advertisement claims, “We know it’s just plain wrong to tax things like teaching certificates, pensions and insurance policies.” Well, yes, it IS wrong, but those “things” will NOT be taxed as intangible property whether SQ 766 passes or not. The legislature, in fact, passed legislation, Senate Bill 1436, last session that ensures that is the case. The bottom line is this: Teaching certificates, pensions and insurance policies will NOT be taxed as part of your “property” whether SQ 766 passes or not. The advertisement is terribly misleading. Fallin has every right to support big utility companies over ordinary Oklahomans as part of the ongoing Republican agenda here and elsewhere, but this specific advertisement smacks of craven manipulation.

The history of the measure is somewhat involved, and I think this has made many people simply ignore it. Let me simplify it. The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in 2009 that AT&T was not exempt from certain taxes on intangible property. The company—and I would suspect other big companies—started to press for a political resolution. As part of their approach they relied on a slippery slope argument about intangible taxes when, in fact, it was nothing more than another tax exemption for larger corporations. Thus, SQ 766 made it on the ballot.

The measure itself defines intangible property as including “patents, inventions, formulas, designs, and trade secrets; licenses, franchise, and contracts; land leases, mineral interests, and insurance policies; custom computer software; and trademarks, trade names and brand names.” Obviously, the measure’s language shows its main purpose is to give tax breaks to corporations.

Fallin’s argument in her advertisement that SQ 766 “would protect Oklahoma taxpayers” really only applies to the biggest corporations doing business and paying taxes in the state. So, essentially, the measure could raise property taxes on individual Oklahoma homeowners, according to some, to ensure more revenue for large corporations.

SQ 766 supporters are clearly hoping voters here will not take the time to study the question’s real impact and simply accept the governor’s word. It’s another ploy to manipulate low-information voters. That’s unfortunate, and it’s also unfortunate the anti-SQ 766 forces didn’t have the organizational power and money to launch a larger counter campaign.

If SQ 766 passes, according to many people, school funding will be cut and property taxes could increase for ordinary homeowners. Oklahomans will once again be increasing the revenues of big corporations under the misguided notion they are helping themselves.

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