Henry Deserves Another Term
U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook’s convincing win in Tuesday’s Republican primary for governor shows he will be a formidable opponent for Democrat Brad Henry.
Istook’s upcoming campaign may well represent the latest referendum in the state on Christian right-wing politics. Will voters respond to Istook’s overall religious message and elect him governor? Will the power of the Christian right prevail? Or will Istook tone down his ideas about bringing religion into government in order to capture the votes of moderates in both parties?
Istook won the primary with nearly 55 percent of the vote, easily beating his closest challenger, Bob Sullivan, who received about 31 percent of the voter. Sullivan, a Tulsa businessman, offered only minor differences to Istook’s right-wing campaign of cultural wedge issues. Istook’s name recognition, his established political operation in the state, and low voter turnout put him over the top.
Istook’s connection to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his campaign financing issues, both of which were in the news recently, were non-starters. Beyond some attacks from Sullivan’s camp over Istook’s support for pork barrel projects in Congress, the campaign rhetoric was friendly. Sullivan has now pledged his support to Istook and given him $5,000.
Henry is a popular governor. Some polls show his popularity in the state at 70 percent. He was instrumental in steering the state through a budget crisis after the September 11, 2001 attacks. He has cut taxes and raised teacher salaries. He has given the state a lottery that helps fund education.
Istook, a Mormon, will almost certainly use wedge issues, such as abortion, intelligent design, or illegal immigration to try to rally the Christian right-wing in the state in order to defeat Henry. This is his only chance. Ultimately, the election may well be a mandate on how far the Christian right can push its theocratic philosophy in a state filled with religious fundamentalists.
The clear choice in the race is Henry, a centrist Democrat, who deserves another term. Voters here should reject Istook’s religious extremism, which hurts the state’s national image.
Way To Go, Al
Congratulations go to Al McAffrey, who won his Democratic primary for the Oklahoma House in District 88 on Tuesday. The Republicans did not offer a candidate this year so McAffrey won the seat.
McAffrey is the first openly gay member of the Oklahoma Legislature. This is a milestone for a state too often known for its Bible-Belt mentality and its ulta-conservative national politicians, such as U.S. Senators Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe.
McAffrey and his supporters ran an intelligent campaign based on real issues. I believe voters in District 88, which is my district, appreciated this and gave McAffrey their voters based on his intelligence and poise.
Perhaps the most shocking statistic about Oklahoma in the recent Kids Count report is that 36 percent of our state’s children live in a home in which no parent has a full-time, year-round job. The national average is 33 percent. Why?
It is impossible to understate what this means to those children’s lives or what it portends about their future. If you grow up in a home in which no one works or can find suitable employment, then chances are probably high you might follow down that same path. Thus, the cycle repeats itself.
Overall, Oklahoma ranks 40th in state-by-state rankings based on statistical information gathered from 2003-2004. Our ranking dropped from 38 percent from 2002-2003.
Oklahoma is a relatively poor state, and many people here are mired in living situations that are unhealthy. In the long run, this costs taxpayers a lot of money in emergency health costs, human services programs, and prisons.
Our state should do more to help at-risk children in their early years. We need to ensure children live healthy lives and have access to adequate education.
But the current political view in this state is that you are only important if you are a fetus. Once you are out of the womb, no one cares about you, least of all the right-wing religious folks who make the anti-abortion their quintessential political issue.
Gubernatorial candidate Bob Sullivan has the best television advertisement so far in this Oklahoma political season. In the ad, comedian Gailard Sartain holds an Ernest Istook mask to his face and talks about how the congressman has developed a penchant for spending taxpayers’ money on pork projects
At one point in the ad, Sartain asks, “Ernie, did the Washington bug bite your bottom?”
Sullivan continues to run a strong campaign against Istook. The political gossip mill says frontrunner Governor Brad Henry would rather face the Abramoff-damaged, religious freak Istook in the general election than Sullivan, who appeals to business-oriented, more lifestyle-liberal Republicans.
Who Is Really Against TABOR?
So where does the state’s right-wing power structure really stand on the TABOR issue?
U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, who is running for governor here, recently came out for the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights’ measure that would limit the growth of the state government’s budget to a formula tied to inflation and population. A similar measure decimated the Colorado economy and education systems, and voters there recently rescinded it.
Meanwhile, what the Associated Press termed a “Who’s Who” of Oklahoma business people, many with ties to conservative politicians and causes, filed a lawsuit weeks ago to keep a TABOR amendment off the November ballot in Oklahoma
Istook, according to a news article on his Web site, speaking to a group of Republicans Saturday said he supported the philosophy of TABOR and would lead efforts to ensure the measure is on the ballot in the future. Istook made the remarks as he criticized the budget agreement recently announced by state officials, according to the story.
A petition drive to put the measure on the ballot has been completed, but the business big shots have filed a lawsuit against it challenging its validity. The big shots include the chief executive officers of Kerr-McGee, Devon, and Chesapeake. One Chesapeake executive, Aubrey McClendon, once donated $250,000 to a group that helped get Republican Tom Coburn elected to the U.S. Senate.
In addition, The Daily Oklahoman’s editorial page has come out against the proposed TABOR measure, and the conservative Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) has stopped making it one of the organization’s premier issues as it once did.
So here are three speculations about Istook’s statement: (1) Istook knows he is not going to get major campaign support from the business people who signed onto the lawsuit to stop TABOR, or (2) he is trying to have it both ways in terms of political support from the state’s power structure and those Okie Republican extremists who think any form of government, including education, is communism in action, or (3) many of those named in the lawsuit really do not care about the issue, and it matters nothing to them what Istook says about it.
The reality is that Istook’s support for TABOR shows just what will happen if he is elected governor. The Republicans now hold a majority in the House, and they expect to win the state Senate this year. With the TABOR-supporting Istook as governor and with a Republican-dominated legislature, it will only be a matter of time before the state adopts some type of measure that will prevent the adequate growth of the state budget. This is in a state that has chronic education and infrastructure underfunding.
Add this to Istook’s ideas about intertwining government and religion and you have a full-fledged Okie disaster on your hands. What a spectacle it could all be and just in time for the Oklahoma Centennial, too.
Guarantee Oklahoma Teacher Raises!
The Oklahoma Education Association wants to make sure teachers are guaranteed the $3,000 raises that are part of the recent budget agreement.
According to the OEA Web site, “If the salary increases go through the state funding formula, districts which pay above the state minimum will not be obligated to meet the mandate. That’s why the Legislature needs to approve a budget with guaranteed raises.”
OEA has a legitimate argument. Legislators need to make sure the raises are guaranteed. The state needs to make a consistent effort—year-after-year—to raise teacher salaries to at least regional averages. These should be across-the-board raises that help lift the overall wage structure for teachers.
Okie Funk hereby decrees that teachers, not oil or natural gas reserves, remain the state’s most important natural resources.
Prepare yourself for a long, hot summer of despair as the Iraq occupation continues to worsen. The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi means nothing to the insurgency’s strength despite what you see and hear on television these days. The Iraq debacle will live in historical infamy as one of America’s worst foreign policy endeavors ever.
Meanwhile, American soldiers and innocent Iraqi citizens will continue to die on a regular basis this summer, Cindy Sheehan will set up a Camp Casey in Crawford, and the Bush government and the Republican-dominated Congress will refuse to listen to a vast majority of American citizens who have had enough with the occupation. Oh yeah, more information about the massacre at Haditha will emerge, other atrocities committed by American soldiers will be reported, and the Guantanamo Bay torture facility will continue to be in the news.
All of this—plus those skyrocketing gasoline prices and growing inflation—has been brought to you by the GOP.