Ernest Istook and his political operatives must have been discouraged this past week when Brad Henry’s lottery initiative came out of the starting gates with impressive numbers.
With $5 million in sales in just its first three days and $12.6 million for the week, the lottery initiative, one of Henry’s signature accomplishments as governor the past three years, seems sure to eventually help Oklahoma’s chronically under funded schools. The lottery’s earnings go to Oklahoma education, which is always in desperate need of a financial boost.
And, oh yeah, people buying tickets are having a lot of fun, too, as they help Oklahoma become a better place.
The Daily Oklahoman has tried to find something to criticize about the lottery’s start through illogical, stretched comparisons. What the newspaper’s owners probably hate about it the most is that lotteries show how much people would like to escape their jobs, their daily grind, their low salaries, and their busy lives. Everyone is just one ticket away—at least in theory—from telling their bosses to “take this job and shove it . . .” This idea will always scare the ultra rich, especially those who inherited their money.
U.S. Rep. Istook (R-Warr Acres) is running against the popular Henry in the 2006 gubernatorial race, causing some to question why he would give up a safe seat in the House to fight an uphill battle.
Polls show Henry is an enormously popular governor and that he leads Istook in a head-to-head political race.
And now it appears Istook will have to find something else besides the lottery to attack Henry. Istook, a Mormon who many people consider to be a religious zealot, will most certainly try to draw his support from those groups and people who opposed the lottery. But it is going to be difficult to criticize an initiative that helps education even if some religious people in the state find lotteries and gambling immoral.
The upcoming race will be one of the most fascinating political spectacles in Oklahoma in a long time.
Istook, for example, will want to align himself with the conservative, political base here in the state. This includes the Southern Baptists who have gone on record in the past calling his Church of the Latter-Day Saints a cult.
And Henry, of course, is a Baptist who has broken with some conservative church leaders over the issue of the lottery, but everyone from Guymon to Idabel knows as many Baptists will buy lottery tickets as anyone else in the state.
Will church leaders tell their flock to vote against a fellow Baptist trying to improve education in the state and elect someone who belongs to what they deem to be a cult? Do not count on it.
Will a majority of the Oklahoma Republican base want to align itself with Istook’s creepy religious fanaticism as Bush’s poll numbers plummet, and corrupt GOP leaders face indictments and accusations of political corruption? No.
In these divisive times in America, Henry is a soothing moderate. The state has been fortunate to have someone as inclusive and intelligent as Henry at the helm. I do not think it is an overstatement or hyperbole to say he led the state brilliantly through the immediate aftermath of post-911 America with steadiness, initiative and creativity.
At this point in the campaign, given his track record and by default, Istook offers only a nefarious theocratic vision of Oklahoma and America. He has not offered up one idea or program to improve the state. Certainly, many religious fundamentalists and zealots in Oklahoma are sympathetic to tearing down walls separating church and state, but will they follow someone like Istook to get their way and try to make everyone think and act as they do?
The most interesting Okie spectacle in the upcoming 2006 elections will be how U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook and the national right-wing noise machine attack one of the most popular Oklahoma governors in recent state history, Brad Henry.
Istook announced Monday he is running against Henry in 2006.
Istook’s bid for governor might show the Republicans are really serious about defeating the popular Henry, a moderate-to-conservative Democrat who enjoys broad voter approval, or it could also just be a personal decision for Istook, who might want to leave Washington, D.C.
Whatever the case, at this juncture Henry seems unbeatable, and Istook seems vulnerable to criticism from moderates of both parties. Recent news accounts suggest Istook’s campaign strategy will be to unleash the conservative, political attack dogs on Henry, but so far he is rather short on specifics.
Here are some ideas:
(1) Maybe Istook could criticize Henry for stabilizing the state budget after a national recession and pulling the state through an extremely dark time in the country’s history after the terrorists’ attacks.
(2) Maybe Istook could criticize Henry for his truly bi-partisan approach to leading, hammering out tax breaks for voters even as he made strides in increasing educational funding in an attempt to get the state out of the basement in terms of per student funding and teacher salaries.
(3) Maybe Istook could criticize Henry for his initiative to provide optional full-day kindergarten to the state’s children.
The point here is that Istook and his outside political operatives will have to rely on right-wing, hackneyed clichés and nonsensical lies about how Henry is a (gasp, gasp) “liberal,” somehow threatening core Oklahoma values. Istook and his crew will stress general cultural wedge issues and general Republican talking points, not facts about Henry’s tenure.
But then this is what the immoral Karl Rove/Tom Delay Republicans do best.
The Republicans attack with distortions and fictions, intentionally creating false divisions among people, promoting anger and indignation, turning mother against son, daughter against father, neighbor against neighbor.
This will mean Istook will adopt a pro-Bush-no-matter-how-bad-it-gets-in-America position. Count on a lot of outside visits from prominent Republican politicians if they are not in jail during campaign season. (Joe Conason has an excellent piece in Salon.com about the growing corruption among the Republicans.) I am sure “W” will stop by on his way to his Crawford, Texas vacation home and stumble his way through some campaign drivel for Istook.
Istook’s greatest strength here is the local, conservative media, which will not cover the election fairly and honestly. In fact, the corporate media here—led by The Daily Oklahoman—should actually have to file contribution forms with Istook’s campaign.
(You can count on Okie Funk and Oklahoma Media Watch to tell you the truth about the local, corporate media’s distorted coverage of the campaign.)
Istook is vulnerable on three accounts: (1) Most Oklahomans are sick of the divisiveness that now pervades this country under the Bush administration. (2) Bush’s coattails are short as the president’s approval ratings plummet, the botched Iraq war remains a quagmire, and gas prices rise because of the lack of a real energy policy under this administration. (3) Some consider Istook a wacky religious zealot who annually sponsors the so-called Religious Freedom Amendment, which would re-create America as a theocracy, modeling in some respects the fascist Islamic nations in the Middle East. This issue should be exploited by Democrats.
But Istook is a serious opponent, and no one involved with the Henry campaign or among the Democrats will take him lightly, especially since he will have strong national support from the one-party government in Washington. Istook has name recognition. He has unwavering local corporate media support. He will have no problem raising money. He undoubtedly represents the Republicans’ best hope to replace Henry in the 2006 election.
Progressives will need to cut through the conservative media lies and tell the true story about Henry’s strong and steady leadership the past four years.
"To secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience:
"The people retain the right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage and traditions on public property, including schools.”—part of a Constitutional amendment submitted to the U.S. House Of Representatives by Oklahoma Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Warr Acres)
The Oklahoma political scene has always been like a freaky carnival show that gives its audience a quick and voyeuristic glimpse into some fraudulent, eccentric world. Going in, we know we have spent too much money, and it is not going to be worth it. The state’s latest freak show played out last week when U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook submitted to the Congress his annual, quasi-fascist constitutional amendment that could re-create America as a grand theocracy.
The Orwellian-named “Religious Freedom Amendment” probably stands little chance of passing, of course, but it seems spookier this year because recent events show us we all should be extremely worried about a day when the fundamentalist theocrats have complete power in our country. Never before would I have even considered Istook’s amendment more than a backwards psyche from an ignorant hayseed gone to Washington. But now, with no end in sight to the right-wing, religious juggernaut, I can see a day when an amendment like this makes it to a vote of the people. In addition, news reports say House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-Texas) is co-sponsoring the amendment this year.
It is frightening to contemplate because, if passed, the amendment could mean the first step in ending this country’s 225-year-old or so democracy. Theocracies can be many things, mostly bad, but they are absolutely not democracies. Go check out Iran. You have to pray there, too.
Do a majority of Oklahomans in Istook’s district, which is my district, really want our nation to become a theocracy? Do a majority of Oklahomans in his district truly want to be forced by social and cultural reasons to pray in a certain way in certain places by certain people? Do a majority of Oklahomans in his district want to be given religious lectures and "guidance" at their jobs? I do not think so.
"The people retain the right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage and traditions on public property, including schools."-Istook amendment
Imagine your boss opening up a meeting with a prayer and if you do not go through the motions you will pay the cost in office politics. Imagine your professor praying to Jesus Christ before class and watching you to make sure your head is bowed and you say “amen” after she finishes. Imagine your child forced to recite a prayer you do not accept as meaningful or even religious according to your beliefs.
Although Istook’s amendment only mentions “God” and “religious beliefs,” rest assured it does not mean Islam or Judaism or Buddhism. The amendment would turn our schools into Christian churches.
Certainly, overall Oklahoma can be considered a religious state, but I am unsure the implications of Istook’s amendment are truly understood here. The reason for that is the local media refuses to cover it in any meaningful way. The Daily Oklahoman’s story about the issue was pretty much a rah-rah piece in favor of the amendment, though it did cite token opposition from a national church/state separation organization. Istook gets a free ride because he supports the filthy-rich Oklahoma power structure which ensures he is elected year after year through campaign contributions. In addition, most members of the local media these days are lazy and shallow, too brainwashed by the state's right-wing juggernaut to worry about truth.
His bizarre legislative gambits help get Istook out of actually doing anything for his constituents and his state. So what about our shabby state highways, our soaring health care costs, our precarious retirement security, our stagnant wages? Well, Istook can just talk about the religious road and leave it at that. It is the typical subterfuge and deceit, in the name of the Lord, that the right-wing perpetuates on our culture these days. Good, decent people are taken advantage of by this religious charlatan and others who could care less about the real concerns of Oklahomans. It is disgusting for several reasons, but right at the top of my list is that it is so out in the open for everyone to see. It reminds me of those elderly people who send their life savings to immoral televangelists and no family member or no friend tries to do anything to stop their financial ruin.
Istook’s legislation also embarrasses the state because it makes us look like a bunch of barefoot, ignorant hillbillies who will sell away our children’s future and our senior citizens’ retirement for evangelistic theater. Yet, again, I suspect this type of right-wing, religious tripe, which has served the Bush administration so well, needs a closer scrutiny as the country edges further to religious-mandated legislation and judicial decisions.
The question now becomes whether a set of particular circumstances could actually compel people to approve such an amendment under the false rubric of nationalism.
In any event, to those so-called Christians who host pity parties over how religion is discriminated against, I say this: You are misguided at best and just downright liars at worst. Absolutely no one is trying to shut down your churches. No one is trying to get into your Sunday school classes to bring an element of honesty and reality to the discussion about why we are here in this world and what we are supposed to do now that we are here. No one is trying to come into your home to tell you how and when and if you can pray. No one is trying to stop you from building your casino-looking, megachurches with their cold, fake facades and their lying and contradictory philosophies about reality and life.
No, the people who are discriminated against these days are those who keep an open and healthy, skeptical mind about the world around them. These people, whether they attend church or not, whether they announce themselves as Christian or not, are constantly marginalized in Oklahoma by state and local political officials who play the religious angle to manipulate the ignorant and silence the intelligent.
As so many of us know in Oklahoma, it can be sometimes suffocating to live in a place in which sanctimonious, self-righteous, religious kooks like Istook get to express their views while rational, decent people are consistently told to shut up or leave the state.