1The Daily Oklahoman

Andrew Rice Travels State in Probable U.S. Senate Bid

(U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe represents everything going wrong these days in the country, from skyrocketing gasoline costs to the botched occupation of Iraq. Inhofe supports the prisoner torture policies of Bush/Cheney, illegal wiretapping of American citizens, secret government, and the current Republican health program, “Corporate No Decent Health Care for American Citizens.” Check out the runAndrewrun.com site and sign a petition urging state Sen. Andrew Rice to run against Inhofe in the 2008 election.)

Image of Andrew Rice

State Sen. Andrew Rice has issued this statement about his possible run against U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe in the 2008 election:

I am humbled and encouraged by the outpouring of support and the kind words of those asking me to run for the U.S. Senate from Oklahoma. I have taken your comments and requests to heart.

It appears that most of you agree that Oklahoma deserves a U.S. Senator who will tackle our greatest challenges with common sense, not partisan ideology.

Running for the United States Senate is difficult and I have had several conversations about it with my wife, and many of my friends and family. They are all very encouraging and supportive.

I plan to spend the coming weeks traveling the state to visit with Oklahomans about their hopes for the future. I will use these conversations to help me gauge a potential Senate campaign.

In the meantime, thank you all for your support and encouragement and continue to believe with me in a better future for Oklahoma and our country.

John Greiner, a longtime political reporter for The Daily Oklahoman, wrote a story (“Lawmaker to travel state before deciding on U.S. senate race,” June 28, 2007) about Rice’s decision.

The state senator’s interest in running against Inhofe has drawn an increasing amount of state and national media attention. Rice’s decision to formally explore running by traveling the state is sure to generate even more interest and press coverage. He told me personally last week that he is extremely serious about defeating Inhofe, who has repeatedly embarrassed the state with lies and outrageous comments.

Rice, an Oklahoma native, got involved with politics after his brother, David, died in the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. As a newcomer, Rice won a landslide victory in his race for state senator against his Republican opponent in 2006.

I urge Oklahomans to get to know Rice as he travels the state during the next few weeks. He is definitely approachable. He is intelligent, articulate, and charismatic. He represents real family values, not cultural wedge issues. Rice, his physician wife, Apple, and their two young children are truly a family who should represent Oklahoma to the nation and world.

Electing Rice to the U.S. Senate, as it throws out the dinosaur Inhofe, would be the absolute best move Oklahoma could make to move the state forward and improve our national reputation.

If the state’s business people and power structure really want to grow this state and create opportunities for our children, they will discard Inhofe’s politics of hate and division and get behind Rice.


Conservatives Remain All Talk No Dough On OHLAP

The Oklahoma conservative power structure and its puppets in the GOP-dominated legislature continue to give lip service to increasing the number of college graduates in the state, but its hollow rhetoric is never matched with real action.

Image of State Rep. Ken Miller

This all-talk-no-action political maneuvering in the George W. Bush era of The Big Lie has left the state with a history of unfunded mandates related to education. Just look at the underfunded Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement program. Just look at the state’s low per student spending compared to other states and its chronically low teacher salaries and benefits. Yet the conservatives continue to argue they care about education. Yeah, right.

Now it appears, the next educational funding mandate on the neoconservatives’ ideological chopping block is the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP), which gives needy students free public college tuition if they meet strict grade and class requirements. The program has been so successful it is long past time the state gives it permanent funding. News reports say 15,000 students are benefiting from the program this year.

This is a good thing. The state needs to increase the number of its college graduates to grow the economy and improve its overall quality of life. Many of the students involved in the program would probably never get a college education if they did not get help.

Gov. Brad Henry, who recently won reelection in a landslide victory over Ernest Istook and who thus has much political capital to spend, has proposed a simple but effective way to solve the program: Devote 1.25 percent of state income tax revenue to the program.

But the state GOP empire and its propaganda ministry, The Daily Oklahoman, are balking at this solution because they want to eliminate the state’s income tax to ensure rich people make more money. The money to operate the government’s functions here will have to come from somewhere. Who do you think will end up paying more in other taxes, fees, and college tuition, if the GOP has its way: Rich people or middle class people?

In a recent editorial (“Promise keepers: OHLAP needs more funding ideas,” January 29, 2007), The Oklahoman pointed out state Rep. Ken Miller, pictured above, an Edmond Republican who is a vice chairmen of the House Appropriation and Budget committee, makes a “valid point” when he criticizes Henry’s proposal because it is tied to a tax some people want to eliminate.

But Henry’s proposal solves the issue right now on real terms. It should be adopted because, again, it solves an unfunded educational mandate. The state should deal with the state income tax issue separately. As usual, the GOP and the state’s power brokers are taking a stand against public education as they talk as if they support education. It is the same old ruse.


Teachers, You Don’t Need No Stinking Retirement

OTRS Funding Dilemma Needs Drastic Solution

The Community Action Project (CAP) recently distributed information about the state’s pensions, focusing on the Oklahoma Teachers’ Retirement System, which has one of the worst funding records in the nation.

Image from oldamericancentury.org

If you pay your hard-earned money into OTRS and you are reading this, then listen up: Do not believe a word you are hearing these days from the pension’s managers. It is in their vested interests to act as if nothing is wrong. The pension fund is borderline insolvent because of a long history of mismanagement and anti-education sentiment in this state. What this means is that you may not have a pension when you retire.

Think about all those years in the classroom and all the retirement money taken from your paychecks, and then, poof, you have no retirement, nothing. That is not hyperbole.

Here are the facts, which are not in dispute: (1) OTRS has unfunded liabilities exceeding $7.1 billion. (2) It is the third-worst funded pension in the country. (3) The problem becomes more difficult to solve as time goes on. (4) The legislature did nothing last year to bolster the fund. (5) It is questionable whether the GOP-dominated legislature will do anything about it this year.

CAP proposes several excellent ideas to improve the pension and other state pensions through more dedicated state funding.

Here are some more ideas:

(1) Allow current educators to take their money out of the system and invest it in other retirement programs without penalty. The state would still match contributions at current levels. It is immoral to force people to pay into a fund that has a serious risk of becoming insolvent.

(2) Combine OTRS with the Oklahoma Public Employees Retirement System, which, of course, is also in bad fiscal shape. But at least OPERS appears to be operated somewhat better than OTRS, and it is in overall better financial shape. Perhaps combining the two systems would give the new system more investment clout.

(3) Pay off existing OTRS obligations with existing funds and bonds, and move current educators and their money into an entirely new plan.

(4) Appoint people to the OTRS board who understand there is a problem and who want to solve it, not apologists for those who made mistakes in the past. The board should not be appointed based on political expediency but rather on expertise and real vested interests. We need “teacher power” on that board, not “political power.”

The larger problem here is what the underfunding says about the state’s conservative power structure. It says the power structure is absolutely anti-education, anti-teacher, anti-professor, anti-researcher, and, most of all, anti-student.

Newspaper Supports Tyranny

(BREAKING NEWS: A protest against Bush's unconstitutional escalation of the Iraq War is scheduled for tomorrow in Oklahoma City. Click here for more details.)

When President George Bush defies the will of the people this evening and calls for a tremendous, ill-advised escalation of the Iraq war, many news commentators will mention the president is provoking a major constitutional crisis.

But do not count on Oklahoma's largest newspaper to even broach the constitutional crisis issue on its editorial page. In a recent editorial (Troop Surge,” January 9, 2007), The Daily Oklahoman argued that adding more troops to the Iraq quagmire “is a plausible strategy.”

The Oklahoman, echoing the fading talking points of right-wing fanatics and Bushbots, argued, “The president is the commander in chief and must have latitude to make military decisions, based on sound advice, unencumbered by congressional micromanaging.”

Yet, as many politicians and experts have argued recently, the U.S. Congress has a constitutional obligation to provide the American people oversight of a president’s actions, including his war policies. American presidents do not and should not have the power to unilaterally wage war without the consent of the people, who are represented by their elected officials.

The American people have spoken. They did so in the November elections. They want American troops to be eventually withdrawn from Iraq, and they want Bush’s folly to end. A majority of U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators, some of whom are Republicans, have indicated they stand against increasing troop levels. Polls show American people overwhelmingly want a way out of Iraq, not more involvement. They do not want troop increases.

Bush’s speech then will provoke a severe and major constitutional crisis tonight. It will have far-reaching implications in our country. Do we live under the tyranny of one man, a pathetic, perhaps delusional, despot? Or do we live under a representative government with checks and balances? Bush’s speech will implicitly ask the country this question.

Meanwhile, The Oklahoman will support tyranny over democracy, a military dictatorship over representative government, and not one single dissenting voice will be allowed on its pages. It silences voices which favor democracy. It supports tyranny to enable its owners to make even greater profits.