TANF Drug Testing Is A Waste of Time and Money

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Can we finally drop the right-wing mythologies about people who receive government assistance given the failure of mandated testing programs to catch many poor people with illegal drugs in their systems?

Last year, the Republican-dominated Oklahoma Legislature passed a law that requires drug screening of adult applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF. The Oklahoma Gazette reported this week that only 29 out of about 1,300 applicants were supposedly caught under the new program from November 2012 to February 2013. That’s a whopping 2.2 percent, and even those who refused to take additional tests weren’t exactly caught doing illegal drugs or didn’t receive money. The Gazette reported that out of that 29 people, 16 had children who still qualified for assistance.

In Florida, before the law was overturned, a mandated drug testing program for welfare recipients only caught 2.6 percent of people who supposedly had drugs in their system.

Republican politicians throughout the country demonize people on government assistance by consistently depicting them as lazy drug users taking advantage of the nation’s welfare systems. This has been a GOP trope since former Republican President Ronald Reagan referred to a “welfare queen” in one of his 1976 campaign speeches. The demonization works especially well as a political tool in conservative states, such as Oklahoma, where college degree rates are lower than the national average.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services already screened for drug use, but the new law added more tests and turned it into a punitive rather than rehabilitative process. TANF applicants testing positive for drugs now get rejected instead of referred for treatment.

Just because a person has detected drugs in their system also doesn’t mean they are intoxicated or can’t work.

These new drug-testing policies are a waste of taxpayers' money and are primarily used to harass poor people and create disparaging stereotypes about the impoverished, but that won’t stop the Republicans here.

Hate’s Hangover: Will Obama Hysteria Fuel State Decline?

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I want to spend my last post of this week focusing once again on GOP extremism here in Oklahoma and how it continues to prevent rational discussion of issues important to both Republicans and Democrats.

I know it’s the third post in a row on this topic, and it might be a stale issue for some progressives here, but I can’t stress enough how discouraged I’ve become with the current political Oklahoma scene. It’s telling that even The Oklahoman editorial board, the ultra-conservative machine that keeps going and going, has come out against state GOP overreach here and here.

I fear that conservatives here will do much damage to the state before there’s a power shift, and, yes, eventually there will be a power shift, but those of us living here during this era will suffer a price, whether through lack of educational opportunities, shoddy infrastructure, poor medical access or neglect of many other practical, quality-of-life issues.

At the root of the conservative rage in Oklahoma seems to be the fictional, hate-filled mythology of President Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president. It’s generated constantly by the right-wing media, which includes Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and even The Oklahoman to some extent.

Obama does represent a changing country, one that’s slowly—far too slowly for me—becoming more diverse and open-minded. I recognize how change can be difficult. I get it. On the other hand, Obama has reached out to conservatives over and over again, and he has frustrated liberals and his party over and over again for his tendency to compromise. I’m in this group of liberals so Republican extremism here, such as the Obamacare nullification effort or the gun-obsession paranoia or the Agenda 21 nonsense, seems completely divorced from reality to me.

I wrote about the ”Obama effect” on Oklahoma back in October, 2009 in which I outlined how extreme conservative personal animosity against the president would dictate the state’s future political development, making it even more conservative and extreme. I was exactly right, which is not such a great achievement because it was so utterly predictable. The obsessed fixation on one person, elected by clear majorities for two terms, has distorted the political debate here and isolated the state from national trends as Republicans have grown their local legislative and executive power.

Is it racist? I’ve always contended that racism has played a part in the Obama hysteria here and elsewhere, but I’ve always conceded that many Republicans are genuinely fighting for a certain “vision” or, really, a primordial political urge to take the country back to a romanticized past that, in reality, I think they probably wouldn’t much like if it could even happen. I’ve also conceded many state Republicans, who are otherwise lifestyle liberal, simply like the winner-takes-all mentality of the market or, in broader terms, capitalism. They don’t spend too much time on the broader, global ramifications. What I can’t accept, however, is the proselytizing of right-wing religious folks in the legislature, who are dishonest about their intentions and hide behind disingenuous bills, such as the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimation Act or the anti-evolution bills proposed year after year.

But let’s return to Obama. It would be difficult to find a leading Republican politician more representative of misplaced Obama anger than Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who is 78 and plans to run for reelection in 2014. Inhofe relentlessly criticizes the president with sweeping generalizations. According to The Hill, Inhofe told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham what he thought about Obama’s recent outreach to Republicans for compromise:

This is the same guy [Obama] that is ... over-regulating all of our businesses, he has a war on fossil fuels, he is keeping us from being energy independent, he is defunding the military.”

So he's destroying this country, but yes he's charming.

Destroying the country? From one of our state’s United States Senators to the Oklahoma Legislature, it’s Obama-hate all the time, and it’s going to cost us. After all, Obama is only in the first year of his second term. Where does all this anger lead? How will it affect our quality of life as Oklahoma GOP legislators use the hate to easily pass legislation that ignores cultural reality and the state’s future?

Some national Republicans, as I’ve noted, want to rebrand and become more culturally progressive, but the Oklahoma GOP has doubled down on its Obama hate binge.

I urge leading state conservatives, including Gov. Mary Fallin, to separate their voter mandate, which I accept, from the craziness. Repair the state Capitol building, fund education, fix the roads, try to deal with the state’s mediocre medical outcomes, among just a few of many practical issues. By all means, push income tax reduction and worker’s compensation agendas, which I will no doubt oppose, but, please, think about what Oklahoma will be like in five, 10 or even 20 years when all this extremism will be but a blip in time.

Obama won’t be president then, and the hangover of hate could be brutal for us all, Republicans and Democrats alike.

Old GOP “Stunned” By Cultural Change

I’ve been focusing lately on the extremist, ideological legislation offered up by some state Republicans in Oklahoma this year.

It’s a cornucopia of crazy that overflows with paranoia and cultural divisiveness, but, meanwhile, the national GOP leadership seems to have recognized there’s a problem with Republican extremism and wants to rebrand, especially given the party’s dismal showing in the 2012 presidential election.

Basing a political platform on the demonization of one man—President Barack Obama—and ignoring obvious demographic and cultural change has an electoral price. Yes, ultra-conservative legislatures, like the one here in Oklahoma, have a mandate developed through fear mongering, but passing senseless, ideological bills on the state level only further isolates the GOP from any chance for national success.

State Rep. Sally Kern, infamous for her mean-spirited, conservative views attacking gay people, can win lopsided votes for her bills in Oklahoma, but, and this is an understatement, she doesn’t play well to a national audience.

The GOP can pass all the crazy bills it wants in places like Oklahoma or Kansas or Texas, but the feds are still going to be making the call on many important issues, especially in poorer, fed-dependent southern states. Democrats are going to control that in the conceivable future.

Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, supposedly recognizes the Democratic triumph on the national level. The RNC just recently issued a report about conservative rebranding that includes the need for the GOP to support immigration reform. The growing Hispanic voter population is growing, and it is clearly rejecting Republican xenophobia.

It’s also clear that younger voters are far more accepting of gay rights than older voters, especially in the GOP, and that Republicans are losing voters because of the party’s bigoted, official positions on same-sex marriage. The RNC report notes this conundrum. Are the Republicans serious about changing?

But let’s return to Oklahoma politics. No one symbolizes the so-called “old” GOP more than U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe on many issues, and one of them is gay rights. Inhofe once claimed proudly on the Senate floor, for example, that there was never a “homosexual relationship in the recorded history of our family.”

Inhofe made the national news recently over his non-comments about Ohio’s U.S. Sen. Ron Portman, a conservative Republican who recently said he now supports same-sex marriage. Portman’s son is gay.

When Inhofe, 78, and running for reelection in 2014, heard the news, according to a radio show host, he seemed to have a “stunned look on his face” and said he was “surprised.”

Determining a “look” of a face, of course, can be ambiguous and arbitrary, but given the state GOP craziness, Republican national rebranding and the changing cultural paradigms, such as the growing acceptance of gay rights and the growing ranks of minority voters, the visual symbolism is just too difficult for me to pass up.

There’s the stunned face of Inhofe, and there’s the world marching on without him and the old GOP.

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