(What about the taxing rhetoric over bringing the Supersonics to town? Are we all tax consumers or do some groups get more tax breaks than others? Read DocHoc's commentary about it this week in the Oklahoma Gazette, the state's finest alternative weekly.)
The Oklahoma Republican Party announced a bland, public legislative agenda for 2008 this week, but its hidden agenda—passing another anti-illegal immigration bill forcing even more Hispanic people to leave the state and promoting Christian fundamentalism in public schools—defines where the state party really stands during this national election year.
Obviously, the GOP presented a non-controversial, public agenda because polls show the Republican Party, at least nationally, is in deep trouble with swing voters and moderates in both major parties. At this point, all indications point to a Democratic Party sweep on the national level in 2008. Will this potential sweep have coattails for state Democrats? It remains to be seen.
According to a news report, the GOP said it wants to establish an office to conduct regular audits of state agencies, spend more motor vehicle money on roadwork, keep more violent criminals in prison and try to lower the income tax rate to 5.25 despite slow budget growth.
It is a yawner for sure. Everyone wants accountability of government spending. Everyone wants better roads and highways. Everyone wants habitual and violent criminals in jail. The question is how do we go about doing these things appropriately and wisely? These proposals certainly do not solely define the Republican Party. The tax cut, which was scheduled for 2009, has been delayed by law because of stagnant growth in the state budget. Right now, it looks like it would be irresponsible to push for this cut immediately if its projected revenue is not replaced elsewhere. Still, it is certainly no wedge issue.
Meanwhile, the hidden agenda—the one the GOP is not touting openly because it is an election year—is state Rep. Randy Terrill’s proposed “Son of 1804” legislation, which he says will clamp down even further on illegal immigration in the state. Terrill, a Republican from Moore, wants another law that will enable law enforcement agencies to seize the property of those involved with illegal immigration. Are you involved with illegal immigration and do not even know it? Do you know an illegal immigrant? Every Oklahoma citizen must ask themselves this now. Last year, Terrill sponsored House Bill 1804, which gave the state the nation’s strictest anti-illegal immigration law. Now, he wants to go even further. The current law has produced much well-documented hardship in the state among the Hispanic community and certain businesses. Ultimately, it is difficult not to see the proposed law as particularly mean and racist.
Also, state Reps. Sally Kern and Mike Reynolds, two Oklahoma City Republicans, are pushing legislation that would apparently prohibit public school teachers from penalizing students who refused to submit regular work but instead only offered their religious beliefs (i.e. Christian beliefs) in papers or on tests.
These two issues—unabashed support for racism and theocracy—define the Republican Party in Oklahoma and elsewhere these days. Of course, it is true many state Democratic legislators will be afraid to vote against these measures because they fear voter backlash. Yet this is in an election year in which two of the top three Democratic candidates for president are a woman and an African American. This shows the overall difference between the two parties, and it shows why young people are shunning the GOP these days.
Add all this to the national GOP’s recent corruption scandals and hypocrisy (remember Jack Abramoff and the wide bathroom stance of Republican U.S. Sen. Larry Craig?), throw in the botched Iraq occupation (nine American soldiers were killed in Iraq in the last two days and this is “victory” for the GOP and The Daily Oklahoman), and you get the full picture of what has become of the so-called “conservative” party in American politics.
Oklahoma Republicans continue to freak me out on a daily basis. On one hand, they were the loudest supporters of the draconian state House Bill 1804, which cracks down on illegal immigrants in the state. It may well be the strictest anti-illegal immigration law in the country. Yet their Most Glorious Imperial President George Bush favors a broad amnesty program for undocumented workers. The GOP here also continues to push some of the strictest abortion laws in the nation. Yet one of the Republican frontrunners for president in the 2008 election, Rudy Giuliani, is definitely and absolutely pro-choice.
But recent GOP, neoconservative ideology has always been based on political expediency rather than consistent values and morality. The basic strategy is to manipulate people with cultural wedge issues in low-education states such as Oklahoma. Frankly, as long as Baptist ministers here continue to teach that Jesus, contrary to the Biblical story, was a petty, vindictive warmonger and hater of gay people, there is little that can be done. This, of course, is the legacy of the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, the freaky fanatic whose recent death was celebrated and mourned across the country. One headline even proclaimed “Ding, Dong, Falwell’s Dead.”
A Tale of Two Commissioners
Meanwhile, in Oklahoma County, another typical Republican, Brent Rinehart, continues to face political corruption charges. I bet County Commissioner Rinehart took notice that a campaign donor, Bob Larkin, just recently pleaded guilty in the case and is fully expected to rat him out to prosecutors. Rinehart and his former campaign manager, Tim Pope, are accused of soliciting excessive campaign donations. Of course, Rinehart claims the charges are politically motivated.
Rinehart needs to do everyone a favor and resign his position. If he is later cleared of the charges, he can have the last word and sue Attorney General Drew Edmondson or whatever, but for now he should step down.
Speaking of Oklahoma County Commissioners, the state’s progressive world was jubilant over the news that Gov. Brad Henry appointed Jim Roth to the Corporation Commission to fill the vacancy created by Denise Bode’s recent resignation. Roth, District 1 commissioner, is an outstanding choice for the position. He has brought integrity and common sense to Oklahoma County government.
Even the archconservative newspaper, The Daily Oklahoman, gave a shoutout to Henry on his decision. Roth, a Democrat and an openly gay man, will bring credibility and people power to the commission.
Proud Pro-Immigration Prattling
Henry continues to prove himself a wise, prudent leader of the state. His appointment of Roth and his vetoes of the initial budget submitted to him, the anti-abortion bill that discriminates against impoverished women, and a corporate lawsuit immunity measure, show Henry stands up for fairness, progress, and ordinary Oklahomans.
The governor did sign the illegal immigration bill, but let’s face it, the bill was veto proof and the majority prevailed. As much as some political activists railed against the bill (and it was way too late and too little from my point of view), they didn’t do much to consistently and appropriately explain to Oklahomans the illogical arguments made by the GOP. Now they’re complaining. I have been arguing on this blog and in the Oklahoma Gazette for the last two years that the local GOP arguments are extremely weak on this issue. (This is a federal issue; illegal immigrants contribute to the economy; local priests need to speak up, etc.) But I received not one positive comment or letter of support or encouragement. I did receive hate mail, angry letters to the editor at the Gazette, and threatening phone calls, though. Two callers even threatened to get me fired from my job for supporting the plight of undocumented workers. So these local pro-immigration activists like to throw around the word “racist” quite a bit, especially on the Democrats of Oklahoma Community Forum, but here’s the deal: They’re not going to be there for you if you speak out in favor of their position. You might ask: Why speak out for ungrateful people who won’t even post their hateful comments under real names? It’s problematic, true, and a typical Okie spectacle. It’s a perfect example of why thinking people move from this place in droves.
I will continue to speak out for undocumented workers here, of course, but I have real doubts the pro-immigration lobby in this state can accomplish anything positive at all. I also think this lobby group threatens to divide the state’s progressives with anger and sanctimonious posturing. Some people in this group have made supporters who are on their side and willing to speak out on this issue extremely angry, and they continue to do so. What do they expect to gain with this strategy? Maybe they're GOP-sponsored moles, people who have sold out, or maybe they're just stupid.
Inhofe Supporters Deserve High Gasoline Prices
Okie Funk decrees that anyone who has voted for U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe is not allowed to complain about the state’s high gasoline prices, which are way over $3 a gallon right now. Inhofe is a shill for big oil companies because he gets lots of campaign money from them. He, and a handful of other Republican politicians who are merely tools of big oil, are absolutely personally responsible for $3.25 gasoline in this state.
Here is the deal: Gas prices would not be this high if Inhofe hadn’t pushed the oil company agenda when the Republicans recently dominated the federal government. He could care less how much money it costs you to get to work or school. People should laugh in the face of anyone who claims the oil companies or Inhofe can’t help how much gasoline costs. All the energy companies are reporting record profits.
As former chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Inhofe could have been promoting a sensible energy policy to keep gas prices down, but he chose to embarrass the state with wild, unsupported comments about how global warming is a “hoax.”
OEA Lawsuit Kaput?
Here is a fact I challenge anyone to dispute: Oklahoma has never funded its schools appropriately. Never. The Daily Oklahoman can say all it wants about how we need to increase college education rates, but it will never happen without a real financial commitment to education here.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court, in a terrible, anti-education decision, recently threw out an Oklahoma Education Association lawsuit demanding adequate funding for schools. It upheld an earlier court ruling dismissing the suit. The lawsuit, no matter what its eventual outcome, should have been heard because it had real, tangible merit. It could have been a starting point for a real discussion about education funding here. You won’t get that here, though.
This is an important issue for the state, but the justices decided it would be best to shut up teachers and other educators in the state. And we’re going to improve our educational systems here by not allowing educators access to our court system on this significant issue?
Every kid going to school here will suffer because of this decision.
The state GOP, despite its majority in the Oklahoma House and rising fortunes in the Senate, continues to misfire by supporting needless ideological legislation and engaging in petty, sometimes secret, bipartisan politics.
The questions are these: Where are the big plans from Republicans to help move the state forward and help its residents? Where is all the promised reform of good ol’ boy politics, the actions of what its mouthpiece, The Daily Oklahoman, always refers to as the “usual suspects? Has the conservative juggernaut here lost its mojo?
Here’s what sticks out about the GOP in the 2007 legislature so far:
(1) House Speaker Lance Cargill (R-Harrah) still has not made the financial sponsors of his 100 Ideas initiative public. His Republican colleague, Thad Balkman, who directs the initiative’s operations, says he will release the information soon, but we still don’t know who is behind this obvious political effort to advance Cargill’s career and the fortunes of the GOP here.
(2) Republicans, for now, have stopped Gov. Brad Henry’s plan to create an early education program for three-year-old children in the state. This is especially petty because Henry has been one of the most bipartisan politicians in recent memory here. Remember, Henry supported GOP tax cuts last year.
(3) The GOP has submitted eight (yes, eight) more anti-abortion bills. All these bills are needless and designed to play a cultural wedge card for single-issue Republicans. The legislature passed strict anti-abortion bills last year. The legislation will only hurt poor women because those with enough financial resources can always get an abortion in a different state. Let’s hope the legislation doesn’t lead to back-alley abortions for women too poor to travel to places where the procedure is offered. Also, let's not forget the kooky GOP-sponsored bills making English the state's official language, requiring voters show identification when they vote (a GOP tactic to lower minority voting), and preventing undocumented workers from taking their kids to see a doctor.
(4) In a particularly petty move, Speaker Cargill refused to appoint state Rep. Wallace Collins (D-Norman) to an important committee dealing with mental health issues. Collins’ district includes Griffin Memorial Hospital, a mental health facility. What makes this especially petty is that Collins beat out Balkman, the 100 Ideas director, for his House seat. So Balkman apparently gets rewarded by the state’s ultra-rich power structure for losing his race, and Norman gets shafted because one of their representatives can’t get on a committee that is important to their community.
There is certainly an “in-your-face” attitude among Republicans to which they may feel entitled because of their majority in the House and because they now have an equal number of senators in the Senate.
But the ideological tone of some legislation, the secrecy behind the 100 Ideas organization, and the petty politics are symbolic of a political party that has lost its way nationally and locally. Behind Cargill’s bluster, Balkman’s vacillations, or even Vice President Dick Cheney’s angry occupation rhetoric this part weekend is a party that has seen the writing on the wall and is running scared.
Polls consistently show a drop in support for President George Bush’s Iraq occupation, and a majority of Americans now favor an immediate withdrawal. A vast majority trust the Democrats more than Bush and the Republicans on Iraq.
Democrats are poised to make great gains in the 2008 elections not just nationally but statewide as well. This will especially be the case if the first weeks of the 2007 state legislative session are any indication. The state GOP has become a party led by angry, petty blowhards, who vote down programs for three-year-olds even as they sanction secret politics. Their supreme commander, the imperial president, continues to bankrupt the federal government for a senseless occupation of a country whose residents don’t want us there.