What type of place will Oklahoma become and how much will its national image suffer after the Republican-controlled legislature goes on its expected ideological rampage in 2009?
This is the hidden story among Oklahoma’s ultra conservative corporate media, and it surely has crossed the minds of the state’s economic developers, who must deal with the state’s image issues on a regular basis.
The Republicans now have majorities in both the House and Senate. As the country turned toward the left and center in the November elections, a majority of Oklahoma voters continued to embrace the failed and dissipating neoconservative moment. The state is now considered the reddest of red states throughout the country and world. This makes the state seem as if inhabited by extremists. Will the upcoming legislative session further validate this view?
The GOP has already introduced the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, sponsored by controversial state Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City), who was once caught on tape claiming gay people were a worst threat to the country than terrorists. Kern’s bill is simply an attempt to bring religion into our public schools. I have written about it here.
The Republicans have also introduced a senseless voter id bill, sponsored by state Sen. John Ford (R-Bartlesville) that will make it more difficult for some people to vote. The bill, if passed, would require voter to show photo id before they can vote. Let me repeat this: There is not a problem with voting fraud in Oklahoma or the nation This is a bill aimed at marginalizing certain groups, such as minorities, who are more likely to vote Democratic.
There is speculation among political insiders that state Rep. Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie) will reintroduced a bill that would allow college students to carry concealed weapons in classrooms. The bill was vetoed last year. This bill, if passed, would probably increase the chances for violence on campus while driving away qualified professors from Oklahoma universities. The bill sanctions a backwoods, wild west mentality. It poses numerous law enforcement and safety problems, but that doesn’t mean it won’t get passed.
Republicans are also expected to introduce a corporate and physician amnesty bill that would cap lawsuit damages. These amnesty bills, sponsored by the GOP throughout the country, are simply attempts to take away the rights of individuals. The GOP focuses its arguments on the mythology of frivolous lawsuits. In fact, the vast majority of lawsuits are justified. Suing for damages is a basic American right and a major part of any Democratic government. The GOP wants to limit individual rights in order to enrich a small, powerful corporate oligarchy in the state.
The GOP is also expected to lead the fight in stopping any increases in educational funding.
So what will the state be like after the next legislative session, which begins in February? Will our public schools be hotbeds of religious conflict or stifling Christian enclaves that won’t teach basic science principles? Will some people here be denied the right to vote? Will our college students be armed? Will Oklahomans lose their basic rights to recover damages in a lawsuit? Will education once again be slighted in funding in order to pay for the state’s absurdly large prison population?
There is no doubt that Republicans, with majorities in the House and Senate, will want to flaunt their power, but this could come at great expense to the state’s quality of life and national image. Forward-thinking people and parents of school-aged children should pay close attention to the carnage left by the Republicans after the 2009 legislative session.
(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.