Will Bad Bills Become Law?

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Although an anti-evolution bill was killed by a Senate committee recently, there remains plenty of bad, right-wing measures under consideration by the Oklahoma Legislature.

With majorities in the House and Senate, Republicans expect to pass their agenda. But the radical GOP faction, the legislators who want to bring even more religion into our schools and government or make it more difficult for people from other countries to live here, have stolen the limelight again this year.

Here are some of the bills:

House Bill 1001 or the Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act, sponsored by state Reps. Sally Kern and Mike Reynolds, Oklahoma City Republicans, would allow religious groups access to school facilities. Students could not be penalized for expressing religious views in assignments (i.e., wink, wink, creationism in science classes.) The bill, which has passed a House committee, is modeled after a measure in Texas. Gov. Brad Henry vetoed a similar bill last year.

Senate Bill 834, sponsored by John Ford, a Bartlesville Republican, would essentially deregulate public schools in coming years, making them, in principle, charter schools, according to educational organizations, including the Oklahoma Education Association (OEA). This could mean individual schools could essentially teach whatever curriculum they wanted to teach. According to the OEA, under the bill, teachers would lose due process, class size limitations, the ability to bargain a contract, a minimum salary schedule, guaranteed salary, health benefits, personal leave days and a payroll deduction of dues. Schools would lose teacher quality, according to the OEA. The Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education points out the bill would allow schools to ignore academic subjects, such as evolution. The bill has passed a Senate committee.

House Bill 1330, sponsored by Mike Ritze, a Broken Arrow Republican, would place a Ten Commandments monument on the State Capitol grounds. Under the bill, Ritze and his family would apparently pay for the monument, but there are serious religious intrusion issues with the measure. Ritze is an ordained Southern Baptist Church deacon. The bill has passed a House committee.

House Joint Resolution 1042, sponsored by state Rep. Randy Terrill, a Moore Republican, would prevent any state agency from conducting business in any language other than English. In essence, it makes English the state government’s official language. This bill, if passed, would make Oklahoma seem backwards and unwelcoming to people from other cultures. It tells people from other countries that they aren’t welcomed here. It completely ignores the diverse nature of the state’s and country’s population. Another measure, House Bill 2252, would require driver’s license tests be given only in English. Both bills have passed committees.

These bills, if signed into law, would do incredible damage to our public schools and further isolate the state from the rest of the world. This has an incalculable effect on economic development and the quality of life here.

Political Understatement: Democrats Need 2010 Governor Win

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U.S. Reps. Mary Fallin and Tom Cole said they are contemplating running for governor in 2010.

The Republicans, pictured right, join Democrats Drew Edmondson, Oklahoma Attorney General, and Jari Askins, Oklahoma Lieutenant Governor, in publicly announcing they may run for the position. Current Gov. Grad Henry finishes his second and last term in 2010.

All four potential candidates have solid name recognition throughout the state and could run competitive races depending on the particular political circumstances in 2010.

If Republicans capture the governor’s seat and maintain their majorities in the Oklahoma House and Senate, the state will obviously become even more conservative in its politics. This could isolate the state even more from the national political scene and further damage its image. This, in turn, could hurt economic development.

The Republican fiscal ideology of the last eight years--many would say the last three decades--has been soundly repudiated and rejected, but this won't stop conservatives here from clinging to failed ideas.

The best chance for Democrats to maintain some political balance in the state could be winning the governor’s race in 2010 rather than individual legislative races. This doesn’t mean Democrats should concede any given race, of course, but it does mean they absolutely must win the governor’s position to check the GOP’s radical agenda.

The economy may well be the major issue in 2010, but the state’s biased, corporate media, including The Oklahoman, which serves as a propaganda ministry for the GOP, will spin events and facts to favor conservative candidates. Watch the media here, for example, try to rewrite the disastrous Bush presidency as the months go on and as President Barack Obama attempts to revive the economy and restore the country’s world stature.

The larger questions loom: How can Democrats stop the continuing conservative juggernaut in Oklahoma? Is it even possible given the state’s low college education levels, its right-wing religious folks and ultra-conservative corporate media? If it’s not possible, then what are the best strategies for Democrats to make a difference in their Oklahoma communities? How does the state’s continuing brain drain affect the political situation?

Here is a poll about a possible Fallin/Cole match in the Republican primary. (You can find a poll about the potential Democratic candidates here.) Feel free to leave a comment.

(Update: State Sen. Randy Brodgon, also a Republican, has said he may run for governor as well.)

Will GOP Create More Image Problems?

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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.

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