Oklahoma GOP Schism?

Image of Kandinsky painting

(What's the difference between pro-life and pro-life intimidation? Read DocHoc's commentary this week in the state's finest alternative publication, the Oklahoma Gazette.)

Has the Oklahoma Republican corporate power structure finally hit the breaking point with GOP social conservatives?

It’s difficult not to ask this question in light of its vigilant and correct opposition to a bill that would have criminalized the practice of embryonic stem cell research in Oklahoma. The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Mike Reynolds, an Oklahoma City Republican, passed the state House and Senate, but was met with a veto by Gov. Brad Henry. The Senate sustained Henry’s veto, but Republicans may attempt to override the veto again.

Both the Oklahoma City and Tulsa Chambers of Commerce, which primarily take ultra-conservative, pro-big business positions on political issues, urged Henry to veto the bill, arguing it could inhibit the growth of the state’s health care industry, which they say make up 13 percent of the state’s workforce. The Oklahoman editorial page opposed the bill as well.

They also argued the bill would send the wrong message to the nation about the state’s commitment to bioscience research. The mission of this research is often to help sustain and enhance life.

Researchers use a limited number of frozen embryos to seek cures for a number of diseases and medical conditions, including diabetes and Alzheimer’s. These embryos, created for pregnancies, aren’t from abortions and would have been discarded anyway.

The facts didn’t stop the right-wing, social conservatives from making it a “pro-life” issue, however. House Speaker Chris Benge, according to a local news report, said this about Henry’s veto: “Oklahoma is a pro-life state, and its citizens are overwhelmingly opposed to research that would result in the death of an unborn child.”

According to a press release, this is what Reynolds said about the bill after the Senate passed it: “For me personally, the single-most important issue we deal with as legislators is protecting the right to life. The idea that we should condone the harvesting of children for ‘well intentioned’ research runs counter to all morality. Human embryos are human beings and the state cannot condone their destruction for research purposes.” Again, these embryos would have been discarded.

Is all this a significant political schism in the Republican Party here? This isn’t the first time the corporate power structure has been in conflict with the social conservatives in the GOP in recent years. The two took opposite positions on the illegal immigration issue, for example. But this issue has the potential to alienate the two groups even further. This is good for Oklahoma.

It’s difficult for the business community to push for economic growth in Oklahoma without caring about its national image. By speaking up on this issue, they have indicated they will fight backwards and anti-science legislation sponsored by Republicans in the House and Senate. If the corporate power structure wants real change, it will start to target individual legislative elections.

But this will surely embolden the social conservatives who will feel frustrated that the GOP majority is not passing its full agenda. There are conservative Democrats who support this agenda as well. Will the Republicans take more issues to the ballot box like they have with Voter ID?

The other related issue lurking in the background is the 2010 election. If the Republicans are able to win the governor’s seat and retain their majorities in the House and Senate, then more ideological legislation will likely become law and Oklahoma will become even more isolated as a state enslaved to the dead neoconservative movement.

The potential GOP schism here is reflective of the problems faced by Republicans nationally. The party continues to struggle with identity problems. U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter for example, announced recently he plans to change his party affiliation to Democratic from Republican. How much this will affect the Oklahoma political scene remains to be seen, but the GOP will have to move to the center nationally if it wants to win back the presidency and more Congressional seats.


Will Bad Bills Become Law?

Image from

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

Image of Tom ColeImage of Mary Fallin

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.)