(Progressives made some strides in Oklahoma this year, but the fight goes on. Okie Funk will continue to serve as a voice for progressive causes in Oklahoma this coming year. Today’s blog contains selected Okie Funk excerpts from each month during 2006.I have updated some of these excerpts with new links. Have a great 2007. Cheers!—Kurt Hochenauer )
”Intelligent Design Is A Losing Proposition For Oklahomans,” January 4, 2006
Oklahomans need to look no further than Dover, Pennsylvania when it comes to the state's political movement to dumb down our students with faux creationism or intelligent design.
The newly-elected school board there recently rescinded the board’s earlier decision to include a statement about intelligent design in science classrooms. This comes after a federal judge ruled it was illegal and the community ousted the former school board members who dragged their small district through an embarrassing debacle that will cost local taxpayers there thousands of dollars in legal fees.
The Dover case, and especially the ousting of the school board, has even caused the right-wing’s darling, Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, to back away from intelligent design after becoming one of its most visible, national supporters.
Intelligent design is a religious concept, not a scientific theory, which argues the natural world was created by an intelligent designer or God. It is creationism in disguise. Its supporters are primarily fundamentalist Christians.
”Out of Reach Books,” February 1, 2006
Imagine a library in which all the truthful and most important books are placed on high shelves out of your reach. You want to read those books, but you cannot reach them, and the library staff will not help you. In fact, they have been ordered by “officials” not to help you. They are also scared to help you because they could lose their jobs if they do so.
The books you can reach are filled with right-wing religious and nationalistic propaganda. You know, everyone knows, the truth is in the books on the top shelves. But you cannot reach them. Since they are books without readers, they do not exist in a crucial sense.
Sound like a scene from George Orwell’s 1984? Well, actually this top shelf policy may well be coming to a library near you soon.
A committee of the Oklahoma County Metropolitan Library has voted to place truthful, important children’s books on shelves so high the kids cannot reach them. The committee voted to create special parenting sections filled with children’s book about child abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism, and, of course, the real reason for the policy, homosexuality.
”The Sad, Immoral Trash of Ernest Istook,” March 26, 2006
Oklahomans received their first real glimpse at U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook’s gubernatorial campaign strategy this past week.
If you cut through all his boring, conservative rhetoric about tax cuts, and his sanctimonious posturing, corporate worshipping and hate-disguised-as-policy, here is what Istook really said in Repubcode at a Wednesday meeting of the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee in Edmond:
“If elected, I will ensure ultra-rich people get even more tax cuts. I’m against the new lottery, even though everyone in this room knows I accepted money from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who represented gambling interests. I want the state’s energy companies to give me lots of campaign money, and if they do so I will work to ensure they pay less in taxes. Also, Oklahomans should hate Hispanic people.”
Here is a direct quote from his speech, according to a local news account:
"I do not believe that you can tax and gamble your way to prosperity," Istook said. "We do not have leadership in the governor's office. I shudder to think where we would be if it weren't for the oil and gas industry right now that is holding up Oklahoma's economy. ... It's not anything that's been done at the state Capitol."
Do you really shudder Ernie, or do you just want the same local energy company payout that kooky Tom Coburn received when he was running for the U.S. Senate?
”Toby To State: Read Y’All White Trash Okies,” April 15, 2006
Oklahoma’s library poster child Toby Keith has come out with a recent album, and its title is sure to make the “official” intellectual community here proud the musician claims the state as his home.
Library officials, in particular, will be extra proud they selected Keith for a recent poster campaign to promote reading in the state.
Copies of Keith’s “White Trash With Money” should be given out to all Oklahoma school children, many of whom have already encountered Keith in his pornographic pose in the “Read Y’All” library posters plastered throughout the state.
When teachers pass out the free cds maybe they can then begin a discussion on the term “white trash” and its use.
Here is how such a discussion might go:
Teacher: Would someone define “white trash”?
Student: It means an inhabitant of Oklahoma.
Teacher: Okay. Anyone else?
Student: Doesn’t the word “white” in the term “white trash” mean that people of other skin colors are automatically trashy people. Isn’t that racist?
Teacher: Yes, it is racist, but you know we can’t criticize Toby Keith.
Teacher: Because he will put a boot in our . . .ahem . . . bottoms.
I want to put a too fine of a point on it here. The term “white trash” does make a linguistic claim that “white” is somehow special to someone trashy. In other words, the prevailing culture’s language has to qualify “trash” with “white” because it is somehow so unique that a white person could be trashy. I realize the term is commonly used to signify someone without culture, and some may argue the term is not racist. But there are trashy people with all types of skin colors. Why use “white” to modify “trash”?
”Okies Protest Bush,” May 7, 2006
Nearly 600 protestors, including students, military veterans, and peace activists, showed up to express their disapproval of President George Bush Saturday in Stillwater.
Bush gave the commencement speech in Boone Pickens Stadium at Oklahoma State University. He was flown in by helicopter at approximately 10 a.m. after landing in Air Force One at Vance Air Force Base in Enid.
As Bush flew in, protestors shook their fists at the sky and chanted, “Bush lied, thousands died.” The chant grew louder and louder during Bush’s speech as well. Sometimes, chanters just yelled, “Liar” over and over, or “1, 2, 3, 4, we don’t want your stupid war. 5, 6, 7, 8, stop the killing, stop the hate,” or “Impeach, indict, imprison.”
Bush lied the country into the immoral, illogical war in Iraq, sanctioned the torture of prisoners in American custody, and ordered the illegal wiretapping of American citizens. All these acts are impeachable offenses. Bush does not face any real investigations into these acts because the Republican Party, with its majority in Congress, has placed partisan politics above the country’s interests. Meanwhile, Bush approval ratings continue to drop, even in Oklahoma.
”State Newspaper Omits Essential Information,” June 23, 2006
The Daily Oklahoman published an unconscionable editorial this past week, criticizing state lawmakers for giving teachers a $3,000 across-the-board raise. It leaves you wondering why even a biased, right-wing newspaper would want to alienate those very people who could train and inspire people to read its product.
But then this is Oklahoma, the surreal graveyard of obvious contradictions.
Titled “Lawmakers cave to union demands” (June 22, 2006), the editorial argues the raises should have been distributed disproportionately to veteran teachers and that the Oklahoma Education Association’s “focus on money is out of control.”
What the newspaper fails to tell its readers is how Oklahoma teacher salaries often rank last or near to last in the nation. What the newspaper also fails to tell its readers is that our educational systems have been chronically underfunded for decades to the detriment of the state’s economic development and quality of life.
Instead, it talks about the OEA’s “clout” and Senate Democrats’ “refusal to be reasonable.”
”Voters Offered Clear Choice In Governor’s Race,” July 29, 2006
Brad Henry is a popular governor. Some polls show his popularity in the state at 70 percent. He was instrumental in steering the state through a budget crisis after the September 11, 2001 attacks. He has cut taxes and raised teacher salaries. He has given the state a lottery that helps fund education.
Istook, a Mormon, will almost certainly use wedge issues, such as abortion, intelligent design, or illegal immigration to try to rally the Christian right-wing in the state in order to defeat Henry. This is his only chance. Ultimately, the election may well be a mandate on how far the Christian right can push its theocratic philosophy in a state filled with religious fundamentalists.
The clear choice in the race is Henry, a centrist Democrat, who deserves another term. Voters here should reject Istook’s religious extremism, which hurts the state’s national image.
“Poverty Rate Rises in Oklahoma,” August 30, 2006
Poverty continues to rise in Oklahoma and income levels remain stagnant for the middle class, but do not expect our state leaders to do anything about it soon. Helping the poor and middle class does not translate into short-term political expediency these days.
The Community Action Project (CAP) recently issued a news issue brief showing that poverty rose from 11.8 percent in 2003-2004 to 13.2 percent in 2004-2005. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s median income declined slightly to $39,292 for 2004-2005. The agency based their analysis on recent U.S. Census figures. Oklahoma remains the fourth highest in the nation in residents without health insurance.
The statistics show what many of us see everyday. Unfortunately, we never openly discuss these issues because the mainstream media no longer provides significant and meaningful news coverage.
”Oklahoma TABOR Threat Is Gone For Now,” September 2, 2006
Here are the two remaining questions about TABOR after the Oklahoma Supreme Court last week ruled the constitutional amendment limiting growth of state government could not be placed on the ballot in November:
(1) What type of legislation will Republicans try to pass this coming session that will resemble TABOR, the so-called Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, and can Democrats stop it?
(2) Why did it take so long for the business power structure in Oklahoma to come out against TABOR, which would have devastated our school systems much like it did in Colorado before voters there rescinded it?
”Who Will Speak For Oklahoma’s Poor?,” October 1, 2006
Oklahoma residents continue to slip into poverty in increasing numbers as the state leadership stands idly by and does nothing. Here’s the question everyone is afraid to openly ask as the centennial year approaches: Is the state currently experiencing the largest increase in poverty since the Great Depression?
The most recent statistics show a 34 percent increase in the number of people requesting food stamps from 2002 to 2005, according to a local newspaper article. As I wrote recently in the Oklahoma Gazette, the U.S. Department of Census has reported overall increases in poverty here in the last few years. Currently, 16.5 percent of Oklahomans live in poverty. Oklahoma remains second in the nation in the percentage of children without health insurance. Recent studies show the state is number one in hungry families.
“Oklahoma, where hungry, poor families without health care are getting poorer.” Can you fit that sentence on a bumper sticker? Maybe the Oklahoma Centennial Commission can use it for a poster campaign sponsored by Chesapeake Energy.
”Oklahoma Progressives Lose A Champion,” November 22, 2006
The Oklahoma progressive world lost one of its true champions when political activist Keith Smith died Monday. Smith, 51, died of pneumonia at Integris Baptist Medical Center, according to newly-elected state Senator Andrew Rice.
Smith was a tireless activist for equal rights in this area of the country, and he was known to everyone in Oklahoma political circles.
Fighting the conservative juggernaut here in Oklahoma can be a thankless task. The state’s power structure—the Republican business people and the religious rubes they manipulate through cultural wedge issues—has been a formidable opponent for years in this state. Smith stood up and fought.
As the Christian right flourished in Oklahoma, Smith went on championing those causes that granted dignity and rights to all people in our culture. He did so with class and intelligence.
“Keith’s most endearing attribute was that he never admitted defeat. He might lose one battle, but he always bounced right back strategizing on how to win the war,” Rice said in a written statement about Smith’s death.
Oklahoman Should Issue Mea Culpa, December 4, 2006
“Anyone seeking to understand what has become the central conundrum of the Iraq war—how it is that so many highly accomplished, experienced, and intelligent officials came together to make such monumental, consequential, and, above all, obvious mistakes, mistakes that much of the government knew very well at the time were mistakes . . .”—Mark Danner, “Iraq: The War of the Imagination,” New York Review of Books, December 21, 2006
“As has always been the case, the only option for the United States in Iraq is victory. Yet more than ever before, the real responsibility for victory rests with the Iraqis themselves.”—Unsigned Editorial, “Victory Plan: Iraqi government must take charge,” The Daily Oklahoman, December 2, 2006
The Daily Oklahoman has failed Oklahomans miserably by not providing comprehensive commentary of the Iraq War, a debacle that will go down in history as perhaps the worst presidential deception ever.
The newspaper’s editorial board needs to immediately issue a mea culpa about its radical pro-war position and then allow alternative views on its opinion pages. By keeping readers oblivious to the war’s facts and by framing the war with the propagandistic rhetoric of President George Bush on its editorial pages, the newspaper duped thousands of Oklahomans.
What the newspaper will not give its readers is the type of information contained in a recent article by Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books. Danner outlines mistake after mistake (these mistakes have been recorded here on Okie Funk) made by the Bush administration in regards to the war.
Sally Show Begins
State Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) will try to restrict reproductive rights even further for Oklahoma women this coming legislative session.
House Bill 1004, filed by Kern, would require doctors who perform abortions to have clinical privileges at a hospital within 30 miles where the procedure was performed. This is yet another measure to restrict abortion and other reproductive services.
As reported earlier by The Practical Progressive, this legislation would prevent out-of-state doctors, who are licensed in Oklahoma, from performing the procedures. This has been a common practice in some states.
Last legislative session, the state passed laws restricting abortion in the state. The restrictions included the requirement minors get parental consent before they have an abortion and state funding of anti-choice information centers. The legislature also passed laws requiring physicians tell women the fetus feels pain, which is not proven scientifically. A new law also requires doctors to offer women a sonogram view of the fetus before an abortion.
There was also a political effort last year to restrict access to Plan B, the emergency contraceptive for women. Plan B has been approved for over-the-counter sales by the Federal Drug Administration.
State legislators of both major political parties will continue to impose their religious views on Oklahoma women by restricting their access to reproductive services until people speak up. This issue marginalizes women in our overall culture, and especially in conservative Oklahoma, and denies women freedom to make decisions about their own bodies.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, an organization that tracks reproductive rights: “In 2000, 96% of Oklahoma counties had no abortion provider. 56% of Oklahoma women lived in these counties. In the South census region, where Oklahoma is located, 32% of women having abortions traveled at least 50 miles, and 10% traveled more than 100 miles.”
No rational person favors the use of abortion for standard birth control, but religious ideologues also want to restrict access to basic birth control as well. Sex education and easy access to birth control will bring down the unwanted-pregnancy rate, but the ideologues—primarily Christian extremists—have a larger agenda.
It’s important to note this will probably not be the only measure this upcoming session trying to restrict reproductive rights in Oklahoma. Kern represents an area in northwest Oklahoma City and Bethany. She and other Christian extremists may well introduce more legislation denying women the ability to control what happens to their bodies.
Abortion is obviously a controversial issue for some Christians, but no one is forced to have an abortion in this country. If you’re against abortion, don’t have one. This is about state Christian fundamentalists demanding everyone view the world through their narrow-minded religious filter. This is about religious intrusion in government. This is about politically moderate and liberal Christians (is “liberal Christian” an oxymoron these days?) allowing right-wing Christian extremists to hijack their religion on a couple of cultural wedge issues like abortion and gay rights.
Do a majority of Oklahoma woman want to give up their reproductive rights. No. But many women are afraid to speak up in a state that marginalizes anyone who dissents from the right-wing, religious agenda.
I wrote this on March 4, 2006 on Okie Funk:
"Not one Oklahoma politician has come out forcefully and presented counter legislation that would stop the religious freaks from embarrassing our state, damaging our economy by branding us with the 'ignorant hick' logo, and turning our schools into quasi-churches.
"Not one Oklahoma politician in this state has stepped up and said 'enough is enough,' championing the cause of intellectualism and rationalism and logic and medical science, the hallmarks of modernity and enlightenment.
"Not one Oklahoma politician has said figuratively and loudly to our college graduates now leaving the state in droves that the fight for intellectual freedom can be waged even in one of the reddest of red states."
A bill (SB 24) filed by state Sen. Patrick Anderson (R-Enid) would limit the growth of state spending to the previous year’s spending plus five percent.
Sounds like a TABOR hybrid, and you can expect similar measures this coming session.
TABOR, or the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, is the idea that the growth of state spending should be limited to the previous year’s spending plus an increase based on a formula tied to population growth and the inflation rate. An initiative petition drive to place the issue as a constitutional amendment on the ballot here was declared invalid by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
Oklahoma, which lags far behind in education funding in the country, simply can’t allow itself to be tied to budget measures that restrict it from taking care of its structural problems. For example, the state has had one of the lowest per student spending rates in the nation for years. It often has the lowest or near the lowest teacher salaries in the nation as well.
It’s virtually impossible to increase taxes without a vote of the people in Oklahoma, and the legislature has been reducing taxes lately, not raising them. If the state has extra money to wisely and prudently invest in improving the state, then it should do so. This is just common sense, not ideology.
Progressives Were Right About TABOR
An Oklahoma Supreme Court report severely criticizing an outside group for its tactics in gathering signatures for the failed TABOR petition several months ago brings up the question again of Oklahoma’s ideologically conservative and recalcitrant leadership.
As many of us warned months ago, the group, National Voter Outreach, probably violated rules governing initiative drives by employing out-of-state signature gatherers. But conservative mouthpiece The Daily Oklahoman told us on its editorial page to withhold our criticisms and let the issue come to a vote of the people. The court’s report said the group employed 60 out-of-state workers. You must be an Oklahoma resident to collect signatures for a state initiative petition drive.
Progressives also warned how the petition workers often distorted the TABOR “story” or lied or withheld information about the impact of the measure in Colorado when they approached people. In essence, paid operatives from outside Oklahoma came into the state and tried to swindle voters. To its credit, the court stopped them.
TABOR, or the so-called Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights, is the idea that states need a constitutional amendment to reduce spending. TABOR would require that the growth of state spending become tied to a formula related solely to population growth and the inflation rate.
A state that passed a TABOR amendment, Colorado, recently voted to rescind it because it had decimated the quality of life in the state through cuts in education, health care, and road maintenance.
The report issued this week was scathing in is criticisms of NVO, according to news reports.
Yet the larger question remains: Why did it take so long for the power structure to oppose TABOR? Business bigwigs in the state—executives from Kerr McGee, Devon, and Chesapeake, for example—eventually filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the petition. The Oklahoman, in a rare break with extreme GOP ideology, then began editorializing against the petition.
The power structure in this state, if Oklahoma is to thrive, needs to become more open-minded to ideas and positions from progressives. We were exactly right about TABOR, but don’t count on the right-wingers to admit their mistakes or their own complicity in the issue. Look at the Iraq debacle.
Another question looms about what whether the upcoming legislature will pass a TABOR-like bill cutting funding to education and not allowing the state to catch up from its position as a state possessing one of the lowest per student funding rates in the nation. The House has a majority of Republicans, and the Senate is equally divided between the two major parties.
Could a TABOR bill make it through?
Senate Democrats Must Save State
Oklahoma Senate leaders have decided to share power now that the legislative body is divided equally between Democrats and Republicans. As lieutenant governor, Jari Askins, a Democrat, will cast any tie breaking votes if needed.
The question for most progressives is what will happen to the kooky, religious-driven legislation the House passes and sends to the Senate. State Rep. Sally Kern (R-Oklahoma City) is still in the House, for example, and she or other religious ideologues may well bring up the intelligent design issue again. Intelligent design proponents want to make Oklahoma students study creationism in schools under the guise of a “science” that argues an intelligent designer (or, in their view, the Christian God) created the world. These ID proponents are right-wing, Christian extremists who hide their real interests behind their fake science in order to dumb down Oklahoma students to their own intelligence level.
Will Senate Democrats fight the religious fanatics on this issue and others? This may well shape the state’s economic development for years to come. Radical religious legislation mandating intelligent design and prayer in school and outlawing abortion will only make the state’s residents seem even more narrow-minded as political moderates and progressives prevail nationally. Who but religious extremists would want to raise children here? What types of businesses would want to locate here? The obvious disparity between new Democratic control of the federal legislative branch of government and Oklahoma’s right-wing political nutcases—from Kern to U.S. Sen. James Inhofe—will hurt the state immeasurably. It’s up to the Senate Democrats to save the state from itself in 2007.