Our children deserve our political protection as much as our face-to-face protection in the classroom.
It is time for Oklahoma teachers in even larger numbers to claim what we know from what we see every day in the classroom. That view is very different from that of lawyer legislators or corporate chieftains.
Having been in the Oklahoma public school classroom for 16 years, and many of those in the alternative ed classroom, I know that I am always looking for that one good thing that a student has done today. One will do. That’s it. We teachers are just wired that way.
And so it is natural for us to see one good vote from our representative or senator, praise them for it, and give them a pass on 10 bad votes that actually work against public education, especially in funding.
But to allow our legislators to use a one-good-vote approach and get by with it is a disservice to educational efforts in Oklahoma. It is also a disservice to the legislators. How?
Some may actually want to be more balanced in their voting, but in the absence of any other pressure, they are going to vote the way that lobbyists for those corporate interests tell them to vote.
So, the most cynical ones need to know that we are watching, and the earnest ones need to be able to point to our pressure as a way of holding off the corporate lobbyists.
Prepare for June 24th Primaries
There are several good ways to keep track of voting records when making your decision on how to vote in the upcoming primaries on June 24th.
Use the tools and general information on the website for the Oklahoma Policy Institute which has a track record of providing hard information on legislative matters.
The Bill Tracker tool on that website is an extremely good way to keep up with matters in the legislature when it is in session and for research in between.
Use the Bill Search feature on the web site for the Oklahoma Legislature.
Just using those tools alone will allow you to keep up with how your particular legislator voted in this last session.
One Vote In Full View, Another Gets in Under the Radar
Here is one comparison that is very important to seeing if your legislator is consistent in voting for public education and public services:
Public education and the children, parents, and teachers of Oklahoma achieved a big win on House bill 2625 – 3rd Grade Retention, authored by Republican Representative Katie Henke.
It originally passed 89-6 in the House and 43-1 in the Senate. The override of Gov. Fallin’s veto passed 79-17 in the House and 45-2 in the Senate.
During the debate, Representatives Henke, Casey, and Nolan wrote an opinion piece for the Tulsa World opposing automatic 3rd grade retention for students who did not pass the one-time, one-day test. Great!
But, lurking in the shadow of all that passion of the big win, and sliding in under confusion due to the same numbers being in this bill, there was House bill 2562 – “Gross Production Tax Cut”. Here is information provided by the Oklahoma Policy Institute.
It would make permanent an incentive that had originally been given for horizontal drilling, and was set to expire next year. Now most drillers use that technique as a matter of course. After the expiration, the production tax would have moved back up to its original rate of 7%, which is the same rate used in neighboring states.
That bill, signed into law today by Gov. Fallin, offered a permanent tax break for Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry that is already flush with cash that they liberally spread around during races for the House and the Senate. It also deprives Oklahoma public services, like public education, of necessary funds in a completely manufactured crisis of funding for Oklahoma government.
The bill passed 61-34 in the House, and passed 23-22 in the Senate.
So, how did Henke, Casey, and Nolan vote? Henke was excused from the floor that day and Casey and Nolan voted against the bill. To me that’s a good example of consistency in voting. Way to go!
How did your legislators, representative and senator, vote on these two bills?
If they voted for the 3rd Grade Retention bill and the override of Fallin’s veto when the heat was on, good for them.
But, if they voted to give a big early Christmas gift to oil and gas donors in a bill passed at the very end of the session, then it’s time for them to hear from you. They voted to deprive public education and other services in Oklahoma of necessary funds in a time when Oklahoma’s economy is booming.
You are interviewing someone for a job and their approach is “Hey, anyone can do this. You don’t have to be very smart to do this job”. Will you hire them? You’re a knucklehead if you do. They have already decided that the work takes no effort and isn’t really important. They will only waste your time, effort, and money.
Yet, over the last 20 years, Oklahoma voters have “hired” people with similar attitudes to fill public office. Should we even be surprised that they are wasting our time, effort, and money?
The Source of the Problem
Is it even possible for them to do a good job at running our state’s government when the core of their campaign was that “government is incompetent and won’t ever do anything right”? It’s not. Before their first day in office they are on a course of incompetence.
If they make government better or just simply work, they have proven themselves wrong. And just in case you don’t know much about politics, they don’t want to do that. Ever.
It starts with those in Oklahoma who vote. We have been campaigned into believing that the best person for us to “hire” at the polls is the one who knows the least, has the least experience at running anything, and promises to do the worst job that they can think of. Ridiculous.
Now if you are in charge of a large corporation that does not want any government policing of what you do, that’s a good deal. You will give big money to those candidates. That’s exactly what has happened over the years in Oklahoma. It has a multiplying effect in that once those incompetents get into office, your lobbyists can do all of their thinking for them, because…that’s right...they don’t know anything.
So, those politicians do what they are told. They better. There are no other options for them.
Cases in Point
The latest news is that State Superintendent of Schools Janet Barresi is making plans to use money budgeted for activities and alternative education to pay for health care premiums promised to teachers because of funding that has not been provided by the legislature. Here’s today’s news brief about it from NewsOK.com.
Rather than do what a Superintendent elected directly by The People should do –confront the legislature– she is going along with the general incompetence of the Republican dominated legislature because the handlers who control all of them want, you know, “team players”.
Why can’t Janet Barresi run the State Department of Education like we elected her to do? She is a dentist and doesn’t know the first thing about running a classroom for a whole year, much less the entire public school effort for the state. And so, she has to follow orders of bigger corporate interests when they call. She has hired itinerant corporate education tools from out-of-state to fill top jobs just below hers because that’s what she is expected to do by those who paid big money to get her into office. She’s on the team.
Why can’t Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt do anything else but bring frivolous law suits against the Affordable Care Act at taxpayers’ expense of millions and not do much of anything else? He’s on the team.
Why can’t Gov. Fallin and the legislature stay out of the way and allow local towns and cities to set their own minimum wage if they won’t set one for the state? Why can’t they allow cities to run their own zoning ordinances? Well, even though they ran to keep big government off our backs, they create their own big government that controls us in ways that the rich and big corporate interests want us to be controlled. They are on the team.
Too Much Consolidation of Power
What early 1900s Progressives knew from experience in the century before was that The People have to keep big money from controlling every aspect of state government.
Bad government happens when it is possible for a few rich people to pay for a majority of legislative campaigns and the governor who installs lackeys throughout the executive branch. They, then, follow the orders of only a few rich people instead of The People. So, the Oklahoma Constitution calls for a large number of leaders in the executive branch to be voted on directly by The People rather than being appointed by the governor.
The problem circles back around to who votes and who we decide to vote into office. It’s people who run any government. If government isn’t working, replace those who are in charge of it.
But, those who actually vote in Oklahoma have believed the well-funded campaign line that government is the problem, and so we vote for people who don’t know anything. They then have no choice but to leave or follow orders from the lobbyists and handlers. In actual effect, we have a scenario that the writers of the Oklahoma Constitution thought they were avoiding.
The Key: More Informed, Motivated Voters Who Vote
For those of us who want reform it is a good thing that Oklahoma has put so much into making sure that voters can vote and the voting system has integrity. After all, if they believe that only certain Republicans will vote anyway, why not make it easy for them? What that really means is that we can bring change if we provide credible opposition and sound arguments. The key is getting out the vote.
It comes back around to us. How badly do we want to see change? I want it and if you are reading this, you probably want it, too. That’s why the June 24th primaries, the August 26th run-offs, and the November 4th election all matter. Put those on your calendar now and focus!
The ass-kicking that Democrats got in the 2010 mid-term elections was a direct result of not enough people on the left getting out the vote. Whole segments of people who voted for the Democrats and President Obama in 2008 simply stayed home 2 years later handing the House of Representatives over to the Republicans and seriously weakening the Senate. The result was the most obstructionist, unproductive, hateful, bull-shitty Congress in U.S. history.
So, it’s time for us right now to be very clear about what is at stake if we don’t get out the vote this year: The Republicans could win control of the Senate and keep control of the House.
If Republicans can do that, here is what they are planning:
Typically, those of us on the left get caught up in arguments and denials about such warnings arguing that surely no one would carry out such radical, destructive plans. That argument assumes a certain level of reason on the right that they just have not shown in a long time.
When was the last time that Republicans have NOT done the most destructive thing that many of us thought they would never do? About 20 years ago.
Yeah. It’s been a tough year so far in Oklahoma. Those who actually expect logic and sanity to have anything to do with public policy are suffering what I call the Red State Blues.
We botched an execution where the condemned died a slow, agonizing death, which has made our state infamous to the rest of the nation and even world.
Our state legislature, more of an extension office of ALEC and the Koch Brothers, continues to gleefully pass laws that don’t matter and carefully avoid those that do.
So, it’s not unusual to hear liberals and progressives talking about the blues that develop after seeing so much idiocy in the public sphere. How we can overcome those Red State Blues?
In future posts I will develop more fully these five ways to do that:
1. Connect with fellow liberals and progressives locally, and in person.
Are you upset that the local paper sings only one note for the far right? Do you get angry at the ways in which there is so much disruption and shouting on social media at times by those convinced of the correctness of their wing-nut agenda? One important way for liberals to have meaningful connections is in person and locally.
2. Develop a political posture that fits your personality.
Not everyone is well-suited to accept an arrest and jail time for a cause. And not everyone is suited to even go to a rally or march for a cause. But those aren’t the only two options for political involvement about what you believe. There are far more other ways to support the causes that capture your interest and passion.
3. Set a goal to do one new thing each year to promote progressive thinking and action in your city and state.
Sometimes we liberals in red states get the blues from just the enormity – the volume – of the crazy stuff that we see going on. It can seem like a flood that cannot be stopped. But, it can over time, if each liberal decides to pick one new thing that you can do to improve the public attitude about cultural and political issues. And the blues will go away as you see progress.
4. Let others know your position through social media in ways that do not offend your conservative friends and employer.
One large contributor to red state blues is the number of employers who ascribe to right-wing ideology and expect their employees to stay silent if they don’t agree, or to give active approval. You can express your political opinion as long as you are aware of the offense triggers that can cause trouble for you.
5. Move from being a resentful liberal to a politically active progressive.
This is the big one. Resentment is born from being a cultural minority in a red state. Being a racial and cultural minority is even harder. So the effort in shaking the red state blues is to not see yourself as helpless. You’re not. We can work our way out of that paralyzing resentment through political action that fits our personality and skills the best.
I’m looking forward to your response to these ideas as I develop them further over the next several weeks.
Since I live in the reddest of red states, I hear progressives here say variations of this: “Yeah, I lost my vote in that last election. My candidate lost.”
True? I don’t believe that. Every vote that is cast makes a point, in some way or another, and is “lost” only if it is never cast in the first place.
Your vote is significant on many levels, and should be guarded and exercised as often as possible. Here’s why:
Back in the day when everything was analog and statistics were done with huge stacks of paper by guys in white shirts/black ties using slide rules, that may have been the case. Sorting out who voted and why was a Herculean task. Not any more.
Today, campaigns have an amazing array of evaluative tools due to the digitizing of polls, surveys, voting records, etc. I still remember hearing in the late 1980s how marketers who set up mailing campaigns could tell what kind of toothpaste I used, and how to target me. Now if that was the case in the 1980s, imagine the tools now.
No, your vote is never “lost” to campaigns and candidates who pay extremely close attention to various statistical cuts in voting during an election, even if the candidate that you wanted to win does not. Even a candidate who loses, but turns in a larger opposition vote than the last election has an effect on the winner.
Case in point: The last Oklahoma City election for mayor was the most active and seriously contested in my memory. Oklahoma City is on a roll, but our 3-term mayor, Mick Cornett, who was going for a fourth, was spending way too much time in increasingly tighter circles of thinking. The crescendo of that process was Cornett’s speech to the Republican National Convention in 2012. It was a rousing speech of right-wing dog whistles and partisan grandstanding that Oklahoma City is not used to hearing from what is, by design, a non-partisan mayor. Those earlier non-partisan days of his leading the city to lose a million pounds were past. But, not quite….
One of our City Council members, Dr. Ed Shadid, mounted an energetic campaign that focused on giving neighborhoods a voice instead of only listening to interests that wanted downtown to grow at the expense of the rest of the city.
Shadid held a series of public forums in different parts of a city whose leaders had conveniently forgotten the welfare of those who were living there.
Shadid’s campaign effectively pointed out the contradiction of the recent growth of Oklahoma City: Wealthy corporate chieftains who lived in the suburbs were dictating how Oklahoma City would spend millions and give millions more in tax breaks to promote their new headquarters at the expense of neighborhood development.
This campaign pushed Mayor Cornett to reconsider his direction. We began to see him in more neighborhood meetings. Even though some thought it was a campaign stunt, his Twitter feed started using the word “neighborhood” more, which was a significant change from last elections. For the first time, I actually saw him actively engaging the crowd of the Martin Luther King Day Parade for a considerable length of time, not just shaking hands, but carrying on conversations.
Mayor Cornett won his fourth term, but not without the wakeup call of the results. This election resulted in a far larger turnout than before. Those who voted for Shadid actually turned in larger numbers for him than those who had voted for Cornett in the last election that was not seriously contested. Yes, Cornett won, but he would be stupid (he’s not) to ignore the fact of the number of voters who cast a vote for the other guy.
That other guy, Dr. Shadid, is still on the City Council and is still asking those questions that need to be asked.
Did those who voted for Shadid “lose” their vote. No way. Just yesterday I saw the mayor’s tweet that he had eaten at a popular locally owned neighborhood restaurant for the first time. By being there, he was meeting new people and learning once again about what common people thought. That’s progress. And it’s because people got out and voted.
The only votes that were “lost” in that election were those that were not cast. Plan to vote!
The pattern of political action for liberals and progressives goes much like this: Get fired up about a particular candidate. Work hard and get emotional about the outcome. If the candidate loses, fade away, never to be heard from again. If the candidate wins, fade away, never to be heard from again.
It’s time for that to end. Too much is at stake in our future.
Campaigns are critical. However, turning over the long-term political discussion to voices on the right produces a political landscape where we only consider a narrow set of options from the right, none of which are good or remotely logical. For politicians on the right, the only logic is how to deliver power to their benefactors whose only logic is, of course, their power.
The irony with progressives loosing heart and relaxing the pressure between campaigns is this: Because of a lack of political muscle developed between campaigns, it is harder to elect the best candidates when the time actually comes to elect them. In Oklahoma we see this behavior repeated with agonizing consistency.
Case in point: Recently, there was a very good, necessary, and spirited campaign for mayor in Oklahoma City between progressive city council member Dr. Ed Shadid and incumbent Mayor Mick Cornett. As a part of Shadid’s campaign to raise awareness of too many shadowy machinations about a convention center idea, a petition was started to get more sunlight onto the studies that had been done. After Shadid lost an uphill battle against the strong incumbent, the petition drive fizzled so that it was never even delivered on the deadline.
It is clear that if progressive thought will have an impact in very red states like Oklahoma, there needs to be a constant commitment to progressive values and thought between campaigns.
How do we achieve that? Here are some ideas:
1. Support the candidates that represent your values and ideals whether you think that they have a chance of winning or not.
I hear too many people talk themselves out of helping with a good campaign just because they think the candidate won’t win. That’s not the issue. The public needs to hear what that candidate has to say, especially if they are challenging an incumbent that has been too much of a gofer for big money donors in the shadows. And, if the points the candidate is making are important now, they are important in between campaigns, too.
2. Support that candidate again if they want to run again.
Look at how many times influential office holders in U.S. history have lost before they won that influential position. Being a good, tough politician is about coming back from defeat. Like a good cage fighter, a politician has to be able to take several hard punches in order to stay in the fight. If your candidate can, they are worth supporting no matter how much of a long-shot others may think they are. One thing for sure, they will never win without your support, and those important ideas will never influence anyone without your being the carrier of them.
3. Learn as much as you can any way that you can about issues that concern you.
A part of influencing others between campaigns is knowing what you are talking about. People can tell if you do or don’t very quickly and will either listen or turn you off accordingly the next time you speak to them. In Oklahoma, a very good progressive think tank is the Oklahoma Policy Institute, which also has a good daily podcast to keep you up to date on legislative matters.
4. Learn from national news sources to compare with local ones.
There is now a large volume of information available to progressive thinkers about a number of issues that may affect your state. In central Oklahoma, The Oklahoman is usually read by we progressives with a side eye. The local TV stations also reflect a corporate media view that fails to ask the biggest, most important questions. Very strong state-wide sources like the Oklahoma Policy Institute and national sources are important tools for calling out local right-wing-influenced media. That activity will have an impact upon newsroom discussions.
5. Act locally.
Participate in your neighborhood association.
Accept a leadership position in your neighborhood association.
Organize your precinct or ward for your party.
Run for a school board seat.
Run for town/city council.
Run for a seat in your state legislature. (Yes, it’s yours.)
Oklahoma and other deep red states are starting to cause great suffering among common people because the political field has been left to right-wing radicals between campaigns which led to unopposed or weak opposition in the next round of campaigns. It’s time for progressives to stand up and join the debate for logical thinking and sunshine on all things public.
Populism is not just for the history books. It is a practical way forward for our state that resists the quiet rule of the wealthiest, tiny minority, which in Oklahoma is even smaller than “1%”.
It is necessary to resist, too: Oklahoma has not a better place now for ordinary people since we got the “right to work” or since we went from a one-party, to a two-party, and back into a one-party political system again, just with the other party now as the current single political power in the state.
The following is based on five points (in italics) for developing a Populist agenda nationally that were proposed by Jim Hightower, print and radio commentator from Texas, in a speech at the Strategy Summit held by the Progressive Congress and reported by The Nation Magazine .
These points are just as, if not more, applicable to potential Oklahoma Progressive/Populist influence as they are nationally.
1. Great Progressive movements have advanced not only by good organizing, but by a steady altering of the public’s perception. Cultural shifts produce political change. This truth is born out by how fiercely we see the current controlling conservative minority in Oklahoma working to control the print and broadcast media. If they can keep certain types of information from most of the people, or at least twist it enough, then enough people will believe their narrative and not rise up against a minority-rule system that has been developing for years. Truth published, spoken, aired by many different voices will have its effect over time.
2. Building a people’s movement requires taking the long view. Advancement takes place in decades, not months or years. Impatience is the biggest enemy of those who are progressive. That’s one of the reasons why progressive-minded people show up to vote for a particular candidate and then fade away until the next campaign. It requires little thought or effort to be all for a candidate for the last month of their campaign. In order to actually turn our state government toward that which will benefit a large majority of Oklahomans, progressives need to be a part of a movement year in and year out, not just individual campaigns. The best candidates that did not have enough support in this campaign will stay and return to fight another day if they have a convinced movement of people working for the same causes between campaigns.
3. Expand the movement by reaching out and connecting with other movements that don’t identify as progressive but are in fact populist and also are actually on the move. People who might disagree with a pro-abortion rights stance can be moved to act with others who are concerned about preserving life beyond the womb. People who might self-identify as conservative might be very moved by the ways in which unfettered strip mining and fracking are affecting the land that they love and want to protect and join with more progressive people who are concerned for what that does to our environment.
4. Do less issue-speak and policy dump and more talk about core values such as economic fairness, social justice, and equal opportunity for all. Van Jones has reminded us that MLK in his historic 1963 speech at the Lincoln Memorial didn’t say “I have a position paper”. Most people who I know in this state would be hard pressed to argue against those three values. Do we talk specifically about those values that most progressives have in common? I don’t hear it or see it much in print.
5. Get the hell out of Washington! The most productive politics are local, not national. Just look at any recent polls of the approval ratings of the Congress and you will see that most people of either party see Washington political piss fights as in-credible and not worth the time of anyone who lives outside of Washington, D.C. Recently our Republican Governor and Republican dominated legislature have blocked the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act for no other definable reason except that it’s “Obamacare”. Right now, our state is not currently governed by Oklahomans, but by think tanks like ALEC and The Heritage Foundation.
Oklahoma has a great tradition of Populism. Currently, we see more signs of that in the workings of the Tea Party where there is a general appeal to the hard-working Oklahomans who believe that the economic system is rigged in favor of somebody else. They really don’t know who is rigging it, though. They believe it is that black man in the White House. But, they do only because they are hearing one narrative that sounds credible to them and not other counter narratives that more closely hold to the truth rather than racist, anti-abortion fiction.
It is time for people who advocate for common folks in Oklahoma to speak up, and in a constant way right here in our towns, cities, and state. We shouldn’t even worry that much about consistency. The persistence of our message is what will win.