(Will Oklahoma progressives get shut out of the political debate this upcoming legislative session? What type of progressive political agenda, if any, could be successful? In posts this week, DocHoc is giving his preview of the 2012 Oklahoma Legislature.)
A few years ago, one of my politically active conservative friends and I were having a heated political discussion that ended with him assuring me that the state would retain a large extremely conservative majority of voters for at least our lifetimes.
Given our ages and life expectancy tables, this would mean at least a generation, or about 30 years or so.
I’ve thought about his prediction many times since then with varying levels of acceptance and non-acceptance, and as we approach the beginning of the 2012 session of the Oklahoma Legislature, which begins Monday, I’m reminded of it again.
If he’s right, how should that shape how I or any progressive here approaches the conservative political reality in Oklahoma? Perhaps we should focus on long-term strategies and stop the knee-jerk reaction to the seemingly more and more preposterous conservative bills that are introduced each session.
And if we think he’s wrong, then why is he wrong, and what should be the progressive approach in Oklahoma?
We know this for sure in the present day: There have already been a slew of bills (some of which I will write about in my next two posts) introduced that will promote gun carrying rights, attack reproductive rights as part of the anti-abortion movement, cut taxes to benefit the wealthy, attack the teaching of evolution in schools, eliminate college tenure and drug test welfare recipients. The philosophy that emerges from this legislation is one that continues cuts to government and education as it relentlessly imposes a social conservatism-sometimes religiously based-on its citizens. It’s both less and more government. What should progressives do?
We also know that this is election year and that a vast majority of Oklahoma voters will be driven to the polls to vote against President Barack Obama, who lost here in a landslide in his first election. The Republican base will be motivated, and it’s almost certain the GOP will at least retain, if not increase, its majorities in the Oklahoma House and Senate. What should progressives do?
Before answering the question of progressive action, I think we should first look at this with a longer view. Barring a financial catastrophe worse than our recent Great Recession that could push people to progressive positions, it’s almost certain conservatives will hold sway in Oklahoma and most other current red states for the conceivable future. It’s also conceivable that the conservatives in Oklahoma, which include at least some Democrats, will hold political power during the remaining lifetimes of many people reading this.
So let’s set aside, for the moment, this year’s specific, conservative legislation that is sure to rile what remains of the progressive base here, and look at what we might do in the face the enormous odds against us.
(1) Perhaps progressives should approach the current political milieu with a long-term strategy. Rather than expending all our energy and resources fighting legislation that, even if defeated, is sure to be presented again and again until it passes, we should develop and promote progressive organizations for young adults and cultivate younger candidates for political office throughout the state. That might be our main focus as we anticipate continuing conservative control.
(2) Progressives might also focus less on state government and more on local government, especially in Oklahoma City and Tulsa (but this should include other cities as well) to press issues. Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid has shown how someone with progressive ideas can be extremely effective in the state. Sure, we should fight against the legislation of the Sally Kerns in this state, but it might be better to focus on creating and expanding progressive oases, or maybe refuges, in the state’s largest cities. This effort could, of course, include progressives from smaller cities.
(3) Another idea that might make progressives more effective is carefully selecting issues of widespread importance and expending MORE energy on FEWER issues. Proposed cuts to the state’s income tax might be such an issue this session. Let’s face it. The onslaught of conservative legislation each year is daunting, and there’s no end in sight. If progressives can get a major victory on an occasional basis that could help define the progressive message here. When a bad conservative bill quietly dies in committee that doesn’t do so much to promote progressive politics on a wider scale.
None of this is meant as surrender, but what politically active progressives are doing right now isn’t working on a larger scale.
(NEXT: More state income tax cuts have been proposed this year by conservatives, including Gov. Mary Fallin. Is opposition to the cuts the main issue for progressives?)