Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

Oklahoma Government Could Remain Broke For A Long Time

Looming peak oil demand, a world fossil-fuel glut and Republican tax-cut ideology has structurally changed the state of Oklahoma’s revenue collections, resulting in abysmal and embarrassing funding for education, social services, health programs and corrections.

Renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power, continue to grow incrementally around the world, lessening the need for fossils fuels, especially to produce electricity. New oil reserves, such as the tar sands in Canada, have been discovered throughout the world in recent decades. Oklahoma, as we all know, has been sustained by the fossil-fuel industry, which now pays a limited amount of production taxes.

The only thing that could push up oil prices, and thus increase production tax revenue on a major level for Oklahoma, would be a seismic disruption in the fossil fuel supply chain caused by a world war or at least a major conflict involving several countries. Obviously, that’s nothing to wish for, although I bet there are people who have their fingers crossed it will happen.

Meanwhile, most Oklahoma Republican politicians, whether they actually believe it or not, push the idea that tax cuts actually help the economy by increasing state revenues, but that’s not the truth. The truth is the state currently faces an $878 million shortfall in an average budget of approximately $7 billion. The truth is this comes after income tax cuts that primarily benefited wealthy people that then led to huge cuts to state agencies, including our education systems, in recent years. The truth is the state has cut public education funding on a percentage basis the most of any state in the country since 2008.

It’s difficult not to see the state at a huge breaking point. The Trump presidency will make it worse. More deregulation of the fossil-fuel industry and ending particular rules on energy companies related to the environment, which the Trump administration supports, will only accelerate global warming and pollution, and possibly the number and intensity of earthquakes here, while increasing the glut of oil, which drives prices even further down.

Obviously, tax breaks given to oil and gas companies have had a major impact on the state’s revenue collections, and they should be renegotiated, but the larger story is that Oklahoma should never rely again on the fossil fuel industry for its financial foundation, both in terms of tax revenues and employment. Oklahoma leaders need to embrace this new reality. The oil booms, unless created by world calamity, are most likely over or will taper off in weak gasps.

As usual, with only a month or so left in the legislative session, the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin have yet to offer up a workable budget for next fiscal year. The legislature supposedly wants to raise teacher salaries, but how can that happen with such a major budget shortfall?

Some partial and interim answers to what has become a systemic Oklahoma government revenue problem do exist: Significantly raises taxes on incomes at $250,000 and above on a graduated scale and then tax fossil fuel production at much higher levels. The likelihood of this happening anytime soon is practically nil, but there’s really no other alternatives.

The larger issue, of course, is to diversify the economy with different industries and businesses to boost tax revenue, but attracting such development is difficult in a state in which schools have four-day learning weeks and the college graduation rate is much lower than the national average. Our earthquake crisis, caused by an element of the fracking process used by the oil and gas industry, doesn’t help either. The volatile weather here isn’t a big draw.

What should be obvious to every thinking person in Oklahoma at this point is that the state is broke and broken, and no elected leader has a viable plan or the will to fix it.

Fixing The Vote: Some Suggestions

By Nyla Ali Khan, for Oklahoma Observer
Reprinted with permission

vote-1024x512
In order to improve the election process for the Oklahoma people to engage and encourage them to be informed and to vote, it is imperative to identify issues that are important to voters to inspire them to want to make a significant difference by voting and participating.

As Sen. Connie Johnson observed in a conversation I had with her, “citizens must be educated about civic engagement/participation. They must be given voting information and voting strategies, e.g., absentee voting.”

An absentee ballot provides citizens with the time to carefully read the state questions and thoroughly research them; gives them time to familiarize themselves with the candidates and their positions on issues of import; gives them an alternative to going to the polls if the weather is inclement or they are immobile. To that effect, I would recommend the extension of early voting.

Local political activists and educators observe that many older Oklahomans, who voted more frequently and regularly than younger voters, were required to provide a valid reason for requesting an absentee ballot. She points out that that requirement no longer exists, which a lot of people are not aware of.

It is unfortunate that the average Oklahoman knows very little about how the local, state, or federal government works, which is why it is necessary to begin civic education in early grades, and this should press upon high school seniors the importance of registering to vote.

Civil society and political institutions are closely interconnected. In order to create democracy, there must be a minimum of participation and adequate pluralism in a society. A consolidated democracy has to be open to diverse opinions; dissent and differences of opinion on policies is an important element of every democracy. This issue needs to be not addressed just in Oklahoma but across the nation as well.

Voter participation can be substantially increased by automatically registering a citizen to vote once she/he turns 18. Oregon is an excellent example of how this strategy can be successfully implemented.

Young people can be further motivated to vote by reinforcing laws, such as the Voting Rights Act 1965, that removed restrictions that had traditionally been employed to discourage voting by African-Americans. Another strategy that would lead to greater participation, transparency, and accountability is the enacting of public financing of elections, which would eradicate the necessity of the candidate soliciting funds, as has successfully been done in Maine. Nonprofit and community organizations can play a significant role in providing candidates forums to explain their stances.

Greater transparency in the electoral process can be ensured by outlawing the practice of gerrymandering or manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency.

The legislative improvement/change that I would recommend is the repeal of SQ 640, which requires a three-fourths vote of both the House and Senate as well as the governor’s signature before a revenue measure can become law, rendering the entire process impractical and almost impossible to achieve. Political activists and educators that I have spoken to point out that this legislative change could be brought about by circulating an initiative petition, which would place the repeal on the ballot for a vote.

After talking with local political activists, other legislative improvements/changes that I would recommend are the robust enforcement of existing political donor regulations to prevent some highly questionable vote-buying activities; reform the ballot access process so that non-major-party candidates can get onto the ballot; allow taxpayers to designate a small amount of money to the candidate fund when they file their tax returns. These reforms could be carried out by existing state and county election commissions and wouldn’t incur significant costs.

The non-legislative improvements/changes that I would recommend are as follows: new efforts and new forums are required not just in Oklahoma but in other parts of the world as well for the germination of new ideas, broad-based coalition politics that transcends organizational divides, and gives women the space and leeway to make important political decisions.

The most effective way to make a gender perspective viable in Oklahoman society would be for women, state as well as non-state actors, to pursue the task of not just incorporating and improving the positions of their organizations within civil society, but also by forging connections between their agendas and strategies for civic/voter engagement and reconstruction of society with the strategies and agendas of other sections of the populace impacted by the lack of voter engagement.

It is imperative that women actors, in collaboration with other civil society actors, focus on the rebuilding of a greatly polarized and fragmented social fabric to ensure the redress of inadequate political participation, reconstruction of the infrastructure and productive capacity of Oklahoma, and resumption of access to basic social services. It is imperative that the state government recognizes the worth of the peace-building work that women’s organizations can contribute at the local and regional levels.

Women in Oklahoma have had a hard lot, even those who have been visible in the public arena. Researching my own family’s story, I have found that women in my native state of Kashmir, similar to women in my adopted state of Oklahoma, are conditioned to wipe away their footprints and end up leaving very few traces of their work. Women in civic associations and in government can strengthen a pluralistic democracy.

The best way to put the state’s house in order is by further developing responsive and pluralistic democratic government. Building on the earlier gains, a pluralistic government can now ensure further economic, social, and educational gains for women and marginalized groups.

The first step is for local government to assure basic equality. Women still get paid less than men in every state and industry in the United States. Women citizens should be accorded equal rights with men in all fields of national life – economic, cultural, political, and in government services. Women should have the right to work in every line of employment for terms and wages equal to those for men. Women would be assured of equality with men in education, social insurance and job conditions. The law should protect mothers and children, but not use motherhood as an excuse to hamstring women.

Not just in Oklahoma, but in many parts of the world, women can play an important role in establishing a more inclusive democracy and new forums for citizen cooperation. Women offer new ideas, build broad-based political coalitions, and work to bridge organizational divides.

Women active in politics must aim not just to improve the position of their particular organizations, but also to forge connections across differences to rebuild a society that is racially/ethnically/religiously diverse.

––
nylakhanNyla Ali Khan is a faculty member at the University of Oklahoma and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. She is the author of The Fiction of Nationality in an Era of Transnationalism [Routledge, 2005]; Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and Pakistan [Palgrave Macmillan, 2010]; Parchment of Kashmir: History, Society, and Polity [Palgrave Macmillan, 2012], and The Life of a Kashmiri Woman: Dialectic of Resistance and Accommodation.

Rude Welcome For A President

Image of President Barack Obama

(I hope local media outlets here have now learned to review any information released by Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones with skepticism. His sensationalized analysis of “slush funds” he claims were used by the state Education Department under former schools Superintendent Sandy Garrett continues to unravel. Here’s the latest from Megan Rolland at NewsOK.com. Here’s my recent post on the issue. -Kurt Hochenauer)

The corporate media and power structure here has given President Barack Obama a rude welcome during his first visit to Oklahoma even though the president used his trip to announce an energy policy that directly benefits the state economically.

The president visited the oil hub of Cushing Thursday to announce he was going to push to expedite the southern portion of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which will run from Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast. This will lead to both temporary and permanent job growth in Oklahoma and secure Cushing’s viability as a significant, national oil hub.

The president said the pipeline, which will be built by TransCanada, will relieve the current glut of oil in Cushing. (Note the word “glut.) The Obama administration has indicated it isn’t opposed to the northern section of the pipeline, which runs from Canada to Oklahoma, but that environmental concern over its placement in Nebraska has delayed its approval. One of those initially expressing those concerns was Nebraska Gov. David Heineman, a Republican.

So what do you get in Oklahoma when you announce a job-producing, energy initiative for the state, note your help at least indirectly for a Republican governor even though you’re a Democrat and show overall strong support for the fossil fuel industry?

You get rudeness, arrogance and ignorance thrown in your face. You’re maligned. You’re scolded. But Oklahomans are such nice people, right? Well, maybe in meaningless, hollow gestures. The truth is the Obama hatred in this state is as irrational as some of the religious-inspired legislation making its way into law at the capitol this year.

Here are some examples:

Before his arrival, four local energy executives, Harold Hamm of Continental Resources, Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy, Larry Nichols of Devon Energy and Tom Ward of SandRidge Energy sent a “message” to the president that was published on the NewsOK.com site. (Can you imagine the size of the collective ego of that group?)

In the message, they arrogantly lectured the president, hoping he would “develop a better understanding of the oil and gas industry, one of the largest and most vibrant sectors in the United States, during your visit.” Right. I think it’s safe to say that Obama has a much better and broader grasp of energy issues than these local members of the 1 percent. These guys know how to drill and make money, and that’s great for the local economy. Obama, however, must and should look at the larger issues when it comes to energy policy and world affairs.

The group scolded the president for not pushing for the approval of the entire pipeline, which they argue should “happen now.” Me me me! Now now now! The message sounds like a group of spoiled two-year-olds. They also fail to note the context of Obama’s position on the northern portion of the pipeline.

The energy leaders end the message with direct criticism, which is based on no evidence. “Mr. President,” they write, “your words suggest you want the economic benefits American natural gas and oil can deliver. We hope your actions follow suit – to date they have not.” But the president was in state to announce his support for the pipeline, and he has supported oil and gas exploration as much as any other president. Their position is political and illogical. To date, Obama has supported the “economic benefits” of the fossil fuel industry.

The arrogance of the energy leaders was matched by an Oklahoman editorial titled, “Mr. President, welcome to the town fossil fuel built.” That statement, of course, is a disputable contention in itself. No one can deny the energy sector’s influence on the economy here, but there’s also the agricultural impact in this area on a historical and current level. It has one of the largest livestock markets in the world, for example. There’s also Tinker Air Force Base, which certainly impacts the Oklahoma City area. Take away the agricultural sector in this state and then take away the military bases, and what do you have then?

Also, what about the influence of native Americans in the city’s and state’s history? You won’t hear much from The Oklahoman on that issue. This much is sure on a historical level: There will come a time when there’s no oil or gas to drill here, and the energy companies will simply no longer exist. We live in the last belch of the fossil fuel age, which, in retrospect, will seem like a relatively short period.

The editorial also scolds the president for some previous remarks he made. According to the editorial, “So demagogue all you want about undertaxed oil barons. Just remember that you didn’t arrive here on a solar-powered aircraft. What flows in and out of the Pipeline Crossroads of the World is oil. Getting it to Cushing is expensive and risky.” I bet Obama really learned something there and will keep it in mind constantly as he travels in Air Force One.

Meanwhile, Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, didn’t even meet with Obama because she was out of state. She did release a statement, though, that contained this welcoming tidbit:

I hope that while President Obama is in Oklahoma he takes some time to listen to our citizens, many of whom work for the energy industry which he claims to support. I think they will tell him that – far from supporting the responsible domestic production of American-made energy – his administration has undermined it at every turn.

Obama has SO much he can learn here, right?

Welcome to Oklahoma, Mr. President. Really. I don’t blame you if you want to get out of here as soon as you can. Good luck in your next four-year term as president.

Olbermann Takes on Coburn for Vets Bill Hold

From tonight’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Coburn is taken to task for cloaking himself in this allusion of “caring for our troops” while refusing to do what is right for them.  Even his own party disagrees with him, and its no surprise that Oklahoma Democrats all agree we should do the right thing for our veterans.

Coburn Holding Up Critical Vets Bill

The Army Times today announced that Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn is the one responsible for holding up a major veterans benefits bill.

“Coburn has been identified by Senate aides as the lawmaker preventing consideration of S 1963, the Veterans’ Caregiver and Omnibus Health Benefits Act of 2009, by using an informal but legal practice of putting a hold on a bill. . .

Earlier this fall, Coburn placed holds on S 252, the Veterans Health Care Authorization Act of 2009, and S 728, the Veterans’ Insurance and Benefits Enhancement Act of 2009, which led to the introduction of S 1963, which combines key provisions of the two earlier bills in an effort to get around Coburn’s opposition.

In a letter sent Monday night to the Senate majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the 13 military and veterans groups ask the Senate to get on with it.

“It is essential that Congress act on this comprehensive measure without further delay,” the letter reads. “Thousands of disabled veterans with serious medical conditions and the family members who care for them are counting on this additional support.”

The letter says passing the bill by Veterans Day would be a “fitting way” to honor veterans.”

Oklahoma honors its veterans, and I find it totally unacceptable for a Senator to be holding up legislation that would help take care of our veterans in such an unstable economy when everyone is hurting.  

All voters, regardless of partisanship stand up for our troops and our veterans, Oklahomans shouldn’t stand for Coburn’s hold on this bill.

Please contact his office here:

Washington D.C.:

172 Russell Senate Office Bldg.

Washington, DC 20510

Main: 202-224-5754

Fax: 202-224-6008

Tulsa:

1800 South Baltimore

Suite 800

Tulsa, OK 74119

Main: 918-581-7651

Fax: 918-581-7195

Oklahoma City:

100 North Broadway

Suite 1820

Oklahoma City, OK 73102

Main: 405-231-4941

Fax: 405-231-5051

Workshop kicks off 'Non-Military Vocations for Youth' project

( – promoted by peacearena)

We are very excited to be hosting a workshop on teaching peace in Oklahoma public schools, and with that workshop kicking off a program to provide alternatives to the pro-war messages and limited options offered to young people by recruiters in schools, malls and just about everywhere they go these days.

Here’s the text of our invitational flyer:

TEACH PEACE

WORKSHOP TO SHOWCASE ALTERNATIVES

TO MILITARY RECRUITMENT,

KICK OFF EDUCATIONAL CAMPAIGN


Monday, 8-10-2009, 6:30 – 9:00 pm

Joy Mennonite Church, 504 16th St, Oklahoma City

(corner of Lincoln and 16th, just south of Capitol)

Please join the Oklahoma Center for Conscience on Monday August 10 for a dynamic workshop on “counter-recruitment” or making sure youth have full information about the military and a wide range of options for constructive public service and caring careers. The recruiters have unprecedented access to students; we want to offer another view, and make sure their right for access to all the facts is honored.

The workshop will kick off a concerted effort in OKC and across the state to make sure our youth do not feel compelled to join the military for lack of other practical options and opportunities.

All are welcome. The workshop is free of charge; donations for our CR outreach is greatly appreciated. If you can’t make the workshop, but would like to donate, see www.centerforconscience.org

For more info, call 405-771-4743 or 405-615-2700. Or visit www.centerforconscience.org

Experienced CR activists from Fort Worth and Austin will share with us the resources and techniques they use to reach young people with an important message about the realities of war and military life. A report from the recent national CR conference will be part of the agenda.

Presenters:

Yvette Richardson is a U. S. Army veteran, who was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas from 1992 – 1997. While serving five years on active duty as a Military Police officer, she deployed to Honduras, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Bosnia-Herzegovina. When not serving as a client advocate for domestic violence victims, she works as a community activist in Fort Worth, Texas. She is co-coordinator of the counter-recruitment organization, Peaceful Vocations, and of CodePink Fort Worth. Yvette holds a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of Texas at Arlington.

Diane Wood is a native Texan, a community organizer in areas of social justice for the past 30 years, and a retired Registered Nurse. She is a co-coordinator of Peaceful Vocations, a counter-military recruitment group serving North Texas. She’s been involved in nuclear and anti-war issues, Central American issues, local poverty issues, and a local movement to stop urban gas drilling. Diane led a coalition to establish a shelter in Fort Worth for Central American Refugees, and was the director of the shelter. She recently founded a local coalition, The Texas Christian University Divest and Boycott Israel Campaign.

Hart Viges joined the Army in reaction to the events of 9-11. He was with the 82nd Airborne Div. in 2003 when they invaded Iraq. Shortly after returning in January 2004, he applied and received Conscientious Objector status. Hart is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and works with Nonmilitary Options for Youth.

Below is our press release and a flyer (with the text above) you can print — please feel free to share.

2009 CR Workshop flyer

2009 CR Workshop news release

Oklahoma Democrats Need 2010 Governor Win

( – promoted by DocHoc)

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.)

(This was initially posted on Okie Funk.–Kurt Hochenauer)