Democratic viewpoints on politics, policy and activism

These Three Things for Oklahoma

Republished with permission from One World House

In conversation with hundreds of Oklahomans over the past couple of years and after years of analysis concerning systemic change in the Oklahoma context, I am convinced that Oklahoma needs three things to happen before we will be able to begin digging ourselves out of our current crisis, and these things are:

1.) the Repeal of State Question 640,

2.) the Restoration of the 7% Gross Production Tax on Oil and Gas, and

3.) the Implementation of Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting. All three of these together will not fully get Oklahoma where it needs to go for the creation of a flourishing human community, but without these three things, we will remain a glaring example of what happens to our social fabric when we cut taxes for the wealthy to the detriment of the common good and encourage the economic and political hegemony of the oil and gas industry.

The repeal of Oklahoma State Question 640 would allow the Oklahoma Legislature flexibility to raise state taxes to address Oklahoma’s budget crisis. State Question 640 was passed by a vote of the people in 1992 and requires a 75% vote in both the senate and the house of representatives of the Oklahoma Legislature in order to raise taxes. The effect has been multiple tax decreases over the past 25 years, mainly for the wealthy and large corporations, and no tax increases, even in times of severe revenue failure and budget crisis. Only one other state (Arkansas) has a threshold that is this high for approving tax increases. At the very least, we need to lower the threshold for approval, if not revert back to a simple majority vote. (See https://www.facebook.com/RepealOKStateQuestion640/)

Restoration of the 7% Gross Production Tax (GPT) rate on oil and gas is needed to save our schools and save our state from its revenue failure. Oklahoma’s effective tax rate on oil and gas production is 3.2%  and is one of the lowest in the country. Restoration of the 7% rate is essential to raising teacher pay and reversing the largest decline in general state spending on public education in the entire country since 2008. Oklahoma has the lowest teacher pay in the nation, and ranks fourth lowest in the nation in per pupil spending. Our neighbor Texas, by contrast, has an effective tax  rate of 8.3%  on oil and gas production and pays its new entry-level teachers about $20,000 more than Oklahoma. Over time Oklahoma has lost billions of dollars of revenue owing to our unnecessary tax breaks for the oil and gas industry. (See https://www.facebook.com/OklahomansForRestoring7PercentGrossProductionTax/)

Ranked Choice Instant Run-Off Voting would strengthen participation in our democracy by allowing persons to vote for their candidate of choice in elections with three or more candidates without the concern that their vote would be wasted or contribute to the election of their least favorite candidates. This would allow political parties outside of the Democratic and Republican parties to gain more traction and to be taken more seriously in the political debate. It would likely also increase political participation of those citizens who do not feel represented by the two major parties. In such a system, you could give first preference to the candidate you really want elected. If he or she does not have enough votes to make the instant run-off,  your vote would go to your next preference on the ballot. (See https://www.facebook.com/RCVOklahoma/)

These three things (repeal of 640, restoration of the 7% GPT, and ranked choice voting) will at least give us a fighting chance for systemic transformation in our state, and for that very reason, those who benefit from the established environment will do almost anything to keep these three things from happening. If Oklahoma is to have a future other than becoming even more of a commodity colony than it already is, the people must take back their power through sustained participation in the political process to achieve these three things and then press on towards more systemic change for a more just, peaceful, participatory, and sustainable Oklahoma.

Once these three things happen, it will be more possible to do what is necessary to generate adequate revenue for education, infrastructure, basic services, public safety, environmental protection, healthcare (including mental healthcare), and care for the least vulnerable among us.

Once these things happen, we can begin to focus on diversifying our economy and break the dominance that the oil and gas industry has over our economic and political processes.

Once these three things happen, we can build on the increased political participation that will come when people have more political choices and are able to vote for their first choice in elections without hurting their second choice or helping their least favorite candidate. Vibrant third parties will finally be able to gain traction to allow more diverse voices in our political process.

You can see why these three things will be resisted, which is the very reason we must do all we can to begin with these three things. It is possible…

Fixing The Vote: Some Suggestions

By Nyla Ali Khan, for Oklahoma Observer
Reprinted with permission

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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.

State Question 776: Unnecessary, Unaffordable, Uninformed

By Camille Landry for OklahomaActivist.com

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The ballot language for State Question 776

This is an OklahomaActivist.com original opinion piece from contributor Camille Landry. Cross posted with permission. 

camille-head-shotThe leaders who founded our nation and our state envisioned a government of laws and principles that would apply equally to everyone. They wrote a federal, then state constitutions to ensure that the most important principles of our society are clearly enshrined. The right to vote, the right to speak freely, freedom of the press, protection against unwarranted search and seizure, a prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, and other constitutional rights form the foundation for a government of the people, by the people and for the people.

The founders took an additional step to protect democracy: they made it difficult to change our constitutions. Opinions change, society evolves, but the constitution is meant to be the solid foundation that our government of laws is built upon and was never intended to be changed without serious consideration. After all, you don’t start tearing at the foundation unless you have a good reason – and then you proceed very carefully in a well-thought out way lest the whole structure comes tumbling down.

SQ776 would enshrine the death penalty as part of Oklahoma’s constitution. The amendment would make all methods of execution constitutionally allowable, regardless of how barbaric they are, and would forbid the death penalty from being construed as “the infliction of cruel or unusual punishments.” It opens the door for beheadings, firing squads and the return of the electric chair.

SQ776 is unnecessary and would accomplish nothing. There is no compelling reason for people who are either for or against the death penalty to vote “yes” on this question. Its passage would do nothing but shout “hooray” at something that is already an established practice; it is wasteful and serves to trivialize what is literally a life-and-death issue. Continue reading