I’m often asked about how to vote on the various state questions in Oklahoma during election seasons, and so I give my recommendations for what they’re worth.
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I’ll give a brief overall recommendation on the seven questions, and then I’ll go more in depth over each measure starting with the no votes. I recommend no votes for State Questions 776, 777 and 790. I recommend yes votes for State Questions 779, 780, 781 and 792.
Keep in mind, as I go through the measures, that there are at least one or two of them upon which reasonable people on the left-end of the political spectrum can disagree. One of those, of course, is SQ 779, which would raise the state sales tax by one cent to provide for teacher raises and other funding for educational systems in the state.
Let’s start with the no votes:
No on SQ 776. This measure is a constitutional amendment that would allow any method of execution in Oklahoma just as long as it doesn’t violate the U.S. Constitution. The question originated out of the legislature after botched executions with lethal drugs here. There are three obvious reasons for voting against it: (1) It undermines the judicial branch of government making the legislative branch superior in the matter of executions, (2) it will face legal challenges that the state will almost certainly lose, and (3) it’s a barbaric “lynch-mob” amendment that doubles down on the death penalty, a practice which states throughout the country are ending and which the U.S. Supreme Court may soon abolish. Opposition to it has drawn bipartisan support.
No on SQ 777. This is the so-called “right-to-farm” constitutional amendment that came out of the legislature. It seems innocuous enough. It basically states people have the right to farm without any type of government interference. That sounds fine, but step back and look at it broadly. This could mean governments can’t come in and protect people or businesses near farms if they are producing toxic waste runoff. It would make it more difficult to investigate and charge people with animal abuse. It could lead to water contamination and problems with water quality overall, especially in rural areas. It definitely favors the interests of large corporate farms, who may not be vested in any personal way in local communities. It also sets up a scene for needless court fights that will cost the state money as the lawsuits pour in.
No on SQ 790. This is a constitutional amendment that came out of the legislature that would repeal Section 5, Article 2 of the Oklahoma Constitution, which prohibits the state from spending money on religious purposes. The basis for the legislative action was a right-wing reaction to the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from the state Capitol grounds. The Oklahoma Supreme Court eventually ruled the placement of the monument violated the state constitution under Section 5, Article 2, but the repeal would have a wider impact than just bringing back the monument. It could open the door for all sorts of taxpayer funding for religious entities, including private schools and other organizations. It would also set up Oklahoma for more court battles and would put the state in direct conflict with the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Now, let’s get to the yes votes:
Yes on SQ 779. This proposed constitutional amendment, made possible through an historic, massive initiative petition drive, would increase Oklahoma’s state sales tax by one cent to provide more than $600 million annually in education funding. It would fund $5,000 raises for teachers, who are now poorly paid in Oklahoma, and provide some extra funding for higher education, career tech and early education programs. It states that legislators can’t reduce funding based on the extra funding for education. A number of people who identify on the left end of the political spectrum argue that sales taxes hurt poor people the most because they spend more of their income on the basic necessities of life, such as groceries. My argument is that underfunded schools are just as or even more regressive or damaging to poor and middle-class people here. Reasonable people on the left or left-center can disagree on this one, but the fact remains the current make-up of the Oklahoma Legislature, along with perpetual state budget problems created by right-wing ideology, means our educational systems will continue to face what can only be called horrific and abusive treatment by our state government in the foreseeable future. SQ 779 not only accomplishes the pragmatic it also sends a clear message that Oklahomans want better education funding.
— Yes For 779 (@YesFor779) October 12, 2016
Yes on SQs 780 and 781. Both of these initiative-petition measures would change state statutes for the better. Under SQ 780, certain criminal offenses, such as simple drug possession, would become misdemeanors rather than felonies. Under 781, the money saved from reducing incarceration and other legal costs, could be used by communities to fund drug rehabilitation programs and facilities. SQ 781 could not become law unless SQ 780 passes, but SQ 780 can become law if SQ 781 doesn’t pass. The point of the two measures is to reduce incarceration primarily for minor drug possession and focus more on treating addiction. This is a concept that the state should have endorsed a long time ago. The only valid argument against one of the measures, SQ 781, is that it’s not clear how the rehabilitation money might get used by private companies and if it might open up another financial boondoggle for corporations, which we’ve experienced with private prisons. I think that’s an oversight problem and could be rectified down the road if problems emerge.
Yes on SQ 792. This proposed constitutional amendment came out of the legislature. It would allow grocery and liquor stores to sell full-strength refrigerated beer, instead of 3.2 percent beer, and wine. It would also allow liquor stores to sell non-alcohol items in a limited amount. It’s an understatement to claim that liquor-law reform in Oklahoma is long overdue, and although this measure isn’t perfect, it’s a beginning to even more reform down the road. The only somewhat valid argument against the measure, and this comes from the left and right, is that it would favor “big box” stores, such as Walmart, over smaller family-owned liquor stores, but that’s a minor quibble against the larger issue of real reform. A clean, well-stocked liquor store in a busy area is always going to make good money, and, if you can buy mixers there as well, then it’s going to make even more money.
Those are my recommendations on the state questions this year. Please vote on Nov. 8 if you’re not voting through an absentee ballot or plan to vote early.