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The Doerflinger Kerfuffle

March 13, 2016

In case you missed it – and I don’t know how you could have – both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature failed to advance voucher bills last week. Since they did, those specific bills are dead. Well, they’re dead-ish. Language can jump from bill to bill. One piece of legislation that passes in committee can be replaced with a floor substitute. It happens all the time. Still, the fact that our state’s Republican leadership couldn’t get SB 609 and HB 2949 to go anywhere is a huge development.

Pro-voucher and anti-voucher groups were at the Capitol in full force the last couple of weeks. Both sides tracked vote counts by the day, then by the hour, and finally by the minute. As of Thursday morning, I heard that SB 609 was dead. By lunch, I heard that Senator Jolley was fervently whipping his caucus behind closed doors for the votes he needed to get his measure over the top. I heard lots of things. I assume people following the legislation on both sides did as well.

With the issue being as heated as it was, disappointment was inevitable. Several responses caught my attention, but one in particular has taken on its own life force – a radio interview between Chad Alexander and State Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger. As reported on the McCarville Report, Doerflinger’s angst was flung far and wide:

Secretary of Finance Preston Doerflinger says he is “blown away” and “embarrassed” to be a Republican, that many in the Republican Legislature “should put Ds after their names” and that Schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister “is a D in Republican clothes.”

I didn’t really have the time or inclination to blog Friday when this happened, so I wrote a note on my Facebook page:

If anyone knows fiscal impact statements that are “less than accurate,” it’s Doerflinger, the architect of this year’s “flat” budget.

As for the D/R thing, nobody should have to check every box to belong to a political party. I want to elect people who think for themselves and listen to their constituents. I don’t want to elect people who are beholden to either party. That’s why I vote for people from each.

Nobody is a perfect match for my political views. Nor is there a perfect match for yours.

We vote for people. None of us get our way all the time. Some of us just don’t have tantrums on the air in front of an audience of dozens of listeners afterward, though.

That post went viral on its own, and spurred some great comments. Then, while I was watching two Mid-Del basketball teams win state championships yesterday, something amazing happened on Twitter. I don’t know who started it, but Republicans from around the state began tweeting messages at both Governor Fallin and Doerflinger. Here are a few examples.

Some were fairly creative, even.

And of course, Blue Cereal went Blue Cereal with it.

Dallas, this is why we love you. And maybe why –as you put it at EdCamp –they “hate” us.

Another tweet sums up the problem with Doerflinger’s logic quite well.

That pretty much sums it up.

In the last 22 hours, I count well over 150 tweets tagged as #PrestonDoerflinger. Surprisingly, he’s not an active user of Twitter, and that’s just a shame.

One elected leader who is active on social media and usually engages with #oklaed in lively debate is State Senator Kyle Loveless. Friday, he seemed to defend Doerflinger, using logic that escapes me.

Oh, so it’s in the platform. Does that mean that every Republican has to support everything that’s in the platform? This leads to an interesting sidebar conversation.

I’ve never been elected to anything, but I imagine for legislators, voting on a particular issue involves some complex thinking. On one hand, you believe what you believe. So what do you do when you are slammed with phone calls from your constituents who want you to do something else? That’s who you represent. Unless changing your position is in direct conflict with your moral compass, you should have some flexibility, right?

Ok, well what if you agree with your constituents, but not with the party? Since this state has an overwhelming Republican majority, should we just let national GOP chairman Reince Priebus write our laws for us? Should every vote in the House and Senate fall along party lines? Of course not. It’s a ridiculous notion.

When I vote, nothing matters less to me than party affiliation. In state elections, #oklaed is my priority. When I think about who we send to Washington, I think a little differently. Neither party has impressed me over the last 16 years when it comes to education policy on a national scale.

What if, as Doerflinger suggests, the voucher vote (or non-vote, in this case) is the litmus test for our elected leaders? If all who kept these bills from coming to the floor last week changed parties, we’d have Democrats in control of both chambers again. I think Speaker Inman (theoretically, of course) would love that opportunity.

Most of us don’t believe in –isms.

We vote based on how we think.As I said above, I’ve never been a good fit for either party. I just can’t check all the boxes.

For the record, Doerflinger wasn’t the only voucher supporter to express frustration last week. Jonathan Small, president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, not only showed his disappointment, but actually gave #oklaed a huge back-handed compliment.

These two bills were not heard today because the strongest lobby at the state Capitol is now the public education lobby. Too often, this group has emphasized the dollar value associated with keeping children in seats in public schools, rather than allowing the children’s parents to have greater options for meeting their children’s unique needs.

That’s funny. I was at the Capitol for an hour on Tuesday, but I saw Small and other OCPA staff camped out waiting for legislators to pressure. Besides, if you look at the preponderance of education policy in this state, it’s hard to argue that the public education lobby has consistently moved the needle. In 2011 alone, at the request of Governor Fallin and the previous state superintendent, the legislature gave us A-F Report Cards, third-grade retention, and value-added measurements among a host of Florida-styled education reforms.

Since then, #oklaed has had our moments.

In May 2014, we kept the pressure on the Legislature to override the governor’s veto of HB 2625, which added parents to the promotion committee for third graders. The combined vote was 124-19. Both the House and Senate voted without any debate.

The next month, as you well know, we helped fire Janet Barresi, who finished third in her primary.

We raised awareness about misguided legislation that would have ended AP US History.

We helped keep vouchers from passing: last year and this year.

When we are focused and on message, we really do have influence. Most of us have jobs, though. Unlike voucher supporters, we can’t just camp out at the Capitol all day. We can stop in briefly, before or after meetings. We can energize parents and teachers to call. And yes, we do have lobbyists. But I doubt anyone really thinks we have the consistent money and influence at the Capitol that OCPA and their corporate overlords do.

I can tell you that the two people who represent me personally in Norman and the nine people who represent the Mid-Del school district in the Legislature listen to their voters. I can’t tell you how these ten men and women (Senator Rob Standridge represents me at home and my district) would have voted if the bills had been heard on the floor. I think for some who philosophically support vouchers, the feedback from constituents was a game changer.

If there are any legislators who truly want to harm public education, their numbers are small. That is evident by the agreement by Fallin and the Legislature to help public schools deal with some of this year’s budget shortfall. It’s evident by the good legislation that has moved forward so far.

On the other hand, there will always be some who want to find a way to thumb their noses at public education. Whether they think we’re all a bunch of heathens corrupting children, or they just think we’re too powerful, they are always looking to fight.

That’s fine. I’m willing to fight, but I’d rather just teach the kids.

I’m a parent. I’m an educator. I’m a life-long Oklahoman, and I oppose ESAs. Most importantly, I vote.

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  1. Melissa Ahlgrim
    March 13, 2016 at 6:51 pm

    In the meantime, ROPE is lobbying hard to get our new standards sent back for revision….
    We can’t take a break just yet!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Deb
    March 13, 2016 at 9:32 pm

    “OkGOP platform:We believe all parents should be allowed to use THEIR educ. tax dollars for the family’s choice of schooling.”

    Emphasis on THEIR money. If this is the case then the state should look at refunding taxes to those parents who prove their children did not use public education in the tax year.

    Like

    • Patty
      March 15, 2016 at 10:56 pm

      I don’t have children. Should I get my tax money back because I didn’t use the public schools???

      Like

  3. March 14, 2016 at 8:57 am

    NOBODY voted for Doerflinger. He is a state employee, hired by the governor. He is the guy who said the state budget shortfalls are a “challenge” to state agencies to creatively manage. He’s also the guy who failed to foresee this mess, although it’s his job to do so. He needs to keep his mouth shut about politics and concentrate on doing his job.

    Like

  4. March 14, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Worrisomely, “language jumping from bill to bill” is pretty much what has kept a lot of horrific oppression alive inside our inner-city district. Just as one facet of a test-score-reform abuse is exposed, it hops over to be secretly re-worded and re-validated inside yet another upcoming bill. Much like with NCLB itself, too often it feels as if our politicians don’t even know what they have legislated.

    Like

  1. March 14, 2016 at 5:05 am
  2. March 14, 2016 at 8:00 pm
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