Sixteen Days to Something Different
I’ve been working off and on for a few days on a post on the education budget, especially the activities budget. I’m not going to finish it.
If you want to try to understand the process by which these decisions were made, you should go to the Oklahoma State Department of Education’s website and find the board documentation they provided. Some projects weren’t cut. Some were cut more heavily than others. You can also watch State Superintendent explain in the video below.
What’s done is done. We can dwell on it, as we plan for another school year with less money and more students. Instead, maybe we should do something about it. We can’t keep sending the same people to the Oklahoma Capitol and expect them to do different things. The government is broken, but we keep sending delegates from the same set of archetypes to represent us.
We have tax policy purists, who will never stray from their pledges to national groups that make adherents swear never to raise taxes. I like low taxes too, but I also like a state government that funds core services at something above famine level. More importantly, I like for our elected leaders to forego signing pledges to special interest groups. And yes, that includes public education. Make pledges to your voters.
We have people who can’t wait to throw their piety in your face. They want you to know and adhere to their moral code. They also want you to vilify anybody who believes differently.
We have people whose ambition seems to be their defining trait. They barely mask it. They migrate from interest to interest, always throwing their own name on top of whatever hot topic seizes the public’s attention. They love the issues that prey on the electorate’s emotions, even though they know that there is no way the legislation they propose or pass will ever be enacted.
I could go on and on, but what we don’t have is a critical mass of legislators who get it. Yes, I know that’s incredibly vague criticism, but I can be more specific.
If you look at the state’s budget overall, you can see that some agencies and services took harder hits than K-12 education did. Maybe it’s fair to say that our state leaders are angrier with OU president David Boren than they are with us. If that’s the case, maybe I should stop writing.
I tease. Of course spite would never factor into the budget writing process, right?
Our governor and legislators keep pointing to the fact that the price of a barrel of oil is really low. That’s not their fault, of course, but the policies of the last 10 years that have depleted state revenues are their fault. Again, I want low taxes. I also want fully funded schools. I want roads and bridges that don’t collapse under the weight of traffic. I want prisons that aren’t a danger to those who work there due to overcrowding. I want the state services for the poor, elderly, mentally ill, and drug-addicted to remain viable options for their families.
In short, I want state leaders who don’t kick the financial can down the road and balance the budget on the backs of our state’s most vulnerable citizens. So do many Oklahomans, and that is why we have so many primary races coming up that feature viable challengers to incumbent representatives and senators.
Associated Press writer Sean Murphy wrote about this yesterday:
Mid-year cuts to public schools and other state services, along with a looming budget crisis, helped draw a record number of political newcomers to races for state House and Senate offices in Oklahoma this year.
Legislators will soon learn if the same general discontent exists among voters, who head to the polls June 28 for Oklahoma’s statewide primary election. Every Oklahoma senator up for re-election drew at least one opponent this year, while only 14 current House members went unopposed as a record number of candidates filed for office.
Rep. John Paul Jordan, a first-term Republican who represents the Oklahoma City suburb of Yukon, drew a slate of opponents including two Democrats, two Republicans and an independent.
“There’s frustration with the Legislature, and I think we’re looking at an election cycle where a lot of people are just frustrated with the status quo,” Jordan said.
We’re very frustrated. Incumbents know it. That’s why they’re doing anything they can to turn back their challengers. Murphy continues:
On the Senate side, two-term incumbent Republican Sen. Dan Newberry of Tulsa also was a popular target, drawing two Republican challengers, three Democrats and an independent. Among his Democratic opponents is a retired superintendent from Sand Springs, and Newberry acknowledges some pro-education groups would like to knock him out of office.
“I think it’s a concerted effort by a special interest group that doesn’t appreciate the work that’s being done in the Capitol building, and they want to take a shot at people running for re-election,” Newberry said.
I’ll admit to being a part of a special interest group that doesn’t appreciate the work being done at the Capitol. That’s why I’ve been flying the state flag upside down as a sign of distress on Facebook and Twitter for weeks. They aren’t serving their constituents. They’re serving their donors. Or their parties.
Typically, once either party can verify that you are a bonafide registered voter in that party, they let you look around in the pantry for any ingredients that will help you in the kitchen. In this case, however, the Oklahoma Republican Party has told Newberry’s primary challenger, Brian Jackson, that he can take his knives and go. Jackson and retiring Sand Springs superintendent Lloyd Snow – who is running for the same seat as a Democrat – are friends. They both know that Newberry’s record on public education is lousy, and they’ve said so, jointly. Neither is waging a partisan campaign. Much like the main characters in the Frog and Toad books, Brian and Lloyd are friends.
For those of us who choose people and issues over parties, the denial of resources to a bonafide candidate stinks to high heaven. If you look at just education issues, I’m probably going to agree with both Jackson and Snow a lot more than I would agree with Newberry. Beyond that, I’d be likely to agree with Snow on some issues and Jackson on another. I’m not beholden to either party. I don’t check all the boxes on either list.
I am a voter who supports public education, though, and I’m one who thinks that we are at a crossroads. We can make some serious change, and we can do it soon.
Still, some don’t believe. They think we’re doomed to fail. As the Tulsa World reported yesterday:
The strife during the recent legislative session and the proliferation of candidates it produced are unlikely to lead to a major challenge to Republican control of state government, political observers speaking at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa said Friday.
“I’ll be shocked if there’s a net change of two seats either way,” Republican political consultant Pat McFerron said.
I’m not looking to change the Republican to Democrat ratio in the House or Senate nearly as much as I’m looking to change the degree to which the chambers as a whole support public education. I’d love to see Jackson take Newberry out in the primary. If Jackson wins and comes up against Snow, I really don’t have a preference.
If we change two seats this month in the primary elections, that alone would be huge. Former State Board of Education member Tim Gilpin agrees:
What will make Oklahoma great again, or at least better? Answer — teachers. The last several years we’ve endured drastic cuts to education, public safety and health care programs. Cuts that are short-sighted and destructive to our present and future. This occurred while teachers were largely absent as a political force in Oklahoma. But, in the late 1980s educators were leaders in our state’s politics and we were better off for it. Cuts in our state budget started during the Great Recession. But even in the face of record energy prices and a national recovery, our state leaders continued cutting education and basic services. Our current problems are not all about low energy prices.
I have friends who have made lists. I even am a board member of a group that put out a list of pro-education candidates, though I don’t agree with all the selections. How could I? In a state as spread out as ours, I don’t have the information to know the ins and outs of all the races. After all, we have 101 representatives and 48 senators. All of the House and half of the Senate seats are up for re-election.
I’ve already chimed in on Newberry and two of his challengers. I’ll go ahead and give my two cents publicly on one more race.
Senate District 45 covers most of the Mustang school district and a considerable portion of the Moore school district. In other words, this race is about the places where I have spent the majority of my career. It even covers the far southwestern tip of Mid-Del. The incumbent, Kyle Loveless, is finishing his first term. I met him when I worked in Moore, and he came to ask us questions about the Reading Sufficiency Act. He even visited one of our elementary schools in Mid-Del last fall. I have no complaints about his availability. He is friendly and engaging when I’ve been around him.
His record on education leaves much to be desired, though. He is a staunch supporter of vouchers, and he frequently takes to social media to push the school consolidation agenda. He, along with members of groups that are openly hostile to public education, also often chastise schools for the actions of individuals. Somehow, even though Sen. Loveless has his own children in public schools, it serves him politically to paint schools as horrible places.
His opponent, on the other hand, is Mike Mason, a teacher at Mustang High School. I taught with Mike during my last six years at MHS. Teachers respected him. Parents and students appreciated him. He was teacher of the year for 2016, and the Oklahoman even ran a highly positive story on him prior to his filing for SD 45. Mike is a true educator and more than any other candidate I can name, one who would change the makeup of the Senate.
Mason is underfunded, compared to the incumbent, but money isn’t everything. Jeb Bush had more donations than any other presidential candidate. That didn’t work out too well for him, did it? If Mike is to win this seat – for that matter, if any of the challengers are to win, we simply have to overcome complacency. We have to vote.
Know which House and Senate seats represent you. Find your polling place or learn how to vote early. Donate to candidates
you support who support public education and volunteer for their campaigns. And call some friends.
This election cycle matters. We may not have the unifying symbol of She Who Must Not be Named to kick around anymore. We have to do more focused and detailed work to find and support good candidates who believe in public schools.
So what are you waiting for? We have 16 days.