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Remember the Names

The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.
-William Butler Yeats

This week while working, many Oklahomans found distraction watching a reckless, dangerous ordeal. It was a long and twisting journey, full of surprises. You could even call it the epitome of self-sabotage. Eventually, though it had a very predictable outcome: the Legislature once again failed to meet the needs of Oklahomans.

Oh, did you think I was talking about yesterday’s high speed chase in the OKC metro? I missed that. Too many meetings.

That was one guy making a series of bad decisions that ended with him being tazed and captured. Everyone watching knew that would happen. They just didn’t know what would happen first.

The story of this mess of a state started long ago. I could begin with 1992’s State Question 640, which severely limited the ability of the Legislature in a budget crisis such as this. Or maybe with Governor Fallin’s election in 2010. Or her re-election in 2014. For the sake of time, though, I’ll begin with the budget passed by the Legislature and approved in May.

A key piece of filling this year’s budget including passing a cigarette tax fee. Well, the Legislature called it a fee, but it was pretty obvious to anyone paying attention that it was a tax.

Predictably, on August 10th, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled as such. As the Oklahoman wrote at that time:

In an opinion that drew support from every justice, the court noted that the Legislature introduced four bills this year that would have created a similar cigarette “tax,” but the bills were abandoned because of little support. In the final week of session, lawmakers finally adopted the “smoking cessation fee.”

It was unanimous.

This created a huge budget hole and the need for a special session*. For weeks, we’ve seen half-measures and insults called compromises. Finally this week, the dam broke and something appeared to happen.

Senate Vote

The Senate voted on a bill – amended to include an increase to the Gross Production Tax – that had support of a majority of House members, just not the 75% required by the Oklahoma Constitution. It received support of all Democrats and all but five Republicans: Brecheen, Dahm, Daniels, Newberry, and Sikes. No surprises there. Any of those five making a conscious choice to help others would have been shocking.

Senate leader Mike Shultz said that this was a long-time coming.

This has been a source of frustration for years. On the other hand, Shultz favored every tax cut that has contributed to the recurring budget shortfalls that have led to our legislative leaders – metaphorically, of course – spinning their wheels in the middle of a field somewhere.

Since this technically wasn’t the bill the House sent to the Senate, it had to be renamed and sent to the House Budget Committee. There we saw a preview of what was coming Wednesday.

JCAB Vote

Now called HB 1054, the budget plan passed 19-6 out of the Joint Committee on Appropriations and Budget Committee**. Calvey and Murphy voting no was as predictable as was the Oklahoma Supreme Court seeing through the tax/fee façade. Kouplen and Proctor, not as much.

Side note: Since the start of the extraordinary session, two legislators have announced they are leaving the House. Minority Leader Scott Inman is one. Apparently, Steve Kouplen is the new pick to lead the Democrats. Based on this week, maybe they should open the process and choose someone new.

This led to Wednesday, when the House spent two hours taking questions and another hour debating HB 1054.

I tried watching the live stream, when I could. I debated with other superintendents what the final vote would be. Few of us expected it to pass. In fact, most of us thought the final number of yes votes would be even lower than 71.

House vote

I follow several journalists during the high holy extraordinary sessions. Catherine Sweeney, Dale Denwalt, and Tres Savage are some of the best. I went through their Twitter feeds today to try to recapture what happened Wednesday. Here are some examples of their work:

Ok, aside from Calvey’s dizzying logic, he makes the point that we should audit everything and find waste, fraud, and abuse. On the other hand, this is Calvey’s sixth term in the Legislature. Before he represented Deer Creek, he represented Del City. He’s one of the state’s longest-tenured lawmakers. Why hasn’t he called for these audits before? Other than casting aspersions on public employees, what has he done?

These make me sad. I don’t understand people who say they support teachers and raises for teachers and then vote no when they have a chance to do something.

Let’s face facts: the 2017 legislative session is now six months into overtime. There has been no leadership and nothing resembling a plan. It shows. Holding the vote open for another hour trying to find more votes didn’t help either.

Honestly, listening to Perryman discuss the budget bill, I thought he’d vote against it. I’ve admired him for years. He’s a true populist and a great public servant. I was having a hard time reconciling all of that.

He voted yes.

This was also a clear breaking point for some. They’d raise taxes on consumers, but not producers. It was the hardest thing for me to swallow.

If you look at the names on those vote boards – the greens in particular – you see a lot of people who expended political capital by voting yes. They are Republicans who voted for tax increases on oil and gas companies. They are Democrats who voted for regressive taxes that disproportionately impact the poor. They are people who realized that ideological purity is no substitute for leadership. You can’t govern if you expect to get your way all the time.

Speaking of Roger Ford (R – Midwest City), he’s been blowing up the Facebook world lately. He’s called out House leadership and been more or less live journaling his frustration. Here’s a sample:

To all the people saying don’t give another dime to our agencies, until after they get audited. Well bless your heart! Audits don’t happen overnight. So I guess we shut Oklahoma down for a couple years while we wait. Audits are not in the scope of this special session, so once again it’s not happening! Why can people not get that? What is so hard to understand about that?

I watched a couple no vote legislators smiling and laughing as they exited, walking right past the disabled adults in the rotunda. Never stopping to see their faces. Your life goes on, but what about them?! You changed their world and don’t give a damn.

But in fairness at least they had the decency to walk past them after they voted no. Unlike the coward that snuck in the back door, gave another representative a thumbs down motion to vote for him and immediately walked out the back door. To that young man, everything I learned about you this past year has turned out to be true. You took great joy at throwing stones at others, while you yourself was living in a glass house. To say I’m disappointed is an understatement.

To the ones that held out for a higher GPT, good luck! Any GPT increase drove off with the chartered buses that were parked in front of the Capitol all day. You get 2%, you get 2% and you get 2%. Yay everyone gets 2%! If we can’t get 7, let’s take home nothing! Brilliant idea!!!

Oh yeah, that’s right. There were charter buses there. Here’s a pic.

Oil and Gas Charter Buses

Enough people – in both parties – held to their principles. As a result, people will suffer.

It’s worth noting that this vote came exactly a year after the vote on State Question 779, which would have given teachers a $5,000 raise. This teacher raise would have been just $3,000, but still, teachers had hope.

hope red

With all due respect to the Shawshank Redemption, hope is painful. Hope is thinking that when the stolen truck you’re driving breaks free from the trailer behind you that you’ll be able to elude the police cars and helicopters that surround you. I woke up believing that it might pass. After all, it passed the Senate handily. We all want the same things, right?

Unfortunately, with all the posturing, grandstanding, guest appearances, and unmoored contempt in the House, again, we watched as nothing happened.

I can’t explain the people who sided with Cleveland and Calvey. One walked around the Capitol with a fart machine. The other once threatened self-immolation. I’ll let you google which is which.

I can explain what happens now.

See what you’ve done? I agree with the governor.

You can read the impact of our state’s legislative impotence from an adoptive parent:

Nine years ago, I stepped up and took a large financial burden off the state by adopting three older, traumatized children. In turn, the State agreed to provide certain resources that were minimal to begin with and have eroded over time. More cuts will come down the road if we don’t fix our systemic budget issues very soon. It looks as though lawmakers will probably be able to stave off cataclysmic cuts for now. But short-term measures like raiding the Rainy Day fund instead of making courageous decisions are what got us into this situation in the first place. Unless lawmakers sustainably raise revenues – as voters overwhelmingly want – these near-calamities will continue, and families like mine will bear the cost.

A mother of a disabled teen tried to get answers from legislators:

“We’re concerned, we’re worried,” Jones said as she met with Rep. Shane Stone, D-Oklahoma City. “My son is the client of the Goodwill adult day center in Chickasha, and our understanding is that without a fix on this current budget crisis is that it will close. They will not be able to keep their doors open and there’s nothing else for my kiddo.”As she walked the hallways late Thursday afternoon, she hoped the legislators she talked with would understand and maybe change their “no” to a “yes.”

I have to say that one representative in particular caught my attention for her remarks on Wednesday.

It’s important to remember that over the summer, House Speaker Charles McCall stripped Leslie Osborn of her JCAB chairmanship because she spoke her mind:

Osborn’s removal comes one day after she and two other Republican state representatives criticized house leadership for comments made after the Oklahoma Department of Human services announced last week it was cutting $30 million in services because of a lack of funding from the state.

The men who opposed McCall, by the way, were stripped of nothing.

This all makes me wonder why the Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature don’t change leadership and find someone committed to helping the state. Nobody is entitled to those positions for the duration of their legislative service.

Osburn is right about one thing in particular. We really must remember who voted yes and who voted no on this. I’ve seen written explanations from members of both parties. I accept none of them.

Our system of government requires serious people who know what it means to lead. It requires voters who hold them accountable.


*Technically, it’s called an Extraordinary Session. Indeed it is that.
**Speaking of government inefficiency, I love this committee name.

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  1. theatricallyspeaking
    November 11, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    I’ve already contacted Cory Williams, my rep in Stillwater. He voted no for some reason after talking a lot of smack to a Republican legislator in front of a news camera a few weeks ago. Apparently when it came time to put his vote where he mouth was, he croaked. I’m beyond mad. I’d threaten to not vote for him but I don’t think I can afford to be a teacher here, since I’ll graduate with a ton of student loan debt in May.

    Like

  2. claudiaswisher
    November 11, 2017 at 10:00 pm

    I wrote to the NOs and suggested getting into a room, drawing straws, and the five short straws have to go back (kicking and screaming if that makes them feel better) into the Chamber and change their votes…for all of us. Have only heard back from one, and that was just the long form-letter justification. Here are the emails if anyone is of a mind to write.

    kevin.calvey@okhouse.gov,
    Bob Cleveland ,
    jeff.coody@okhouse.gov,
    dale.derby@okhouse.gov,
    George Faught ,
    tom.gann@okhouse.gov,
    tommy.hardin@okhouse.gov,
    Scott Inman ,
    lewis.moore@okhouse.gov,
    jason.murphey@okhouse.gov,
    terry.odonnell@okhouse.gov,
    eric.proctor@okhouse.gov,
    Shane Stone ,
    Chuck Strohm ,
    tess.teague@okhouse.gov,
    kevin.west@okhouse.gov,
    rick.west@okhouse.gov,
    tim.downing@okhouse.gov,
    travis.dunlap@okhouse.gov,
    john.enns@okhouse.gov,
    steve.kouplen@okhouse.gov,
    mark.mcbride@okhouse.gov,
    scott.mceachin@okhouse.gov,
    mike.ritze@okhouse.gov,
    sean.roberts@okhouse.gov,
    Michael Rogers ,
    cory.williams@okhouse.gov

    Like

  3. claudiaswisher
  4. claudiaswisher
    November 11, 2017 at 10:03 pm

    Aaargggh!! shane.stone@okhouse.gov

    Like

  1. November 12, 2017 at 10:31 am
  2. November 16, 2017 at 5:30 pm

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