Legislative Insanity, Part the Infinity
(Originally appeared in The Tulsa Voice)
I have argued on these pages for years the GOP in Oklahoma throws cash to the luxury boxes and sanctimony to the cheap seats, and as someone who usually sits on the third base side, in general admission, I have found this to be a maddening, deplorable, cynical, and sycophantic spectacle. To watch how easily these two groups are played and duped, to see the legislative sops — alternately hilarious and heartless — being thrown to each of them is to know that much of the GOP in Oklahoma is unmoored and, just as troubling (if not more so), the party’s base is largely unconcerned about the unmooring.
Let’s begin with Governor Mary Fallin’s State of the State address last month and the lowering of the bar of effective governance to subterranean levels.
A thriving, prosperous economy must have a skilled, educated workforce. That starts with good teachers in the classrooms providing our children a quality education FIVE days a week.
Imagine? In Oklahoma, in 2017, students attending school for a full week is a goal, not a given. And many of the same legislators who sat in their seats and cheered that line sat in those same seats over the past eight years and cut the very education funding that made those four-day school weeks a reality; still, they applauded, their hypocrisy and culpability heard in every clap.
For those who hoped, then, this 56th Legislative Session would reveal a kinder, saner state GOP, one more concerned with solutions than optics, it’s not happening. We have what we always have: a mix of sanctimony, berserk mutterings, and Jesus.
The bill, known as the “Fairness in Fault Act” would prohibit courts from granting a divorce on grounds of incompatibility if: there are minor children, either party submits a written objection to the divorce, or the couple has been married for ten years or more.
Yes, the party of less government wants to dictate how and when couples can divorce, and despising one another will no longer make the cut. This gem, HB 1277, sponsored by District 10 Republican Representative Travis Dunlap, would also provide a woman with 75 percent of the couple’s assets if she can prove her husband is impotent. The husband, meanwhile, would receive the same percentage if he can prove his wife lied about wanting to have children.
I made up that last part, but for a moment, you weren’t sure, were you?
Dunlap is also responsible for HB 1495, recently passed by the full House, requiring death certificates to note Suicide as the cause in matters where an Assisted Suicide was performed, which is truly insane because, a) assisted suicide is illegal in Oklahoma, and b) as an apoplectic Ken Busby, Executive Director & CEO, Route 66 Alliance, reminds us, even if it weren’t, to prove such a thing, you’d need a toxicology report and those cannot be completed within the state required three-day timeframe in which death certificates have to be filed.
Dunlap won in November with 70 percent of the vote.
Is it a good time to punch down on the poor? It’s always a good time.
Under the proposed bill, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority and DHS would be required to screen anyone who gets benefits every three months, to make sure they’re really eligible.
God knows — because the bill’s author doesn’t — how many thousands of Oklahomans will game the system between spring and summer.
In the committee meeting Tuesday, the bill’s author, District 100 Republican Rep. Elise Hall, admitted she didn’t know of any fraud in our state.
Hall won in November with over 50 percent of the vote … in a 3-way race.
We head back to the classroom.
Through the bill, each student would be eligible to receive $2,700 dollars toward a private school.
That’s SB 560, another nail in public education’s coffin, even though District 15 Republican Representative Rob Standridge, who authored the bill, said his main concern is with the youngins.
“We need to fund public education better. We need to find a way to pay teachers more. But at the same time, we don’t need to wait till all those things are done to make sure we are taking care of kids the best we can,” said Standridge.
FYI: tuition at Tulsa’s Holland Hall for 3rd graders is $15,650 per year year — or about $87/day based on a 180-day school year, meaning little Timmy and his $2700 voucher are good for about 31 days.
Standridge won in November with 62 percent of the vote.
Next we move to the hardships facing the payday loan industry and HB 1912, authored by District 91 Republican Representative Chris Kannady, which would allow such businesses to charge 17 percent interest per month on its short-term loans. If you’re scoring at home — and if you’re not, it’s time to start — that’s $170 per month in interest for every $1,000 borrowed.
You wonder for whom this would benefit, except the payday loan industry, and, of course, the answer is nobody.
Only a cynic would chalk that up to legislators whoring themselves out to the highest bidder.
Kannady won in November with 72 percent of the vote.
Speaking of freedom, it’s baaaaaaack! Senate JR 15 would ask voters if public money or property can be used for — wait for it — a Ten Commandments Monument. District 1 Republican Representative Micheal Bergstrom, a champion of the bill, explains — or tries to.
“This idea that just because some people might be offended by that that we can’t do it I think is taking political correctness to an extreme, and we just need to avoid that.”
Establishment Clause scholars, non-Christians, and English majors weep.
Bergstrom won in November with 59 percent of the vote.
Nobody is more in love with freedom than Oklahoma Republican representatives — just ask them — including the right of the people to assemble, as long as there isn’t, you know, too much assembling.
A trespassing bill prompted by pipeline protests in North Dakota cleared an Oklahoma House of Representatives committee on Wednesday. House Bill 1123, by District 51 Republican Representative Scott Biggs, specifies penalties of up to $100,000 in fines and 10 years in prison for individuals involved in actions against “critical infrastructure.”
Those structures, by the way, include refineries, electric generation and transmission facilities, natural gas processing and transportation facilities, telecommunications facilities, crude oil storage and transportation facilities, and certain manufacturing plants — or just about anywhere one would want to protest.
Biggs won in November with 78 percent of the vote.
District 44 Republican State Senator Ralph Shortey, with whom we apparently forgot to check before amending the state constitution, introduced SB 512, which would re-criminalize simple drug possession to the point where almost every drug offense would be considered a felony (there are similar bills floating around, as well, that do the same thing: SB 256, SB 398, and HB 1482). If you’re thinking, “Hey, didn’t we do the opposite when we approved SQ 780 and 781 last November because it seemed ridiculous to fill our prisons with those who smoked a joint after a TU game,” you’re right, we did, but what do we know?
“People,” said Shortey, “basically did not know exactly how much of the statutes were being changed.”
Shortey won in November. He was unopposed.
Only slightly off the subject, what would a column about the kooky decay of the Oklahoma GOP be without an appearance from the uniquely bigoted and defensive District 2 Republican Representative John Bennett. At Oklahoma Muslim Day at the Capitol (honest to Allah, we have one) last month, he required visiting Muslim students to answer questionnaires before he would agree to meet, including “Do you beat your wife?”
When asked by Tulsa World’s Randy Krehbiel to explain his reasons, he responded through email: “CANT REFUTE FACTS,” adding there were countless acts of violence in the Quran, including Muhammad physically striking his favorite wife for leaving the house without his permission.
Such misogyny and filth in their holy book. Fie, I say.
Good thing there’s nothing like that in the Christian or Jewish bibles.
“‘No, my brother!’ she cried. ‘Don’t be foolish! Don’t do this to me! Such wicked things aren’t done in Israel. Where could I go in my shame? And you would be called one of the greatest fools in Israel. Please, just speak to the king about it, and he will let you marry me. But Amnon wouldn’t listen and since he was stronger than she was, he raped her.
(2 Samuel 13:12–15)”
Bennett won in November with 55 percent of the vote.
The GOP, which has a 42–6 advantage in the State Senate and a 75–26 edge in the State House, could deal with two obstacles that would go a long way to solving the state’s budget crisis — Question 640, which makes it just about impossible to raise income taxes, and HB 2562, which lowered the gross production tax to below even that of the socialist enclaves in North Dakota and Texas — but instead spends its time on the periphery: proposing taxes on things like dry cleaning and tattoos, humiliating those who stand in line at Reasor’s using SNAP cards, worrying about sperm motility, moralizing about drugs and marriage, and hypnotizing its base with sepia-toned pablum and fear of others.
It’s a waste and it’s mean.
But that’s what happens when you have one-party rule: all politics is local.