In open letter to my fellow Oklahomans:
The election is over. Now comes the hard part: governing.
I'm not minimizing the effort exerted by all the candidates, their campaigns and volunteers. It's a grueling, around-the-clock process, to be sure.
But all the hand-shaking, baby-kissing and fund-raising often pales in comparison to what it takes to get things done in Washington or Oklahoma City.
You see, despite all the campaign rhetoric and promises, candidates elected to Congress or the Oklahoma Legislature eventually face a harsh reality: They have one vote.
They can't accomplish anything by fiat.
They can only get things done by persuading other duly elected lawmakers to share the same vision.
This truth doesn't even take into account the outside pressures that can affect the sausage-making -- think deep-pocketed special interests that threaten not-so-subtly to make or break candidates by lavishing or withholding campaign contributions.
But that's not the point of this letter. My message actually is for you, Mr. or Ms. Average Voter: Like those whom you just elected to serve, your job is just beginning, too.
It's time we face the fact we all-too-often get the government we deserve. If we tune out the proceedings in our capitols, we are effectively abdicating our responsibilities -- turning governance over to those focused on narrow, often greedy special interests, rather than the common good.
In Washington, civic indifference has helped create a severe case of partisan gridlock, where not even the worst economic calamity since the Great Depression can serve as a unifying force.
In Oklahoma City, while good people quietly sit and shake their heads in disbelief at the shenanigans, we end up with political extremists barking so loudly that crazy ... uh ... stuff often becomes law.
Common sense is indeed in short supply these days.
Think I'm over-generalizing to make a point? Perhaps. But allow me to offer three Oklahoma-centric examples of this tail-wagging-the-dog political world that currently dominates our politics:
First, consider texting and driving.
If your experiences are anything like mine, I'd bet a day rarely passes when you don't come upon a clearly distracted motorist -- oblivious to the signal light change, meandering back and forth across the center line or alternately accelerating and decelerating.
Such a sight used to suggest either a harried parent struggling to deal with rambunctious little ones, or a party-too-hearty type who over-indulged before climbing behind the wheel.
Not any more. The distracted driver today is most likely someone lost in smart phone land -- chattering away mindlessly, checking email or responding to text messages.
This can be frightening. The inattentive driver of a high-speed, four- or five-thousand pound vehicle can cause death and destruction in the blink of an eye.
A Virginia Tech study found texting drivers are 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash than those who aren't so distracted. At 55 miles per hour, a driver can motor the length of a football field while banging out the average five-second text.
Outgoing state Rep. Danny Morgan, D-Prague, decided to experiment with texting and driving -- research for proposed legislation aimed at banning the practice. He zoomed several miles along Interstate 40, east of Oklahoma City, speed limit 70, before his attention returned completely to the road. He had no idea what he'd passed or how he'd gotten to where he was. It was, he said, frightening.
Yet, Morgan never could convince his fellow legislators that banning texting and driving was common sense. Nor could Republican Sen. Brian Crain of Tulsa, who wanted to forbid drivers under age 18 -- typically the least experienced drivers on the road -- from texting.
What's not to like? We require seat belts, don't we? We require babies and small children be strapped into car seats, don't we? We require people to sit down during takeoffs and landings, don't we?
Which brings me to a second issue where common sense has escaped our elected leaders: motorcycle helmets.
Look, I get it -- who doesn't dream of themselves as Peter Fonda or Dennis Hopper on the open road, the wind whipping your hair, no cracked or bug-splattered windshield to distract your view. Total. Absolute. Freedom.
At least Oklahoma requires motorcyclists 17 and younger to wear helmets. But if you even suggest requiring an adult to wear a helmet -- whew! -- hell hath no fury like a hog-owner afraid of losing the right to smash his skull against the pavement or a tree.
I know, I know ... helmets don't always mean the difference between life or death. Blah, blah, blah. Neither do seat belts. But we demand seat belts be worn, even though drivers and passengers are protected by a car's or truck's metal body -- not defenseless like a motorcyclist.
Sadly, there's a better chance lawmakers will allow Oklahomans to wear six-shooters on their hips than to make texting-and-driving illegal or to require motorcyclists to wear helmets.
Oh ... wait ... we do allow open-carry now in Oklahoma. Effective Nov. 1, if you have a conceal-carry permit, you can prance around in public so everyone can see your pistol, just like the good ol' days.
I used to think reasonable political leaders could arrive at a reasonable consensus on gun control. After all, we lead the industrialized world in gun violence. We need fewer guns on the street, not more.
But no, the all-powerful gun lobby threatens to lash our lawmakers to within an inch of their electoral lives if they entertain any discussion of restricting weapons and ammunition.
So now we'll leave it in the hands of the police to sort the good guys from the bad when they arrive on a scene where guns are drawn, shots fired and people are bleeding.
Suppose the good guys will be wearing white hats?
These are the sorts of issues where you, Mr. and Ms. Average Voter, need to get engaged. Your elected officials will rise above the partisan gridlock and the hyperbolic rhetoric to seriously consider key issues if they're convinced you have their back.
As it is now, they know you're indifferent. And they know special interests and the extremists are anything but.
Forgive the trite saying, but it is true: the squeaky wheel does get the grease. It's time for reasonable, thinking Oklahomans to do more than squeak. It's time to roar.
--Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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