There's been quite a bit of talk about bipartisanship at the state capitol this year.
"We must set aside partisan bickering and reactionary politics," Gov. Brad Henry said before the start of this year's legislative session. "We have a very challenging session ahead, and bipartisan cooperation will be critical to a successful year."
"We must move past the partisan bickering that often takes hold here at the Capitol," said House Speaker Chris Benge. House Democratic leader Danny Morgan agreed, saying "we have the opportunity today to reach a very historic level of bipartisanship in this body."
Senate co-president pro tempore Glenn Coffee added, "It is critical that Republicans and Democrats work together this session."
Fortunately, two state senators have provided a perfect opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to work together. One, the Senate's Republican leader emeritus and a former public school teacher, is a conservative Republican. The other, a compassionate woman who worked for 31 years in the child welfare division of the state Department of Human Services, is a liberal Democrat.
These two legislators are setting aside partisan bickering and coming together--for the children.
State Sen. James Williamson (R-Tulsa) is the sponsor of Senate Bill 2093, the New Hope Scholarship Act. The bill would allow a tax credit for any Oklahoma taxpayer who makes a contribution to a charitable organization which provides private-school scholarships to low-income students currently trapped in the worst of the worst urban schools. The bill passed the state Senate by a vote of 30 to 18, with Democrat senators Tom Adelson, Randy Bass, Judy Eason McIntyre, Earl Garrison, Andrew Rice, and Nancy Riley joining all 24 Republicans in support.
Sen. Eason McIntyre is the bill's most vocal Democrat supporter. The north Tulsa Democrat, who holds bachelor's and master's degrees in social work, served on the Tulsa Public Schools board of education for 16 years, serving two years as president.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, similar scholarship tax credit laws already exist in Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.
It's not surprising that Tulsans like Williamson and Eason McIntyre would be taking the lead to help the children who need it most. A statewide poll conducted in July 2007 by Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates asked voters: "If you had a school-age child and were given a voucher or a tax credit that would cover tuition to any of the following, which would you personally choose for your child?" Among survey respondents in Tulsa, an astonishing 55 percent said they would choose a private school, while only 37 percent said they would choose a public school.
It's clear that parents want options, and these two senators are coming together in a bipartisan fashion to help. Let's hope they're successful. For as bipartisanship booster Jay Paul Gumm, a Democrat state senator from Durant, so eloquently put it in another context: "When campaign season is over, and it comes time to govern, the responsibility should shift away from winning elections and toward finding those areas of agreement on issues that affect us all."
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