Hello, Tulsa! Remember me?
We first met in the pages of the Tulsa Tribune in an era when:
Frank Keating was viewed as a liberal -- the only Republican legislator to vote to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.
Susan Savage was the up-and-coming leader of the Citizens Crime Commission -- long before her days as mayor and secretary of state.
Don Nickles was considered an extremist conservative -- yet when he retired after four U.S. Senate terms, the American political landscape had shifted so far right, he was deemed positively moderate.
Now, thanks to UTW, we get the opportunity to renew our conversation on a weekly basis through a column focused on state government and politics.
In social settings, I'm often disheartened at how under-informed many of our neighbors seem to be about state issues that impact our everyday lives.
They're obviously catching the bloviators on national talk radio and cable TV -- aware of the latest D.C. scandal or Town Hall sloganeering. But when it comes to serious policy debate on Oklahoma taxes, schools, roads, prisons or child welfare, there is often a disconnect.
My goal is to lift the curtains at the state Capitol, providing a regular primer on the key players and issues facing our state in the early days of our second century. You won't always agree with my take, but I hope it stirs an important, informed conversation about who we are as Oklahomans and about our shared values.
This is an especially important time for our state. We're near the bottom in nearly every socio-economic category, but solving these problems is made more difficult by the nation's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression -- and by what I view as staggeringly weak political leadership.
Consider the state's plight: Eight consecutive months of declining revenues. Two straight months of 5 percent across-the-board budget cuts for state agencies. More than 65,000 facing loss of state mental health services.
We give lip-service to the importance of education, but -- save for a brief period under former Republican Gov. Henry Bellmon -- we never put our money where our mouths are. As a result, we're dead last regionally in per pupil expenditures, behind even (gasp!) Arkansas and New Mexico.
What happened to GOP legislative leaders' promises to fund "education first" and boost public schools to the regional average?
Why aren't we having real conversations about our spending priorities? One example: It costs significantly more to incarcerate an inmate than it does to educate a child and we know from studies there is a direct link between crime and dropouts. If we invest more on the front end (education), aren't the odds better that we'll spend less on the back end (prisons) and end up with more productive, taxpaying citizens?
Let me tell you a bit more about myself: I'm a third-generation Oklahoman, who spent the bulk of my professional career working in mainstream media in this state -- including 18 years as the Oklahoma Bureau Chief for The Dallas Morning News.
My wife and I chose to live and raise our children here (after years in Texas and California) because we love it and want to see it progress.
Make no mistake: I am a social liberal. But I am more conservative fiscally than many in the state's mainstream media who worship undeserved tax exemptions and routinely promote corporate welfare. I believe all should pay their fair share of taxes.
I also believe in the separation of church and state. I believe government ought to stay out of private lives. And I believe in fairness and equality and habeas corpus.
I often describe myself as a Harry Truman/Hubert Humphrey Democrat who believes we ought to take care of children in the dawn of their lives and seniors in the twilight of their lives. Everyone else is on their own, unless they need a hand up, not a handout.
Sadly, Oklahomans are often ill-served by their mainstream media whose owners are toadies of the corporate powers-that-be. I love to stir the pot. I'm not interested in protecting sacred cows. And believe me, I've taken flak from both political parties.
As a professional journalist, I've covered government and politics for nearly 30 years, including legislatures in Oklahoma, Texas and California, presidential campaigns and both national political conventions. I know Texans think they have the corner on the most -- how shall I say this? -- colorful lawmakers, but I'd put Oklahoma's wingnuts and tin-foil-hatters against any.
The truth is, all too often Oklahoma lawmakers pursue personal agendas rather than tackling the difficult issues facing this state. Does it make sense, for example, for the Oklahoma Legislature to spend its time debating a resolution that expresses disapproval of a United Nations child initiative when thousands of autistic children in our state can't get treatment? What's more important: Whether we have a Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds or how we as Oklahomans agree to take care of the least among us?
How we proceed in these difficult times will determine whether Oklahoma is on a path to real, permanent prosperity -- where all have an equal chance at realizing the American dream -- or doomed to more generations of languishing at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale.
-- Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer. www.okobserver.net
Share this article: