With the seat of state government located in Oklahoma City, there's an obvious advantage to a public policy research organization that weighs in on state-level issues being based in the same city.
But as Jason Sutton, policy impact director for the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, puts it, "There are people with free-market, liberty-minded concerns in Tulsa and all across Oklahoma." That's why the organization, which bills itself as "the flagship of the conservative movement in Oklahoma," will stage one of its two largest fundraising events -- the annual Liberty Gala -- here.
This year's event will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 15 at the Tulsa Convention Center. The featured speaker for the event will be former Alaska Gov. and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
Sutton said Palin's message resonates strongly with OCPA's constituency, which, in the past, has heard from such conservative icons as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Gen. Tommy Franks, former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and writer William F. Buckley Jr. at the Liberty Gala.
"I think she's one of the more prominent conservatives on the political horizon," he said. "Her ideology is in line with that of a lot of Oklahomans in terms of free markets, individual initiatives and liberty. We like to bring in people Oklahomans can relate to. There were many names out there, but hers was the most prominent. We're happy to have her."
The Sept. 15 appearance will be Palin's second stop in Tulsa this year. In March, she appeared as part of the lineup for the "Taking Our Country Back" tour at the Convention Center. That event also featured the likes of country singers Gretchen Wilson and John Rich, radio and television host Glenn Beck and former presidential adviser and best-selling author Dick Morris.
This time, however, Palin will have the stage to herself, and Sutton expects the 1,200-seat hall to be filled for her appearance. The event serves as an attempt by the OCPA to reach out to those in this part of the state who share its philosophy, he said.
"Sure, we do the Liberty Gala in Tulsa primarily for that reason," he said, adding that many members of the organization's board of trustees are from Tulsa -- eight of 38, in fact, while several others reside in Claremore and Bartlesville. The OCPA likes to get its message out statewide by conducting events in such locales as Enid, Lawton and Durant, as well, he said.
By building its constituency, the group hopes to add to its ability to influence public policy in Oklahoma, as it did during the most recent legislative session, when it promoted the adoption of House Bill 3393, which was signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry in June. The measure -- authored by Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, and Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid -- permits public money to follow students with special needs to any private school of their choice where their needs are better served.
The legislation was called the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarships for Students with Disabilities Program Act and was named after the late daughter of the governor. The law went into effect Aug. 26, allowing families to begin accessing the financial assistance it provides this school year.
"Gov. Palin is a big supporter of the special needs community," Sutton said. "And Oklahoma was one of only two states in the nation that passed any kind of school-choice legislation this past legislative session."
Sutton said the OCPA also has focused its efforts recently on four new "freedom centers" under its roof -- the Center for Health Care Freedom, the Center for Constitutional Freedom, the Center for Economic Freedom and the Center for Educational Freedom.
Sponsored tables and individual tickets for the Liberty Gala are still available. For more information, visit ocpathink.org or call (405) 602-1667.
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