So you think the Halloween fright fests wrap up Oct. 31? Think again.
One of the scariest things facing Oklahomans this fall is the Nov. 2 ballot -- a monster featuring 11 -- count 'em, 11 -- state questions, not to mention the usual laundry list of races for elective office.
As state Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, recently put it: "All of you who work on election day, take the day off, because it's going to take you all day to vote."
Once upon a time, we voters elected lawmakers as our agents to go to the Capitol, study the issues in-depth (because we didn't have time to) and make decisions.
Once upon a time, legislators themselves put only the most serious, contentious public policy questions to a statewide vote of the people.
Once upon a time, the initiative-referendum system was almost exclusively the purview of rank-and-file citizens -- a court of last resort if the regular folk couldn't get the Legislature to act.
This year, only one state question is the result of the initiative petition process (SQ 744 on education funding) -- the rest sent directly to the ballot by a GOP legislative majority that almost, but couldn't quite, totally bend a Democratic governor to its will.
Truth be told, many Republicans didn't want Gov. Brad Henry to sign off on all the proposals -- they preferred taking them to a statewide vote.
Why? Politics, pure and simple.
Four of the ballot measures are designed to fire up constituencies likely to vote Republican in November: anti-government zealots, xenophobes, Birthers, Tenthers, Birchers, theocrats, tea partiers and Beckers, just to name a few. (Actually, a fifth, SQ 756, the anti-ObamaCare proposal, is part of the same cyncial strategy, but let's save it for later discussion.)
Nationally, it's Democrats most worried about voter turnout in the mid-terms -- polls suggest many who helped propel Barack Obama to victory and bolster Democratic congressional majorities aren't as motivated to cast ballots this year.
In Oklahoma, it's Republicans who fear apathy: Off-year elections almost always are terrible for the president's party, the state ranks in the Top 10 nationally in percentage of those who describe themselves as politically conservative and most polls suggest a GOP sweep in statewide races is possible.
What better way to ensure the various elements of the base are energized to vote than to attempt to make the 2010 election about "them"?
SQ 746 would mandate that voters present a document "proving their identity." What's the big deal -- you have to show your driver's license to write a check, right? It could be an insurmountable hurdle, however, for some Oklahoman -- the elderly, the disabled, the poor, any without the means to easily get such an ID.
This is about fear, a fear that "they" (can you spell A-c-o-r-n?) are attempting to steal our elections. Of course, there's no evidence of such a problem in Oklahoma, where our voting system consistently rates among the nation's best. But you can't be too careful, can you?
Some argue that even one illegally cast vote is too many. True enough.
But there are criminal laws already in place to address such mischief. I find a different argument more compelling: one disenfranchised voter is too many.
SQ 747 would extend term limits to all statewide elected officers, not just governor. We already have term limits, of course -- they're called elections. If we don't like what our elected officials do, we give them an earful and demand they get it right -- or send someone else in their place.
This is about fear, a fear that special interests in concert with career politicians are routinely corrupting our system. Of course, we've jettisoned our fair share of corrupt elected officials -- sent more than a few to prison, too. But you can't be too careful, can you?
SQ 751 would establish English as the state's official language. Three guesses who this is aimed at -- and the first two don't count.
This is about fear, a fear that "they" are taking over our country. Of course, the cost to taxpayers of printing a few state documents in other languages is minimal and potentially life-saving. (Isn't it better, wiser public policy to ensure that newcomers -- who may not yet speak or understand English -- be able to take our driver's test and secure a license rather than put them behind the wheel without the proper credentials?) But you can't be too careful, can you?
SQ 755 would prohibit courts from considering international or Sharia law when deciding cases.
This is about fear, a fear that Islam is threatening what so many revisionist historians view as our legacy as a "Christian nation." Of course, many of the Founders were not Christians in today's sense (they were deists) and Thomas Jefferson promoted the idea of separation of church and state to gird the American ideal: each of us is free to worship (or not) as we see fit -- no government-imposed religion.
Moreover, there is no evidence that any judge in Oklahoma or elsewhere in the United States (despite faulty Fox News reporting) has ever attempted to apply Sharia law. The measure's author, Rep. Rex Duncan, R-Sand Springs, concedes as much, describing the "Save Our State" initiative as a "pre-emptive strike" against out-of-control liberal judges.
Of course, there are only an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 Muslims in Oklahoma (population 3.7 million) and none in the Legislature or on the bench. But you can't be too careful, can you?
It was 50 years ago this month that Jack Kennedy confronted similar bigotry -- an assault against him and his presidential bid just because he was Catholic.
"I want to emphasize from the outset," he told the Houston Ministerial Alliance, "that I believe that we have far more critical issues ... the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills, the families forced to give up their farms -- an America with too many slums, too few schools..."
What's disheartening is how often history repeats itself.
What's frightening is how easy it is for some of our elected officials to demonize so many of our neighbors -- all for political advantage.
Are we going to let them get away with it? It could be us next.
-- Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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