What a glorious spring for Oklahoma's corporatists, Tea Partiers and theocrats.
A Republican-dominated Legislature, in concert with a GOP governor, has all but locked the courthouse door to average folk, sharply limiting what corporations or medical professionals might be required to pay for causing someone harm.
They rolled back collective bargaining rights for public employees in towns larger than 35,000, further undermining their hated foes, organized labor.
They foolishly rejected a $54 million federal grant to launch a health insurance exchange aimed at helping an estimated 600,000 uninsured Oklahomans find health coverage they can afford.
They launched a sneak attack on Planned Parenthood -- the far right's favorite whipping post now that ACORN has been destroyed -- by working to prevent it from receiving WIC (women, infants and children) welfare funds.
And they rammed through two more anti-abortion bills, at least one of which is destined because of its dubious constitutionality to land Oklahoma back in another protracted court fight -- at taxpayers' expense, of course.
For six years, a Democratic governor, Brad Henry, and just enough legislative Democrats to sustain his vetoes, kept Republicans from imposing their worst excesses on rank-and-file Oklahomans.
Last November, though, the Okies who bothered to vote decided to unleash the elephant in the house and it's gone on a rampage that's propelling our fair state into a new century -- the 19th century.
The reddest necks in Oklahoma will no doubt survey the above list -- hardly exhaustive, by the way -- and crow about the "progress" so far under total Republican control.
"Oklahoma values," writ large?
The problem is, the zealots currently driving the train are in extreme minorities -- whether it's the silk-stocking corporate elite, represented by the State Chamber; or the Tea Party-types angry at who knows what; or the religious fundamentalists who won't be satisfied until their brand of Christianity dominates everything.
Most Oklahomans do not fit comfortably into those three categories. Most Oklahomans are conservative, yes, but not reactionary.
Despite the Tenthers' and Tea Partiers' anti-federal rhetoric, I don't hear many Oklahomans demanding we refuse to take Uncle Sugar's money to run our military installations -- Tinker Air Force Base, after all, is the state's largest employer -- or build our highways or bridges or underwrite our Medicare or manage our glorious lakes and waterways or ...
Most other Oklahomans get it. Or they soon will -- once they figure out what their state government leaders have done.
Knuckling under to wing nut demands they reject the $54 million to finance creating the health insurance exchange. Whose money do they think that $54 million is? It's not Uncle Sam's -- and I'm not referring to Walton. It's our money. We sent that money to Washington as federal taxpayers. Now we're ensured that some other state whose political leaders have brains and backbone will gobble it up for their use. And we -- facing a half-billion-dollar budget hole -- will have to pay for it ourselves, robbing precious dollars from already under-funded schools, roads and prisons.
Even the rightwing Oklahoman editorial page couldn't believe it, criticizing the decision as "mindless pandering to an ideological base."
Worse, the editorial writers sputtered, the decision-makers -- Gov. Mary Fallin, House Speaker Kris Steele and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman -- were acting like -- OMG -- "liberals," declaring that "ideology trumped common sense, as it so often does in the progressive world."
What amazes -- even though it shouldn't -- is how history repeats itself.
The Oklahoman hinted at it in its editorial: The Republican-controlled Legislature and executive branch is making mistakes similar to those that doomed the 20th-century Democratic majority.
It's not "Oklahoma values" at work -- it's hubris, writ large. It's an all-too-common notion among the smarty-pants in charge that they are where they are because they're smarter than those wearing bib overalls. It's an arrogance that leadership can fool enough of the people enough of the time to maintain power.
It's a mindset that always leads to defeat, eventually. Just ask Oklahoma Democrats.
Here's the truth: The corporatists in control of state government -- micromanaged by the State Chamber -- don't give a damn about social issues like abortion or gay marriage. They allow these issues to move forward in the Legislature as a means of pandering to the fundamentalists for votes. They know that in the end, most of these measures will be ruled unconstitutional in court -- and who cares if the taxpayers' foot the legal bills?
All they care about is having sufficient numbers in the Legislature to ensure their obscene obsession with corporate welfare continues unabated. Limit damages for injured parties to $350,000? Helps the corporate bottom line. Steer a half-billion-dollars in tax credits for the oil and gas industry through the Legislature? Helps the corporate bottom line.
The Republican ringmasters at the state Capitol are being forced to work overtime these days to keep the Tea Parties, fundies, Birthers, Tenthers and xenophobes corralled. But they're laughing all the way to the bank. And it's becoming quite clear that they think their power trip will never end.
Just look at the state GOP's news release last week, entitled: "OK Dems: It's Our Party and We'll Cry If We Want To -- Democrat Leaders take to the liberal media to cry about Oklahoma values."
"These latest rants from Democrat officials in Oklahoma simply add fuel to our argument that the Oklahoma Democrat Party has made a hard left turn and it isn't turning around," said state Republican Chairman Matt Pinnell. "Running to (MSNBC's) Rachel Maddow and The New York Times to complain about Oklahoma voters and our values is unfortunately par for the course for this new, and much more liberal, Oklahoma Democrat Party."
The release added: The cherry on top came today when House Democrat Al McAffrey was quoted in the liberal New York Times saying, "this is Oklahoma -- we embarrass ourselves all the time." Said Chairman Pinnell about the comment, "Rep. McAffrey's comment is unacceptable, and he should apologize immediately for it."
"If Oklahoma Democrat leaders want to throw stones at our Republican leadership team for its conservative solutions, go for it, but they will tire quickly throwing those stones alone, as Oklahoma voters made it clear last November that the status quo would not be tolerated any longer," concluded Pinnell.
Daring to criticize Oklahoma's decision-makers to "out-of-state liberals!" Oh, the humanity! And then reduced to invoking the worn-out epithet "Oklahoma Democrat Party."
Political history is replete with cautionary tales of once-promising electoral careers crashing to earth because of hubris and over-reach. In other words, a from-God's-mouth-to-my-ear certitude, born of electoral victory, has misled far-too-many into thinking they have all the answers. Until the voters tell them otherwise -- which they always do.
Enjoy the ride, folks.
--(Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; okobserver.net)
Share this article: