Say what you will about the Oklahoma Legislature, but your elected officials are remarkably adept at one thing: offering solutions in search of problems.
At a time when the state faces significant challenges, some lawmakers insist on ignoring the obvious and obsessing over the preposterous.
You might call it the Straw Man approach to leadership.
It's much harder, you see, to tackle real problems -- such as improving inner-city public schools or ensuring health care for 600,000 insurance-less Oklahomans -- than it is to offer faux solutions to ominous-sounding, but wholly contrived crises.
Thankfully, cooler heads squelched the lawmakers' worst excesses this session -- think Sen. Ralph Shortey's fear of fetus-filled foods or Sen. Brian Crain's deity-esque declaration that life begins at fertilization.
But sadly, too few serious issues were fully resolved because too much time and effort was squandered on phony baloney.
Two of my favorite (?) head-slappers:
-- In the 21st Century, do we really need a law authorizing folks to strap six-shooters on their hips and swagger around in public like 19th Century Tombstone?
Evidently Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Legislature think so. Fallin signed into law SB 1733 allowing those with concealed carry permits to openly carry their weapons.
We already lead the industrialized world in gun violence, yet we're going to encourage -- via public policy -- more weaponry in the public square?
"As a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and a gun owner myself, I'm happy to sign this bill into law and grant law-abiding citizens the ability to openly carry firearms," the governor said.
The new law "sends a strong message that Oklahoma values the rights of citizens to defend themselves, their family and their property."
You actually could interpret Fallin's rhetoric like this: You should be scared witless to step into public in Oklahoma. You never know when you will cross paths with some marauding evil-doer, just waiting to snuff out your life.
You thought the OK Corral was scary bad? Or Al Capone's Chicago? Child's play, compared to modern-day Oklahoma.
My goodness -- is that really the message we want to send the rest of the country? You think the brightest minds and best companies will be pining to relocate to a state that thinks it's still ensconced in the wild, wild west?
A small bit of common sense in the law that takes effect Nov. 1: Businesses may ban firearms on their premises. Guns also remain verboten on city, state or federally owned or leased properties, in schools and on college campuses. And they are a no-no in sports arenas during events, lest real Bedlam ensue!
I am serving notice to private businesses: The minute someone wearing a sidearm enters a restaurant or store where I am eating or shopping, I am leaving and taking my wallet elsewhere.
It's a real shame that entrepreneurs trying to make a scrumptious Caesar's salad or peddle the latest electronic gizmo are being thrust into the position of enforcing a no-gun-zone. You never know, after all, how a heat-packing dude might respond to a reasonable request he leave his weapon in the car.
Look -- I'm not afraid of my own shadow and I'm not afraid to walk Oklahoma's (mostly) friendly streets. What is disconcerting, though, is the thought of legions of fraidy-cats and law enforcement wannabes (hello, George Zimmerman) displaying loaded firearms around my family.
Some will argue the new law isn't really a big deal -- those who previously were concealing their weapons now may be openly wearing (brandishing?) them.
Sorry, but I'd prefer not to know. It's less stressful than seeing a stranger toting a loaded firearm.
-- Do we really need a new law that affirms in statute what the state Department of Human Services is already doing: drug-screening welfare recipients?
Evidently Gov. Fallin and the Legislature think so. Fallin signed into law just such a mandate, even though there is no evidence that welfare applicants and recipients are any more prone to abusing illicit drugs than the population at large.
You'd think by the amount of hot air blowing about HB 2388 that the taxpayers are being robbed blind by hopped-up welfare queens driving Cadillacs.
Hardly. This was Grandstanding 101 -- yet another triumph of style over substance, giving Fallin and Co. a platform to hoodwink rabid rednecks into believing the state's Powers-That-Be are pokin' a stick in the eyes of those who dare get sumthin' for nuthin'.
"House Bill 2388 will help ensure welfare checks are not being used to pay for drugs," said Fallin, guilty of fanning the stereotypical flames that most forced to rely temporarily on the social safety net are lazy, scheming louts.
Surely the average Oklahoman knows the unmistakable scent of B.S. Let me repeat s-l-o-w-l-y: This law does not do anything of significance that DHS wasn't already doing.
It isn't worth the paper it is printed on. Nor what it cost the taxpayers to underwrite that portion of legislators' salaries (total annual compensation about $50K each) wasted on it.
It's especially priceless in an election year when retaining political power often hinges on your ability to create and knock down Straw Men.
With great fanfare, the governor and GOP legislative leaders lift shells that spotlight hot-button, but insignificant issues -- creating the impression they are keeping Oklahoma safe for the God-fearin', law abidin' folk.
What's hidden beneath the other shells is key -- the back-room, closed-door deal-making that results in more tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the rich.
Let me frame it this way: What's most important? Your ability to wear a loaded firearm on your hip in public? Or adequately funding public education -- the key to Oklahoma's economic future?
Have the governor and Legislature no shame? Isn't it just a little embarrassing that they busy themselves with faux issues while parents in Jenks are forced to raise $1.1 million to keep class sizes from exploding?
And what about the vast majority of school districts in Oklahoma where parents and supporters do not have the community-wide fiscal power of Jenks? Will we be leaving behind the vast majority of Oklahoma students?
Those are the types of serious public policy matters that real leaders confront and solve. Sadly, real leadership is in short supply at the state Capitol these days.
Shame on us for not demanding better.
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