Is Oklahoma U.S. Rep. Tom Cole trapped in a hail of not-so-friendly fire? Or is the wily old politico providing his party a sorely needed escape route?
Cole was the talk of Washington last week because he dared break with Republican orthodoxy on the "fiscal cliff" showdown with President Obama.
Much to no-tax guru Grover Norquist's consternation, Cole urged his GOP colleagues to accept Obama's plan to let Bush-era tax cuts on the nation's wealthiest two percent expire.
His logic: it's a darn good deal to secure permanent tax cuts for the 98 percent; you can always fight later over how to tax the Daddy Warbuckses.
"If we agree that taxes shouldn't go up on 98 percent of the people," Cole said on CNN, "shouldn't we take that now and get that set aside and make sure that they know their taxes aren't going up?"
We don't agree on much politically, but I've always had highest regard for Cole's intellect and his street smarts. And I know this: he can decipher polling data.
Cole, whose pre-electoral career was in political consulting and polling, knows that survey after survey shows a GOP still reeling from the November elections will take another licking if the country is knocked over the fiscal cliff.
Americans have spoken. They want Congress to stop scorched Earth partisanship and solve the nation's problems.
And Cole's brethren are choreographing a delicate dance that at a minimum will save face, but at a maximum generate some sorely needed political capital to position the party for 2014 and beyond.
Here's the deal: Cole's been around GOP politics a long time, held enough Republican power positions, and is stronger than horseradish in his district. If anyone can lead the charge against the not-no-but-hell-no Norquist ninnies, it's Cole.
And if he can provide cover for enough of his fellow Republicans to get a deal done, Cole may go down as the guy who saved a GOP bent on its own destruction.
If so, could he eventually have a new title? Mr. Speaker?
Symbolism is huge in politics
So, even in red state Oklahoma, you'd think Republicans would have take pains to avoid designating a male-only slate of presidential electors.
Women may be more than half the state's population, but there's not a female among the Electoral College representatives who will cast Oklahoma's seven votes for Romney-Ryan on Dec. 17.
The GOP electors: David Holt, Lynn Windel, Lawrence A. Williamson, Joe Peters, Mark Thomas, Jason Cowen, and Duane Crumbacher.
For a party scrambling to overcome the fallout of wingnut rape rhetoric from U.S. Senate candidates Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, the symbolism of an all-male Electoral College slate is more than curious -- it's downright tone deaf.
Chauvinism not limited to Oklahoma
Did you notice not a single woman was appointed to chair a committee in the Republican-controlled U.S. House?
Nineteen chairs. Nineteen chair-men.
This, after an election that produced the widest statistical gender gap in presidential election history -- 20 points -- according to Gallup.
And Speaker John Boehner couldn't find women qualified to lead at least some House committees?
Where are Mitt Romney's binders when you need 'em?
I know, I know: House committee chairs traditionally are chosen by seniority. But in a year when the number of women in the Senate swelled to a record 20, and in the House to 78, it's telling that not a single woman was appointed to a power position by the GOP leadership.
Speaking of numbers
Oklahoma's Legislative Black Caucus gathered for its pre-session retreat last week, but only four made it -- all Democrats. Two others were absent: one Democrat, one Republican.
The Republican just so happens to be the House speaker-elect, Rep. T.W. Shannon of Lawton.
Shannon, of course, was author of the anti-affirmative action measure that appeared on the November general election ballot.
It's safe to say he wasn't on the same page with most other members of the black caucus on that issue.
But this isn't about who is or isn't caucusing with whom.
This is about the current state of Oklahoma's elected leadership: It's pathetic that only six African Americans serve in the legislature.
Here's why: There are 149 seats in the Senate and House. Blacks hold just four percent of them. Yet African Americans comprise nearly eight percent of the total state population.
What this says to me is that redistricting needs to be taken out of the hands of the legislature.
Traditionally, the party in power (for most of the 20th century, it was Democrats; now it's Republicans) redraws electoral boundaries to maximize political power -- not necessarily to reflect communities of interest or what's best for all Oklahomans.
The state's smarties need to make it a priority to come up with a plan to create a redistricting board that eliminates as much of the partisanship as possible.
While I'm on my soapbox
May I return to the subject of women in elective office?
The latest Census data show women represent 50.5 percent of Oklahoma's population. Yet only 20 of 149 state lawmakers are women -- 13 percent.
The actual numbers: Four out of 48 in the Senate (two Republicans, two Democrats) and 16 out of 101 in the House (10 Republicans, six Democrats).
Think the priorities at the state Capitol might change if half the elected state officials were women?
Not all women think alike, of course. Nor do African Americans. Or Latinos. Or Native Americans. Or men.
But the old white boys club has dominated Oklahoma politics long enough.
It's way past time to get all communities of interest on a level playing field when it comes to electoral politics. Oklahoma will be the richer for it.
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