Say what you will about their policy priorities, but state house Republicans have proven remarkably adept at one thing: Publicly marching in lockstep.
Oh, sure, there's the occasional dust-up, carping and fussing around the edges of this proposal or that.
But aside from a few well-known cranks, the GOP caucus in Oklahoma City is remarkably disciplined, their votes often nearly unanimous.
So it is worth noting when a smart, skilled member of the band goes rogue, publicly taking colleagues to the woodshed for betraying the sacred principles of the Reagan Revolution.
In a column entitled "What happened to the GOP that I joined?" that appeared recently in the state's largest daily, the Oklahoman, Rep. Doug Cox of Grove lamented that far too many legislative Republicans simply aren't in touch with reality.
Instead, they live "in a gingerbread house with a two-car garage, two planned kids and a dog," he wrote. "As a practicing physician... I deal with the real world."
Cox, as you may recall, is an emergency room physician at Integris Grove General Hospital. He has delivered more than 800 babies in his career, but is quick to point out he has never performed an abortion and never will.
He nonetheless is troubled that his political teammates are preoccupied with restricting reproductive rights, all the while ignoring the fact that so many uninsured Oklahomans are the working poor, not Mitt Romney's mythical "takers," sucking on the taxpayers' teat.
"In the real world," Cox writes, "15- and 16-year-olds get pregnant (sadly, 12-, 13- and 14-year-olds do also). In the real world, 62 percent of women ages 20 to 24 who give birth are unmarried. And in the world I work and live in, an unplanned pregnancy can throw up a real roadblock on a woman's path to escaping the shackles of poverty.
"Yet I cannot convince my Republican colleagues that one of the best ways to eliminate abortions is to ensure access to contraception. A recent attempt by my fellow lawmakers to prevent Medicaid dollars from covering the 'morning after' pill is a case in point. Denying access to this important contraceptive is a sure way to increase legal and back-alley abortions. Moreover, such a law would discriminate against low-income women who depend on Medicaid for their health care."
The sanctimonious set at the state Capitol could not care less. An unwanted out-of-wedlock pregnancy? Their hard-ass view is you pay the price for your sins. Repent! A couple's unplanned pregnancy? God's will, accept it. Rape or incest?
Ask former U.S. Rep. Todd Akin how the body can shut that pregnancy down.
Rather than ensure contraception is available to prevent unwanted pregnancies, our elected elite are far more interested in moralizing, wagging their judgmental fingers at those who don't adhere to their Puritanical worldview.
So they do things like pass laws (HB 2015) that require those seeking an abortion to fill out lengthy questionnaires -- full of private, personal questions -- that are designed to scare the patient into changing her mind or to live in constant fear her identity could be exposed publicly even though she is not identified on the form by name.
This, from the same crowd that forever waves the yellow Gadsden flag -- Don't Tread On Me! -- and wails incessantly about federal government intrusion into our private lives. What is more intrusive that some nitwit in a suit at NE 23rd and Lincoln Boulevard getting between a woman and her doctor and her God?
They also work around-the-clock (SB 900 was this year's legislative vehicle) to find ways to block tax dollars from reaching Planned Parenthood, which provides critical family planning and counseling services to low-income and uninsured Oklahomans.
Of course, Gov. Mary Fallin's pen was at the ready to sign both measures, another sure sign that good politics always trumps good public policy in her administration. It must be agonizing to live in constant fear for your political life -- that you could be "primaried" by fringe elements in your own party because you dared do the right thing.
As Cox wrote, "What happened to the Republican Party that I joined? The party where conservative presidential candidate Barry Goldwater felt women should have the right to control their own destiny? The party where President Ronald Reagan said a poor person showing up in the emergency room deserved treatment regardless of ability to pay?
"What happened to the Republican Party that felt government should not overregulate people until (as we say in Oklahoma) 'you have walked a mile in their moccasins'?
"Is my thinking too clouded by my experiences in the real world? Experiences like having a preacher, in the privacy of an exam room say, 'Doc, you have heard me preach against abortion but now my 15-year-old daughter is pregnant, where can I send her?'
"Or maybe it was that 17-year-old foreign exchange student who said, 'I really made a mistake last night. Can you prescribe a morning-after pill for me? If I return to my home country pregnant, life as I know it will be over.'"
There is no doubt that Cox speaks for the vast majority of Oklahomans -- yes, conservative, God-fearing, church-going, compassionate, decent, friendly Oklahomans. Your neighbors and mine.
The problem is, fringe elements -- driven by sanctimony or pure ol' power politics -- are exercising outsize influence at the capitol because too many good-hearted folks have checked out, dismissing 21st-century politics as too polarizing, too ridiculous, too irrelevant to be worthwhile.
Unfortunately, the rampant apathy -- look at voter turnout, if you have your doubts -- creates a power vacuum that ends up being filled by extremists who would lead you to believe there is an epidemic of abortions that is killing America's soul.
Actually, the number of abortions is declining -- not because of any pious, abstinence-only rhetoric, but because of contraception. And efforts to restrict contraception, as Dr. Cox astutely notes, threaten to increase the number of abortions.
"What happened to the Republican Party that felt that the government has no business being in an exam room, standing between me and my patient? Where did the party go that felt some decisions in a woman's life should be made not by legislators and government, but rather by the woman, her conscience, her doctor and her God?"
Cox acknowledges his views are not popular in the Capitol's Republican caucus. But GOP leaders ignore his sober, clear-eyed, reasoned critique at their own peril.
Remember what happened when the Susan G. Komen Foundation succumbed to the über-right's anti-Planned Parenthood crusade?
The Republican Party easily could be pushed over the same cliff if reality-based Republicans -- both the elected and the electorate -- remain silent.
Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
Share this article: