POSTED ON OCTOBER 13, 2010:
Tell Us What We Don't Know
Too much shtick, not enough substance being shown by candidates
Less than three weeks until Election Day. Only about 20 days left for candidates to make their sales pitches, identify their supporters and turn them into voters.
Signs are sprouting like weeds on street corners. Car, furniture and Cialis ads on TV are being crowded out by political spots. Those annoying robo calls haven't started, but -- trust me -- they will.
All point to one last chance to clean out the political analyst's notebook before the balloting begins:
After a month or so of 30-second TV spots, here's pretty much what we know about the state's candidates in 2010: They love Oklahoma, they're committed to Oklahoma values, they think Oklahomans have more common sense than the jokers in Washington and they want more jobs for Oklahoma.
As silver-haired Clara Peller put it in the famous Wendy's commercials, "Where's the beef?"
Just once, I'd love to hear a candidate offer specific details in their campaign ads -- whose taxes they want to raise or lower and why, which agency budgets they want to expand or cut and by how much.
And just once -- once! -- I'd love to see our state's voters demand more from the candidates than the typical I-love-Oklahoma-more-than-you or I'm-the-real-conservative mumbo jumbo.
One candidate who offered a detailed plan to address a serious problem -- the outside influence of special interest money in Oklahoma politics -- is state Sen. Kenneth Corn, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.
Corn unveiled a 19-point ethics reform package recently (c4ok.com/news-media/news_release/lobbyist%20crackdown), but it generated little news coverage.
The reality is, the nuts-and-bolts of governing rarely is considered sexy enough to warrant mainstream media coverage, particularly from television. If lawmakers want to attract coverage of serious issues -- and serious proposals to fix them -- they might want to consider starting a grass fire on the Capitol lawn or wrapping the Capitol in yellow crime scene tape.
Nothing draws a TV crews faster.
It takes a newspaper to cover the real issues in depth, or to at least lead concerned citizens in a thinking direction. We do it here, succinctly:
Gimme, Gimme Government -- The vast majority of Oklahoma lawmakers still refuse to do the right thing -- decline gifts or anything of value from lobbyists or others seeking to influence legislative decision-making.
Common Cause Oklahoma has made it easy for legislators to declare their independence from the sleazy system, establishing a No Gifts registry for public view at commoncause.org/OK/NoGifts.
So far, only three legislators have signed up: Rep. Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, in June, incoming Senate Democratic leader Andrew Rice of Oklahoma City in July and longtime state Rep. Charles Key, R-Oklahoma City, in August.
Oklahoma's lawmakers are among the highest paid in the nation -- about $50,000 a year in salary and benefits. All the additional special interest gifts fuel cynicism that elected officials and special interests all-too-often conspire on cozy deals that benefit the rich and powerful at the expense of the rank-and-file.
The overall amount spent on gifts -- from meals to NBA tickets to golf outings -- is increasing, despite a State Ethics Commission-imposed rule that restricts each lobbyist from giving more than $100 a year in gifts to each legislator.
Even more troubling: 31 legislators received gifts exceeding the $100 limit last year -- 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats.
Troubling -- Among the campaign signs dotting the front lawn of the state Republican headquarters in Oklahoma City is one opposing State Question 744, the measure that would force state lawmakers to fund education at the per pupil regional average.
The deepest pockets in Oklahoma are opposed to the initiative -- they're afraid it will curtail their favorite corporate welfare schemes -- but isn't it likely that more than a few Republicans actually support SQ 744.
It's one thing for the party to be promoting its candidates -- it's quite another to actively oppose an initiative that will appear on the ballot because of the signatures of 234,446 voters, nearly 100,000 more than the required.
Christian State -- Edmond minister Paul Blair is at it again. The would-be theocrat-in-chief recently endorsed Republican gubernatorial nominee Mary Fallin from the pulpit in defiance of federal law that prohibits all 501(c)(3) non-profit groups -- which includes houses of worship -- from intervening in elections by supporting or opposing candidates for public office.
Blair is part of a national movement that hopes to provoke a legal battle over the prohibition, hoping that if they can get the case before the most conservative Supreme Court in generations, they may get the half-century-plus ban overturned.
Americans United, a religious liberty watchdog group, filed a complaint with the IRS against Blair, urging it investigate his partisan politicking. It was the second complaint this year involving Blair, his chief and his tax-exempt group known as Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ. In June, Blair's group sent an e-mail urging supporters to attend a rally for state Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, perhaps best known nationally for asserting that homosexuals are a greater threat to America than terrorists.
"When churches become cogs in any candidate's political machine, they ought to lose their tax exemption," said Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United.
I can see some Republican eyes rolling now: That radical, liberal Americans United only picks on churches that show a preference for GOP candidates.
Au contraire. Americans United just last week also urged the IRS to take action against a Brooklyn, N.Y. church that endorsed New York's Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Andrew Cuomo.
According to the -- gasp! -- liberal New York Times, Cuomo spoke at Brown Memorial Baptist Church Oct. 3, delivering "a pitch for support in his bid for governor, citing his record as attorney general and assailing his opponent 'for trying to divide us.'"
Moreover, the Times reported, "The church's pastor, the Rev. Clinton M. Miller, quickly encouraged congregants to vote for Mr. Cuomo."
"This is way over the top," said Rev. Lynn. "This church turned its Sunday service into a Cuomo campaign rally. The IRS should investigate and take appropriate steps to make sure this doesn't happen again."
It's Only Politics, But I Love It -- I'm a hopeless political junkie, so I can't help but revel in the campaign theater. But even I have to confess that much of what passes for electioneering these days is absurd -- or banal.
For pure comic relief, it was tough to beat Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe's endorsement last week of Republican nominee Mary Fallin.
If you read the GOP-leaning Internet blogs, you'd think it was a development of Second Coming significance -- so coveted, yet stunningly unexpected.
You mean, everyone didn't already assume that Inhofe, a rabid Republican, would be supporting Fallin, the Republican nominee? Seriously?
It would be about as surprising as outgoing Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, deciding to endorse Jari Askins, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.
Oh, wait, that already happened, too!
-- Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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