POSTED ON NOVEMBER 24, 2010:
Your Tax Dollars Squandered
Didn't we tell you to be careful for what you asked for. Does our electorate need some educatin', or what?
So how's that whole legislatin'-by-referendum thing goin' for ya'?
How does it feel to know your exceedingly precious tax dollars are being squandered in court, defending three referenda that never should have been on the statewide ballot in the first place?
Don't say you weren't warned. Cooler heads tried almost everything, save streaking naked through Bartlett Square during a sunny fall lunch hour, to get you to understand what would happen if you embraced this tomfoolery.
But you let the noisiest demagogues rule the day, hatemongers who thrill at any opportunity to demonize others -- especially minorities, gays and the poor -- for political advantage.
Three weeks since Election Day, three lawsuits. And the state, already scrambling to patch a $1 billion hole in next year's budget, is left to explain in court why it needed to solve three problems that didn't exist and why those solutions don't seriously infringe on the civil rights of others.
Banning Sharia Law? There are all of 30,000 Muslims in Oklahoma. There's never been a case of any judge invoking Sharia Law in Oklahoma court. Does anyone seriously think the state's predominantly conservative judiciary would even entertain such a notion?
Designating English the official language? Earth to xenophobes: It already is. We may assist -- at minimal cost -- a few of our immigrant brothers and sisters as they assimilate and learn the language, but English really isn't optional if you want to be all you can be in this state.
Voter ID? It would be one thing if we had significant evidence of voter fraud in Oklahoma. We don't.
What do any of those have to do with solving the state's real problems?
Does it improve public education? Crumbling roads and bridges? Understaffed child welfare? Inadequate mental health services? Overcrowded prisons?
Those ballot measures were a diversionary tactic -- a tool for legislative Republicans to expand their political power. How? By stoking fear.
Fear of others who aren't like "us" -- different skin color, different religion, different language, different socioeconomic status.
It's an especially effective strategy during times of economic tumult, when so many already are worried about whether they'll have a job tomorrow -- or whether they can find another if they become a victim of downsizing.
When political leaders fail to help resolve such misery and uncertainty, they're ripe for a ballot box backlash (see Democrats, Nov. 2, 2010 for details). Self-preservation becomes paramount.
Like magicians skilled in the art of diversion, elected officials work overtime to steer the electorate's attention away from their failings and onto faux boogeymen: You better stick with us. Those other guys are the real enemies. They hate "us." They are stealing "our" country.
Joe McCarthy lives.
No one knows for sure how much this craven approach to "leadership" is costing Oklahoma -- the attorney general's office doesn't break down such costs on a case-by-case basis. But it's unacceptable to waste tax dollars any time. And it's especially egregious when the state is grappling with a billion-dollar budget shortfall.
As if all this isn't bad enough, there's reason to believe it's only going to get worse.
Say what you want, but the truth is that state Democratic lawmakers and Gov. Brad Henry saved Republican zealots from their worst excesses the last six years -- often via the veto. The reason all three of the aforementioned referenda reached the ballot, and now are costing us who-knows-how-much in legal fees, is that the GOP's legislative majority voted to bypass the governor and send these proposals directly to the ballot -- all to spur a certain, extreme, Tea Party-esque constituency to the polls because they tend to vote overwhelmingly Republican.
Next year, though, Henry will be replaced by Republican Mary Fallin and the GOP majorities in both the House and Senate are significantly greater -- no external brake in place.
As incoming House Speaker Kris Steele presides over an increasingly unwieldy caucus, what will he have to concede to Republicans on the far right fringe just to keep the peace?
The state already has wasted money in recent years unsuccessfully defending tighter abortion restrictions -- most approved despite Henry's veto.
What's next? More social engineering by Republicans pandering to the far religious right? More losing legal battles against clearly unconstitutional laws?
A new state senator offers a glimpse of what's to come: Sen. Ralph Shortey, a south Oklahoma City Republican, wants to move immigration "reform" to the top of the agenda.
It isn't enough that Rep. Randy Terrill's mean-spirited HB 1804 won legislative approval, though parts of it were tossed out by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- yet another lawsuit the taxpayers were forced to defend.
Now Shortey wants to one-up Arizona's Senate Bill 1070 that allows law enforcement to demand papers from suspected illegal immigrants. Shortey claims illegal immigrants are taxing state resources, despite evidence to the contrary.
"I believe it's time to make immigration enforcement a reality in Oklahoma," said Shortey. "In the absence of federal action on the issue, it has become abundantly clear that the states must act to reaffirm the authority and intent of the law. In order to reduce the tremendous and increasing burdens associated with illegal immigration, we first need to empower Oklahoma law enforcement officials to check for immigration status."
Shortey is right about one thing: Immigration is a federal issue. And Congress has failed to address it. One reason: Many of the biggest campaign donors -- both Republicans and Democrats -- are business executives who wink at hiring undocumented workers.
Can you imagine a more compliant workforce? You can pretty much pay them what you want and work them as long as you want without fear they'll report the inhumanity to authorities. Why? They don't want to risk drawing attention to their legal status. Can you spell d-e-p-o-r-t-a-t-i-o-n?
All Shortey's proposed legislation will do is further damage Oklahoma's reputation nationally and internationally. Oklahoma may be open for business, but how many businesses -- the kinds that produce high wages -- want to come to a state that seems so intolerant of immigrants, Muslims, gays?
Don't be surprised if the state soon is headed back to the courthouse to defend erecting a Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds. Haskell County tried to similarly wed church-and-state not too long ago, but ended up losing in federal court. The taxpayers now must pay $199,000 in legal fees to the ACLU, which brought the suit on behalf of a Haskell County resident.
Are these really the issues we elected our state lawmakers to resolve?
-- Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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