POSTED ON OCTOBER 26, 2011:
Good ol' boy era is on the out and should stay there
No one has studied it -- so far as I know -- but I'd be willing to bet Oklahoma is No. 1 in something other than college football and the female incarceration rate.
Surely no other state is blessed with a Legislature that sends more useless, cynical and/or delusional referenda to the ballot than our fair land.
You don't need a long memory to recall some of the more infamous: Constitutional amendments to outlaw same sex marriage, thwart the application of Sharia Law in state courts and require voters produce ID's before casting ballots.
All what politicos refer to as "wedge" issues -- made up solutions in search of made up problems in order to achieve one goal: increased political power.
Some of the more venal members of the Republican-dominated Legislature have turned this into an art form. They are masters at whipping up certain (often mindless, ignorant) constituencies into such a lather that they are literally driven to the polls, not only to vote against the perceived threat, but also for candidates who demagogue the matter.
Why do they play games, rather than focus on the real issues confronting our state?
Because it works.
They've parlayed this cynical blueprint into lopsided majorities in both legislative houses and control of every statewide office.
And it's why we'll face another of these head-scratchers on next year's general election ballot: State Question 759, which effectively would end affirmative action as we know it.
Of course, too many operate under the misconception that Oklahoma law imposes a strict quota system when it comes to hiring and contracts. And that misconception is just fine with some GOP power-grabbers who think their party stands to benefit if enough of the unemployed and/or economically-distressed -- not to mention bigoted and misogynistic -- vote their fears rather than their hopes.
It's classic divide and conquer, designed to lead some voters to believe they are somehow victims of reverse discrimination, that others -- often of a different skin color or gender -- are getting favorable, artificial, socialistic preference from the evil, liberal government.
Pure malarkey, but sadly effective.
The truth is that affirmative action has helped level the playing field in Oklahoma.
What's important is that state agencies, including higher education, are on notice that the "good old boy" era is over -- that male-dominated institutions cannot perpetuate themselves by systematically excluding women and minorities or by paying white men more than they do women or minorities for the same work.
"Statistics show some advances have been made...but the goal (of equality) has not been achieved," says Nathaniel Batchelder, co-chair of the Central Oklahoma Human Rights Alliance and director of the Oklahoma City Peace House.
There are plenty of studies, for example, that show women overall still earn far less than men in the workplace for the same jobs.
The Legislature's GOP masterminds are clever, of course, to disguise their real intent. When they've tried in the past to destroy affirmative action, they bleated incessantly about "reverse discrimination," but took so much heat for their obvious bigotry that they finally dropped that line.
Now they're attempting to co-opt the language of Martin Luther King Jr., suggesting that through SQ 759 we're somehow magically moving into a color-blind age in which none are "judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
Irony of ironies: The author and champion of SQ 759 is Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Kingfisher. Perhaps mentioning "Johnson" and "Kingfisher" in the same sentence rings a bell? The Johnsons of Kingfisher are well-heeled auto dealers -- just the sort who'd know first-hand about what it's like to be a woman or a minority in what's still all-too-often a white man's world, right?
As Oklahoma civil rights' activist Jana Lewis Harkins put it in an essay she wrote last spring, "As an African American there are two phrases that make the hair at the nape of my neck stand on edge -- 'I don't see color' and 'Funny, you don't sound black.' If you don't see color, you don't see me. If I don't sound black, it's because sounding black is part of your bias -- not mine."
This isn't a problem unique to Oklahoma, of course.
Take California, where one-time University of California (UC) regent and longtime opponent of racial and gender preferences Ward Connerly helped lead the successful fight to enact the same language as SQ 759. The result: A significant reduction in the hiring of women in the UC system. At UC-Davis, for example, the percentage of new faculty hires that were women dropped from 52 percent before Proposition 209 to 13 percent in the year after the amendment was passed.
According to the ACLU's Tamya Cox, the referendum "threatens a range of targeted programs that most voters may not associate with 'discrimination' and 'preferences' at all: science and technology programs for girls, higher education funding for minority health professionals, review systems designed to monitor and address discrimination, domestic violence programs, breast cancer screenings, and many more."
The bottom line: We have an opportunity in November 2012 to tell the political power-mongers in the Legislature that we're onto their cynical game and that it's not going to work anymore.
If they want to outlaw affirmative action (so they can keep their historical advantages and not have to share it with women or minorities), they should have the courage to vote on it as lawmakers -- not hide behind the apron strings of a statewide vote.
Already, a broad swath of social justice groups is sounding the alarm against SQ 759, working to educate voters on the real story behind the story -- and why imposing a constitutional ban on affirmative action will be bad for far too many of our neighbors, friends and relatives.
Among those standing against it: members of organized labor, human rights groups (including the Tulsa Human Rights Commission) and the American Civil Liberties Union.
It's a matter of basic human decency and fairness -- something upon which we all should agree.
--Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer; www.okobserver.net
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