POSTED ON JULY 11, 2012:
Looking Again Into the Crystal Ball
Predictions of regret for Oklahoma's Republicans
In politics, timing is everything. So, less than four months before the general election ... and less than seven months before the next legislative session begins in earnest ... it's time to spit-polish the old crystal ball and peer into the political future.
Prediction: Gov. Mary Fallin will not be Mitt Romney's running mate.
I know what most of you are thinking: Duh! As easy as predicting the sun will come up in the east or Sen. Jim Inhofe eventually will land on the wrong runway -- again.
True enough, but there is a reason for asserting this so unequivocally: Some of Oklahoma's mainstream media insist on playing the speculation game, knowing damn well it'll never happen.
Just last week it was KRMG reporting that Fallin isn't being "vetted" by the Romney campaign, even though Ann Romney says her husband might be looking for a female running mate.
It doesn't take a rocket (or political) scientist to divine that Fallin isn't a contender.
First, Romney doesn't need Fallin to ensure he wraps up the state's seven -- Woohoo! Count 'em, seven -- electoral votes.
Oklahoma isn't a battleground state. It would be an upset of Biblical proportions if President Obama became the first Democrat since 1964 to carry what is arguably the Reddest of Red States.
Further, Republicans already tried a relatively unknown small state (population-wise) female governor as vice presidential nominee.
Say what you will about Sarah Palin -- and lots could be said -- she is a more electrifying and dynamic personality on the stump than Fallin.
Finally, Fallin's long and successful electoral career hasn't exactly translated into an exceptionally distinguished record of governing achievement.
She was a reliable Republican vote in the state Legislature and Congress. And she's been a reliable utterer of the GOP talking points as lieutenant governor and governor.
But conservatives never mention her in the same breath as the likes of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels or Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, who are revered as big-thinking policy wonks.
A more than 60 percent approval rating in Oklahoma is a marvelous place for Fallin to begin her 2014 re-election campaign, but it means little nationally.
Prediction: Oklahoma Republicans promoting vouchers for private schools will be sorry if their crusade ever bears fruit.
The pro-voucher crowd primarily is girded by two motives: a dislike for public school teachers' unions or a conviction that Bible-heavy church-sponsored education is the path to restoring American greatness -- or both.
Of course, what these would-be theocrats fail to consider -- or blithely ignore -- is that marrying, rather than separating, church and state can produce unintended consequences.
Just ask the Christian fundamentalists who helped secure vouchers for religious schools in Louisiana. To their utter horror, they discovered the vouchers could be used by -- gasp! -- Muslims.
Rep. Valarie Hodges, a Watson, La., Republican who initially supported the program, now has withdrawn her backing, conceding she mistakenly equated "religious" with "Christian."
"Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders' religion," Hodges told the Livingston Parish News. "We need to insure (sic) that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools.
"There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana."
It's hard to know where to begin with wingnuts like Hodges. She and her ilk -- including more than few in Oklahoma's Legislature -- prattle endlessly about the "Founders' religion" as if there was only one.
Instead of parroting pseudo-history created from the fertile imaginations of pseudo-historians (David Barton, anyone?), may I humbly suggest you study real, seriously researched history -- paying particular attention to the term "deist"?
It's nothing short of political malpractice that an elected official like Hodges could not conceive of the possibility that other religions might belly up to the taxpayers' trough to take advantage of the voucher scheme.
A quick study, for example, of Washington, DC's federally funded voucher program -- engineered by congressional Republicans -- would have turned up the fact that two Muslim schools have been recipients of taxpayers' support.
As Rob Boston, senior policy analyst at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, put it, "Some legislators aren't comfortable funding Muslim schools. What's to be done?
"How about not establishing these programs in the first place? Let Muslims fund Muslim schools. Let Catholics fund Catholics ones. Let fundamentalist Protestants pay for the conservative Christian academies and so on."
Of course, none of this will stop Oklahoma's elected theocrats from working around the clock to find ways to circumvent the state Constitution that strictly prohibits steering taxpayer funds to religious groups -- and the courts that uphold that ban.
They'll eventually secure enough votes in the Legislature to get such a program on the books. Fallin will sign it (afraid to tangle with her party's noisy social conservatives). And the courts will overturn them (see the Lindsey Nichole Henry scholarships, for example).
In the meantime, the taxpayers will continue to see millions of their tax dollars wasted on this folly -- a folly that not only hurts already under-funded public schools, but also could create some real heartburn for those who would turn America into a Christian-only nation.
Prediction: Someday soon Oklahoma will be sorry that its elected leadership never seriously addressed the state's over-dependence on oil and natural gas production revenues.
And it will be even sorrier that it cheered on the elected class as it enacted about $1 billion in income tax cuts that primarily benefited the state's wealthiest residents.
It wasn't that long ago that state leaders vowed to work tirelessly to diversify Oklahoma's economy. After all, visions of the nightmarish 1980s oil bust were still fresh, including the politically terrifying, but necessary decisions to significantly hike taxes to fund vital state services.
The lessons of history are lost on many of the state's current elected leaders. They've crowed incessantly about how tax and budget cuts in recent years have helped Oklahoma's economy soar above many other states.
Impressive rhetoric. Pure baloney.
Oklahoma's in better shape, for the moment, than many states because oil and gas production tax revenues have been strong, despite the stubbornly low price of natural gas.
Did you notice the warning in state Treasurer Ken Miller's announcement last week that state revenue collections last fiscal year were up 7.7 percent over 2010-11?
In June, oil and gas production taxes plunged more than 42 percent over the same month a year ago.
It's important to remember that about one-fourth of all Oklahoma jobs are still tied directly or indirectly to the energy industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Further, Oklahoma history is replete with energy booms and busts that wreaked havoc on the state's overall economy and revenues that fund public services.
When the next bust comes -- and it will -- Oklahoma could face a nightmare scenario that could make the Dust Bowl-Depression 1930s seem almost trivial by comparison, especially since it's now almost impossible for lawmakers to raise taxes (remember State Question 640) no matter how dire the emergency.
Remember that the next time legislative candidates pander for your vote with promises of more tax cuts. How about demanding instead they detail a pay-as-we-go vision for improving Oklahoma's government services and economy for the benefit of our children and grandchildren?
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