BY EDWIN E. VINEYARD
During the early part of this writer’s two decades of retirement, he accepted state leadership positions with the Oklahoma Retired Educators’ Association. It was a worthwhile public service opportunity, he reasoned, since retired educators were people who had dedicated their lives to public service through the instruction of the state’s youth. They were a worthy group. Apparently, not all agree.
There is little to regret about that 10 years of volunteer work, other than the fact that when approaching state authorities for help on behalf of deserving elderly folk, one is doomed to failure for the most part. With the current conservative control of state government the battle has changed from advancing the cause of elderly teachers to defending them against predatory moves by Republican legislators.
Many times I have sat amidst a meeting of retired educators attended by legislators, or in meetings of delegations at the Capitol with legislators and government officials. There I have heard legislators speak to these folk, as though talking to their partially senile grandmother, telling them how delightful they are, and how much their past service to the people of Oklahoma is valued.
Then, almost invariably legislators will notice some past teacher of their own in the group, and they will bubble over with gracious thankfulness for that teacher. If none is there, they will call to mind one or two from their past. We call all this “a pat on the head.”
Probably some of those should die and go straight to hell, based upon their insincerity, deceit, and hypocrisy. They have already bidden Ms. Chips goodbye. They would really like for her to go grey, fade into poverty, and stop bothering.
These legislators today do not really care much for Ms. Chips, despite their lip service to her in public. They would prefer not to see or hear about how her pension, based on her small salary of 20 years or so earlier with few pitiful adjustments since, has less than half its initial purchasing power. They do not mind that Ms. Chips’ pension is less than half of those retiring now with the same years of service.
“The pension account has unfunded actuarial liabilities,” conservatives declare. “Sorry, but we cannot afford to give you any, much less a decent, COLA.” Then legislators, in their righteousness, say: “COLA’s must be paid for in advance by appropriation. Well no, we don’t have any money to appropriate for that. We have lots of other needs and priorities.”
They might as well add also: “Legislators in the past gave benefits too generous. We have to straighten that out.” It is what many of them really think.
Never have we heard a legislator say, as honesty would require: “The Legislature failed miserably in not putting sufficient funds into the pension programs when we had the opportunity. Instead, we very stupidly cut taxes instead of investing surpluses in the state’s future – including putting the retirement systems on a fiscally sound basis, as we were reminded every year by education groups.”
Never have we heard a legislator say, as conscience might dictate: “The state has never treated you right, Ms. Chips, and you should not have dropped into the poverty level at age 80 after all your service. So, we are now going to do something about our past unfairness toward you. We can afford that because half of your age group has already passed, and your actuarial life expectancy is short.”
Ms. Chips has not always been able to represent her cause well before politicians. I discovered this when I attended my first county retiree luncheon, observing the grey hair and naïve talk about legislative affairs. Silently, I said, “These people need a helper.” Later, I decided there was no better calling than to try to be of help to Ms. Chips and her colleagues.
I was never rewarded more than one day in the Capitol, when we had a dozen or so like Ms. Chips in tow going through the legislative offices. I asked, “How many of you would like to break off and go with me to the governor’s office?”
Still I feel a glow of warmth from the answer of a dear little lady from southeastern Oklahoma, who piped up: “We’ll follow you anywhere, Dr. Vineyard.”
Well, Ms. Chips, we tried. We won a few concessions back then. Sorry we didn’t do better. Sorry that it doesn’t look as though you will be properly respected anytime soon by the crowd in control at the Capitol now.
– Dr. Edwin E. Vineyard, AKA The Militant Moderate, lives in Enid, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer