To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Thursday, April 25, 2024


Haves Remain Indifferent To Have-Nots


For Oklahoma, it’s a split screen moment in the never-ending public policy battles between the haves and the have-nots.

Last Monday, the state Supreme Court greenlighted SQ 832, the initiative that will allow voters to act where the Legislature refused – on whether to raise the state’s unconscionable $7.25 an hour minimum wage for the first time in 15 years.

The next day, both legislative houses took steps that effectively would criminalize homelessness, approving measures that ban sleeping on state-owned property such as rights-of-way and underpasses.

What’s next? Prohibiting municipalities from establishing their own minimum wages or worker protections? Oh, right, state lawmakers already did that … in 2014.

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Remember when Republicans won control of the statehouse, in part by pledging their fealty to local control? That “bedrock principle” turned out to be quite pliable when their corporate masters [and campaign benefactors] cracked the whip and thundered, “No one shall violate the sanctity of the free market.”

Which, of course, is translated as, Only the 1% shall decide what mere laborers can earn.

As so often happens, Oklahomans got a belly-full of the arrogance, indifference and unfairness, and turned to the initiative petition – a constitutional power Oklahoma’s Founders gave The People to help overcome legislative intransigence. In this case, SQ 832 would let voters decide whether to gradually hike the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Unsurprisingly, the State Chamber and Farm Bureau squealed like stuck pigs, challenging the initiative [petition 446] in court. In a 7-2 vote, the Supreme Court ruled the proposal violated neither the Oklahoma or U.S. Constitutions when it tied the series of increases to the federal Consumer Price Index.

“It’s time to let the people decide,” said Amber England, spokesperson for Raise the Wage Oklahoma, the group organizing the petition drive.

“Politicians for far too long have ignored this issue while families struggle to make ends meet and we know the only way to give hard-working Oklahomans the pay raise they deserve is by letting voters decide this issue for themselves at the ballot box.”

So, let the signature gathering begin. Supporters must collect 92,262 valid signatures in 90 days to force a statewide vote. They hope to get it on the same ballot as the Nov. 5 presidential election – typically when voter turnout is highest.

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The poohbahs at NE 23rd and Lincoln Blvd. and their financial supporters, of course, despise the initiative process. It takes away their control. But the fact is, this is how the system is supposed to work. Now let’s see what The People have to say.

The Supreme Court’s good news for rank-and-file Oklahomans faded 24 hours later, however, when an overwhelmingly evangelical Legislature voted to criminalize the unhoused – the least among us. Jesus wept?

Both SB 1854 and HB 3686 would establish fines [up to $50] and jail sentences [up to two weeks] for homeless individuals who refuse assistance. Homelessness in Oklahoma jumped an estimated 15% in the last decade, including up to 1,436 in Oklahoma City’s Point In Time survey last year and 1,133 in Tulsa’s.

If lawmakers were truly committed to tackling the problem, they would dip into the state’s $4 billion-plus in savings and invest in long-term solutions.

As Rep. Forrest Bennett, D-OKC, put it, “This problem is going to require a much more broad solution – legislation that is much longer, much more complex and includes many more stakeholders than just one more tool in the toolbox. Our toolbox needs to be full and it needs to be full with items that we can use to holistically solve the problem.”

The have-nots need a hand up. Will the haves respond?

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Arnold Hamilton, Editor
Arnold Hamilton, Editor
Arnold Hamilton became editor of The Observer in September 2006. Previously, he served nearly two decades as the Dallas Morning News’ Oklahoma Bureau chief. He also covered government and politics for the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, the Tulsa Tribune and the Oklahoma Journal.
Mark Krawczyk
Mark Krawczyk
March 9, 2023
Exceptional reporting about goings on in my home state as well as informative opinion pieces that makes people think about issues of the day...........get a SUBSCRIPTION FOLKS!!!!!!!
Brette Pruitt
Brette Pruitt
September 5, 2022
The Observer carries on the "give 'em hell" tradition of its founder, the late Frosty Troy. I read it from cover to cover. A progressive wouldn't be able to live in a red state without it.