BY DAVID PERRYMAN
Kevin Costner was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the 2019 Western Heritage Awards last month in Oklahoma City. Costner has written, directed, produced or starred in a number of great movies that bring our nation’s history into perspective. Some are favorable portrayals and some, like the subjugation of native peoples in Dances with Wolves, portray periods of American history that are not so glorious.
Costner accepted the honor by opening his heart and speaking directly to Oklahomans about how genetically he was on track to be an Oklahoman and how that commonality has affected his life. His speech was touching and impacted my life. All Oklahomans should allow it to impact theirs. The speech can be accessed online through a number of sources, including YouTube.
Costner explained that his father was from the panhandle of Oklahoma. Guymon, to be exact. His grandfather, Walter, was one of 11 children. He was a farmer/rancher and was 19 when he married his lifelong sweetheart, Tig, who was only 14.
Tig told the story about how Walter worked hard. He sold cattle in a banner year and had in storage 50,000 bushels of wheat. At 11 o’clock one morning Walter went to the bank and took every penny with him. His plan was that even if there was not a good crop of wheat or cattle for the next four years, the family would still be taken care of.
Walter knew the banker. Walter knew the teller. There was no wink, no nod, no whisper: “Don’t do it, Walter.” In perhaps the biggest betrayal that his family has ever been subjected to, an hour later, at 12 noon, that bank closed, never to open its doors again. It was the Great Depression. The 50,000 bushels of wheat spoiled waiting for the price to go up. It never did. The Dust Bowl rolled over a generation.
Costner’s family, along with thousands of others, left with whatever they could carry, to carve out a new life. Costner said that “California wasn’t always very welcoming back then and making a go of it wasn’t easy if you were an Okie.”
Unfortunately, a recent article in the Journal Record reported that, “More people have moved out of Oklahoma in recent years than have moved in from other states, an indication of better job prospects in other parts of the country.” The first half of that sentence is a fact and the last half of the sentence only paints half the picture.
Low paying jobs area key factor in the outflow of population but other factors include an underfunded educational system; a lack of access to health care, particularly in rural Oklahoma; public policy that is based on trickle-down economics; and an attitude among the state Legislature that hinders anyone from success through hard work.
As Oklahoma approaches the 2020 Census, we would normally say the worst thing that could happen to Oklahoma would be for it to lose another congressional district. Unfortunately, that fear has been displaced by a fear that Oklahoma will continue to block federal health care funds, continue to underfund education and continue to favor wealthy campaign contributors while stepping on the backs of Oklahomans who struggle every day to feed, clothe and educate their families.
Kevin Costner doesn’t just do westerns. He also starred in another one of my favorite films, Field of Dreams. It is about love, and family connections, risks and rewards, and includes a little bit about baseball. One of the immortal lines from that movie was, “If You Build It, They Will Come.”
When will our state realize that if we allow it to be torn down, they will go.
– Chickasha Democrat David Perryman represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House and serves as minority floor leader