BY DAVID PERRYMAN
The old pop box in Hubert and Louise Nicholson’s General Store sat square in the middle of the building. It was accessible to nearly every customer who came to town to trade because nickel bottles of soda were in high demand.
Before my time, Hubert or Bo, the store’s butcher, kept the pop iced down, but in the years predating my memory, an old black electrical line had been dropped from the ceiling to run the metal cooler. Inside the box with a sliding top and bottle opener on the side were what seemed like a hundred different flavors of ice cold soft drinks.
As a little guy, I was a fan of Grapette, Nehi Orange and Dad’s Root Beer. Despite it being around since 1886, Coca-Cola was not on my radar. Then in 1969, not long before I got a job in that same store, stocking among other things, that same pop box, Coca-Cola adopted the slogan, “Coke … It’s the Real Thing.”
Not many years later, after nearly a century of using the same secret recipe, Coca-Cola’s corporate office decided that “the Real Thing” was no longer good enough and attempted to replace it with the sweeter, milder taste of the “New Coke.”
Public outcry was swift and loud; in less than 90 days Coke resumed production of the “real” Coke and ultimately phased out the failed new product that promised “sweeter” rewards.
Oklahoma is at a crossroads. Funding issues have crippled core services. Budgets have been slashed and tax credits are handed out like candy at a parade. Political rhetoric abounds at the State Capitol. No solutions are forthcoming. As a result, Oklahoma and real Oklahomans suffer.
The working poor in Oklahoma have no health insurance. Oklahoma’s Infant Mortality Rate is 25% higher than the national average according to information on the Oklahoma State Department of Health website. Alarmingly, an Oklahoma baby is 61% more likely to die from a birth defect than the average American baby. Those are real babies.
The Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates are dropping and those in Oklahoma who can are doing nothing to offset the lost hospital revenue. Rural hospitals are operating in the red and laying off employees. Those are real people.
Mental health services are lacking and there is no improvement on the horizon. Nate Robson with Oklahoma Watch reported last week that the suicide rate for Oklahomans is 24.9 people per 100,000 residents between 24 and 65 years of age – nearly twice the national rate of 12.7. Those are real citizens.
Males make up 4 out of every 5 suicide deaths in Oklahoma males. Dosomething.org reports that nearly 70% of them are depressed and are not receiving the emotional help they need. Those are real men.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, since 2008, the inflation adjusted per K-12 spending in Oklahoma through 2014 has decreased 22.8%. Our children are lagging farther and farther behind and we blame everyone except those who have the ability to treat our children fairly. Ironically, the other state enjoying an oil boom, North Dakota has increased that same spending by 27.2%. Oklahoma’s kids are just as real as North Dakota’s kids.
National Education Association statistics show that Oklahoma teachers rank 41st in starting pay and 46th in average pay. No wonder well-trained teachers are leaving Oklahoma’s classrooms in droves for better pay in other states. Many who stay in Oklahoma to try to raise their children live below the poverty level and qualify for government assistance. Those are real families.
Corrections officers working undermanned shifts for substandard wages in overcrowded prisons are just the tip of the iceberg. Unprotected and underpaid law enforcement personnel are undertrained because they are on year long waiting lists for CLEET even though state law says that they must be certified within six months of hire. Those are real employees.
When Coca-Cola changed its recipe, people became engaged and let their voices be heard. Today, real families, real kids, real babies and real employees struggle and some don’t make it while thousands of people fail to register and fail to vote and ultimately fail to have their voices heard. How much more important is our future than a soft drink? This is real with real consequences.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives