BY DAVID PERRYMAN
At the conclusion of her grand adventure in the Land of Oz, Dorothy made a mature realization that many people never make: “If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”
The speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and his leadership team would be well served to grab a bowl of popcorn and a copy of L. Frank Baum’s 1939 classic, Wizard of Oz for a good old movie night. Instead, for the second time in two years, they have formed committees to “get to the bottom” of a matter through a method that is calculated to control the dialogue and produce a result that will protect their own brand of partisan rhetoric.
This year’s committee has been named the Special Investigative Committee in response to an allegation that the state Health Department had overspent its budget by $30 million. Unfortunately, the Special Investigative Committee appears more akin to Joseph McCarthy’s Committee on Government Operations in the U.S. Senate in 1954 than a committee to truly understand why the Oklahoma State Department of Health cannot adequately provide services to the citizens of Oklahoma with a budget that has been depleted by a decade of legislative cuts.
Because of the ill will of the speaker toward the governor [and the governor’s reciprocity in kind], those two individuals are no longer looking for solutions and instead have turned toward seeking scapegoats and implicating the other.
Oklahoma could ill afford another witch hunt but when the speaker formed this committee and directed that the governor’s staff be subpoenaed, it was apparent that a fiasco in the grand style of McCarthyism was the order of the day. In return, when the governor called a second special session to convene seven days before Christmas with no plan and no hope, the motive was clear.
Unfortunately the wheels are in motion. The committee will meet. The chairman will drag the proceedings out over several sessions and, at the end, the results will be vague and inconclusive.
What will not be announced with clarity is that $30 million is not missing. What will be vague is the fact that federal funds were used on state programs and state funds were used to replace federal funds that had to be paid back because the state Legislature cut matching dollars.
What will not be disclosed is that the director used money from one fund to make payroll and attempted to replace it the next month with revolving fund money that in the meantime had been swept and depleted by the legislature because it was handling money the same way that the director was.
What will not be announced is that the director of the state Health Department did nothing different than the state finance director did when he used cash balances in treasurer funds and moved them around to make the month balance or what he did when he used the Rainy Day Fund without the permission of the Legislature to cover an expense with the “hope” that it would be replenished before the end of the fiscal year.
What will not be announced with clarity is that the only solution is for the state Legislature to take the bold step of restoring recurring revenue that is lacking because it has recklessly and incompetently cut taxes to the point that the state can no longer function.
In the McCarthy hearings, the climax came when Chairman Joseph McCarthy slandered an associate of the Army’s chief counsel, Joseph Welch. Welch fixed McCarthy with a steady glare and declared evenly, “Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness … Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” A stunned McCarthy listened as the packed audience exploded into cheers and applause.
Who in Oklahoma has the courage to tell the governor and the Legislature, “Have you no sense of decency?” The wrongdoing does not lay with agencies that struggle to provide services. The solution is in your own backyard.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House