To Comfort The Afflicted
And Afflict The Comfortable

To Comfort The Afflicted And Afflict The Comfortable

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Observercast

Whiplash Week 2024

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If you look up the word “killjoy” in the dictionary, you’ll find a group photo of this year’s Republican legislative supermajority.

In less than 24 hours last week, these supercilious solons seamlessly swapped cheers for jeers – cheers for rejecting a plutocratic scheme to erect for-sale signs on the state’s highest courts, jeers for voting to curtail The People’s initiative powers.

Then, infamously, they rolled out bigoted, show-me-your papers, anti-immigrant proposals that would make disgraced former Rep. Randy Terrill proud and overwhelmingly approved a bill that effectively criminalizes homelessness.

Call it Whiplash Week 2024.

This trio of stinkers reflects the sort of bad public policies enacted when too many voting-age Oklahomans abdicate their civic duty and sit out elections, turning the voting-booth, decision-making over to ideologues who often show disregard for anybody’s civil liberties but their own.

They’re also the fruit of Oklahoma’s 34-year experiment with term limits. You end up with the three top statehouse leaders – the House Speaker, the Senate President Pro Tem and governor – in position to wield power largely unchecked, since all are in their final terms and no longer have to face voters to keep their jobs.

Think about what these three measures would do. Unhappy that The People successfully deployed their constitutional power to act when their elected leaders wouldn’t, lawmakers now want to impose new obstacles on what already is a nearly impossible initiative petition process. They also want to effectively give Oklahoma law officers the power to demand proof of citizenship from “others” – a frightening echo of a certain “ism” that fueled World War II. And rather than help the homeless get back on their feet, they want to clear the streets of them – out of sight, out of mind.

So riddle me this: How do any of these proposals help workaday Oklahomans? Or ensure that one in four Sooner children are no longer at risk of going to bed hungry? Or lift Oklahoma from its current ranking as America’s worst state for women [see WalletHub’s February research]? Or create an educated workforce for the 21st century?

They don’t. These measures are part power grab, part performative: Legislative leaders – and their deep-pocketed donors – want total control of the public policy agenda. Can’t let the Great Unwashed put things up for a vote; they might pass! By the way, just who are “those” people who don’t speak Okie? And, yeah, get those panhandlers off “my” streets!

In reality, these hold-your-nose measures are meant to disguise our elected elite’s failure to enact serious public policies.

Republicans in Congress, for example, recently rejected one solution: a bipartisan immigration package that Oklahoma U.S. Sen. James Lankford helped craft. Now statehouse leaders – Speaker Charles McCall, Senate President Greg Treat and Gov. Kevin Stitt – and even normally sober Attorney General Gentner Drummond are lockstep behind fining anyone in the state “illegally” $500 and ordering they be out of Dodge within 72 hours. Oklahoma, a 21st century “sundown town.” Imagine that.

Even more disconcerting: the plan would create an OSBI database that could be used … how, exactly?

Want more proof of elected elites failing their voters? The reason rank-and-file Oklahomans petitioned for – and won – statewide votes on criminal justice reform, Medicaid expansion, and medical marijuana is the Legislature refused to take action.

Problems with “squatters” camps and panhandling? Few policymakers in Oklahoma have prioritized affordable housing and improved mental health care.

One silver lining in Whiplash Week was the House’s rejection of Senate Joint Resolution 34, a fix for what isn’t broken – the Judicial Nominating Commission, created in 1967 after three state Supreme Court justices were caught accepting bribes. Since the JNC’s inception? Not a problem.

Of course, dead bills aren’t always dead in a statehouse … where horse-trading often intensifies in the final weeks.

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.