Editor’s Note: The state’s two largest dailies – whose opinion pages are staunch defenders of an increasingly indefensible statehouse leadership status quo – unsurprisingly endorsed Republican Kevin Stitt for governor. Last June, The Observer published an essay by the Tulsa World’s former editorial page editor, Ken Neal, in support of Democrat Drew Edmondson. The arguments Neal made then are even stronger now, given Stitt’s over-reliance on worn-out GOP talking points about taxes and inefficient government; ignorance of major issues [he didn’t know Oklahoma’s incarceration rate leads the nation?]; and dearth of concrete ideas about how he might help lead the state to a more prosperous future.
BY KEN NEAL
Oklahoma has a $1.2 billion savings fund because of the foresight of one man and now that man wants to be governor. Voters should hasten to the polls to elect him.
He’s Drew Edmondson, who fought to save the tobacco money that legislators and the governor wanted to use in the general budget. The interest earned from the growing fund is used for tobacco cessation programs and health related issues.
That $1.2 billion fund will continue to grow, fed by tobacco companies that continue to profit from an addictive drug that causes death. How big will it get? Tobacco use is declining. Some think smoking will be eliminated by 2050. The fund could reach more than $2 billion, judging from past contributions.
Someday, the battle against smoking will be won. Then, some of the income off the tobacco fund could be pledged to pass a revenue bond issue that bond experts say could reach $1 billion. Oklahoma would have that billion to spend on needs without touching the fund or even all of the income from it.
Edmondson’s work in, first, winning a lawsuit he and other attorneys general filed against Big Tobacco and, then, devising a program to save Oklahoma’s income from that settlement are landmark achievements.
Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust Fund is a sparkling accomplishment in an otherwise financially destitute picture.
It is arguably the single most significant budget accomplishment in state history and the man who brought it about has not been sufficiently recognized.
Frankly, it is a wonderment that Drew Edmondson wants to be governor. Even harder to understand, voters rejected his candidacy eight years ago, ultimately electing the hapless Mary Fallin, who has hastened the decline of an already struggling state.
Edmondson is a Democrat, the legatee of a historically important Oklahoma family. He is the son of a premier congressman, the nephew of a reform-minded governor, and the brother of a Supreme Court justice.
The Edmondson family is dedicated to public service like no other in Oklahoma. Drew Edmondson is a star in the Edmondson galaxy.
In 16 years as attorney general, Edmondson performed with honor. But for the spitefulness of a federal judge, he would have succeeded in a lawsuit to save the Illinois River from polluters. Once again, he was looking to the future welfare of his home state.
Obviously, public service flows in the veins of Drew Edmondson and the Edmondson family.
At a robust 72, Drew Edmondson is set to cap a stellar career with eight years as Oklahoma’s governor, precisely at the time when the state needs a leader with vision. Edmondson has more governmental experience than all the other pretenders in the race.
While the other candidates are racing to pledge fealty to the National Rifle Association and end all controls on guns, Edmondson proposes rational proposals to halt Oklahoma’s financial death spiral.
One doesn’t have to spend time analyzing his plans. His past performance is such that voters should know a Governor Edmondson will perform in the best interests of the state.
He will be a voice of rationality. He will oppose the basest impulses of Legislators while trying to pass legislation to bring Oklahoma out of the morass into which the state has sunk under 12 years of Republican rule.
A politician looks to the next election. A statesman looks to the next generation. Edmondson got the tobacco fund established 20 years ago. Does that make him a statesman? We think so.
– Ken Neal is former editorial page editor of the Tulsa World
Photo: Drew Edmondson speaking at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha.