BY RICHARD LERBLANCE
After much thought, prayer and intense discussions with my wife, Frances, I have decided that I will not seek re-election for my senate seat in 2012.
This decision is one of the hardest I have had to make in 65 years of living in this great state. I feel that it has been an honor to serve the people of Senate District 7 and I hope that my service for the past 10 years has made an improvement in the lives of my constituents. Although I will not be running for reelection in 2012, I still have the final year of this term that starts Feb. 6 and I have filed 14 bills that I will be sponsoring and hoping to be enacted into law. I am not through yet.
From being a freshman representative for District 17 in 2002 to ending nine years as your state senator I have seen an enormous change in the political arena in Oklahoma as well as the United States. When I was elected to the House of Representatives in 2002 the Democrats were firmly in control of the House, Senate, and most of the statewide offices. However, the past 10 years has seen a huge change in the leadership in the Oklahoma government. The state of Oklahoma has gone from having a few Republicans in the House, Senate and statewide offices to being totally controlled by members of the Republican Party.
Being a lifelong Democrat, I have not and will not give up on believing in and supporting those ideas that have been the backbone of the Democratic Party, being concerned about the individual working man and woman. I feel that with the present leadership, which a majority of Oklahomans wanted, that it is time for me to let someone else be the voice of Senate District 7.
I am proud of the accomplishments that I have sponsored in my 10 years in the Oklahoma Legislature. I feel that I have been a voice that is now being heard about our overcrowded prison population. For so many years, the Legislature has continued to increase the number of crimes and punishment, while not taking care of what this increase in prison population was doing to the Department of Corrections. I previously served as the chairman of the Oklahoma Sentencing Commission and we annually presented statistics to the Legislature of what the increase of crimes and punishment was doing to the DOC. All fell on deaf ears.
Now I have to give credit to Speaker Kris Steele who is now promoting radical changes in what we are doing for the overcrowded prison population. If they would have listened to me the last five years, we would be years ahead of where we are today. We need to be smart on crime and not just tough on crime.
I feel that I have also been a staunch defender of the rights of those that are injured as a result of the negligence of someone. Slowly, the Legislature has limited the ability for those severely injured to collect what they should receive as a result of their injuries being caused by a tortfeasor.
The state of Oklahoma is a great state and I am proud of the people that work for the state. It is a shame that a majority of the Legislature thinks that the state government is too big and needs to be reduced. The majority party wants to reduce the state income tax and some are as bold as to do away with the state income tax. How do we continue to provide the services that are so necessary that you expect to have if we do away with the largest funding source for the state? I have fought to not reduce the state income tax; however, when you are in the minority, you don’t have enough votes to stop this runaway train.
Public education is another area that is rapidly being reshaped. We now have charter schools, public money going to private schools and students that attend school for 12 years not being able to walk across the stage and receive their high school diploma because they did not pass required testing. There is the possibility with virtual schools, that a student might get a high school diploma without ever taking a step inside a school classroom. Our public schools and teachers are being forced to do without and having to improvise in the name of “we are making education better for our students.” I have fought these changes and feel that I was on the right track; however, the train was going the other direction.
Our senior citizens are told they have to take care of themselves. Each year funding is being reduced for our senior nutrition centers and each year a few of us are able to put up enough resistance that we are able to get the nutrition centers funded; however, it has not been easy.
There are so many areas in the state government that the Legislature has control over and it is easy to get locked in on several areas of interest. The above are some of the areas that I have been very vocal about and tried to get meaningful legislation passed that will help not hinder. You know, today in the Oklahoma Legislature, as well as Congress, we have too many that are only concerned about being re-elected and not doing what is good for Oklahoma. Each vote they make is, “what will this do to my re-election campaign?” They are more concerned about getting re-elected than voting for what is good for Oklahoma. I have made this statement before and I will say it again, “we have too many politicians and not enough statesmen in the Legislature.”
While the Democrats were in control of the Oklahoma Senate, I was chairman of the Energy Committee as well as the Judiciary Committee and when the Senate was tied, I was co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee. These were very important committees and as chairman and co-chairman, I was able to mold legislation that I felt was best for Oklahoma and weed out that legislation that was bad. Being in the minority, one does not get to be in a leadership position and sometimes is silenced. [Bills do not get heard].
If all of this seems like I am whining, I am not whining, I am telling it like it is with the current political landscape in the state of Oklahoma. There are those in this district that feel different than I do about several of these issues; however, I feel that with my life experiences, that I have a good feel for what is good and what is not good. And the way the state of Oklahoma is going now is not good. I really believe that in two or three years, with the current leadership in Oklahoma, the people of Oklahoma are going to wake up one day and say, “what happened to my Oklahoma?” I may be wrong, but that is my story and I’m sticking to it.
I feel fortunate to have been elected to the House on the first try in 2002, then elected to the Senate in 2003 for a one-year term, then a four-year terms in 2004 and 2008 which leads me to my decision to run for another term in 2012. If I chose to run, I would only be able to serve for two years, as terms limits would preclude me from serving the remaining two years of my term. I have no doubt that I would be successful in running for another term, but I think that it is in the best interest of my district to not have a special election in 2014 for someone to run for the remaining two years of my term.
I have enjoyed representing the people of House District 17 and Senate District 7 and meeting people all over the district and the state of Oklahoma. I take pride in being able to say that I had a hand in helping this get done or helping this group get what they deserved. To all of the meetings, conferences, gatherings and visits, each one was a special event and I truly enjoyed being present. To the many people and organizations that supported me, I say, “thank you,” and I hope that I fulfilled your expectations.
In closing, I must say, that I could not have done any of this if it was not for the help and support of my wife, Frances. My best friend and confidant.
Thank you for the honor of serving you and remember, I am your senator until November 2012. God Bless each and every one of you.
– The author, a Hartshorne, OK Democrat, represents District 7 in the Oklahoma Senate