Saturday, June 15, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
TRANSPARENCY IS CITIZEN’S RESPONSIBILITY!
by Steve Fair
Oklahoma reputation for financial transparency isn’t very good with outside evaluators. They give the Sooner state a grade of D+. Governor Stitt and State Treasurer Randy McDaniel want to change that. Last week, Governor Stitt and McDaniel announced the launch of a website called Oklahoma Checkbook (checkbook.ok.gov) that will provide data on state expenses. The site is a partnership between the governor’s office and the state treasurer’s office. “This really fulfills a campaign promise that we told Oklahomans that we were going to do. We were going to make government more accountable and more transparent. This is a huge step in the right direction,” Stitt said. “Oklahoma Checkbook will shine a light on financial operation of the state and will allow everyone to see where their tax dollars are being spent and that is the right thing to do,” State Treasurer Randy McDaniel said. Oklahoma Checkbook was patterned after similar sites in West Virginia and Ohio.
Oklahoma Checkbook claims they will eventually have online: (1) Payroll information for state employees, (2) Crime statistics, (3) State expenditures on outside vendors, (4) High School and university graduation rates, (5)Rates of health problems like cancer, heart disease and diabetes, (6) State park information, and(7) Air and water quality assessments. They plan to add education (public schools) to the site, allowing parents to see how their schools are spending their money. Three points:
First, Oklahoma state government, through the Office of Management and Enterprise Services, already has a website called Open Books, whose stated purpose is to provide financial information about state government. The new Oklahoma Checkbook has a link to Open Books on their site. What is the difference? Did taxpayers really need to fund another site to provide the same information?
Second, transparency in government is good. Transparency breeds legitimacy. When citizens don’t know what government is doing, it breeds suspicion, apprehension, and skepticism. The promise of transparency is made by every politico in every campaign, but seldom fulfilled. Far too much of what happens in government is unknown to those paying the bills.
Third, government is not made more transparent by consolidating power. The governor, legislature and state wide elected officials seem intent on creating their own audit/transparency mechanism that reports only to them. That lack of collaboration results in duplication and addition cost to taxpayers. Circumventing the duties of the constitutional elected offices reeks of a power grab.
The real responsibility for transparency and accountability from Oklahoma government starts and ends with Oklahoma citizens. Until more average Oklahomans start paying attention to their government, building websites and posting information will have little impact. If the site is used, it may be a game changer for the state, because after all government is spending your money.
Monday, June 10, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
Socialism is defined as a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community (the state) as a whole. Capitalism is an economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners (individuals) for profit, rather than by the state. Because modern education has failed to honestly teach the youth of the United States the difference it now appears that socialism is the economic system most preferred by women ages 18-54. In a recent Axios poll, 55% of the women polled said they would rather live in a socialist country than a capitalist one. The same poll had 40% of the respondents- of all ages and demographics- supporting socialism over capitalism.
First, polls are not always accurate. As the saying goes, “figures lie and liars figure.” Four in ten Americans don’t support socialism. That number is seriously inflated, but the number is higher than 20 years ago and growing. When a self-proclaimed socialist like Bernie Sanders can pack out an 80,000 seat football stadium promising free stuff to young people, America is in trouble. Sanders’ idea of who is going to pay for the free stuff is not plausible. There aren’t enough rich people to pay for all that ‘free’ stuff.
Second, socialism, as an economic system, is not sustainable. Dr. Anne Bradley with the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, says the elimination of supply and demand pricing is how Venezuela got to their impoverished condition. “Eliminating prices and making things free or nearly free is the fastest road to poverty and ruin. Making something free doesn’t make it less scarce. It just means we have to find other ways to finance those free things. Fluctuation in pricing are powerful market signals needed to control supply and demand,” Bradley says. Socialism removes much of the incentive to do more than the next guy. Productivity goes down under a socialist system.
Third, socialism is not American. Our country was founded on individual rights and individual property ownership. In the past 100 years, those rights have been whittled down by an overreaching government, but America is still one of the only places in the world where a hard working person can enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Fourth, socialism is not Biblical. Throughout scripture, God commands people to work, take personal responsibility, and to be good stewards of their material possessions. Laziness is condemned. Hard work and productivity are praised. Early church members sold their possessions and placed them into a common treasury, but it bore no resemblance to modern day socialism. Their motive was the spread of the Gospel.
Socialism has gained a foothold in America due to three factors: (1) Immigrants coming to America from socialist countries, (2) Millennials who believe the American dream is dead, (3) An overreaching government that discourages individual initiative.
Bernie Sanders is not likely to be elected president, but his fiery evangelism for socialism started a grassroots movement that is not likely to be stopped. Conservative capitalists better hope for a preacher with the same passion, otherwise America, as we know it, will be doomed.
Monday, June 3, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
SACRIFICING TRUTH FOR RELEVANCE!
by Steve Fair
Relevant is defined as being closely connected or appropriate to what is being done or considered. People want to be relevant. Organizations want to be relevant. If they aren’t relevant, then they believe they have little or no influence in what is going on. In politics, relevance is coveted like a tiger after a raw steak. People and organizations involved in politics willingly sacrifice their values, convictions, and honor on the altar of relevance. To not be relevant means they can’t effect any change or be involved in policy, but is that true? Three thoughts on relevance:
First, truth should be the ultimate goal, not relevance. Sadly too many people fail because they will either not work with those that disagree with them or they fail to use persuasive skills to convince others of the merits of their argument. When their position is rebuffed, they make themselves irrelevant by isolating themselves and placing themselves on the throne of self-righteousness. They whine instead of engaging. They plead martyrdom. A true warrior doesn’t worry about relevance- they stay focused on the battle. They don’t curse the darkness- they light a candle. General Stonewall Jackson famously said: “The battle is ours-the outcome is Gods’.”
Second, real relevance is derived from years of proven performance. In every election cycle, various political groups pop up advocating for a particular policy. They are often effective for that cycle, but their relevance quickly fades. Their short shelf life relevance appeals to low-information, infrequent voters because they haven’t taken time to study issues. These groups are more about the marketing than meticulousness. True relevance requires years of consistent investment in time, talent and treasure.
Third, who determines relevance in politics? It is not political Party leadership, elected officials, pollsters and big donors that determine who and what is relevant in politics. Voters do. There are so many low information voters in America, relevance in politics has derailed authenticity. If long term change is the true goal, educating voters on policy and their government should be paramount. Teaching citizens about their government and the issues and policies that affect their lives is critical if our country is to survive.
Relevance that effects long term change flows out of tenacious, purposeful, persistent hard work. It is consistent and doesn’t get distracted. It’s not flashy or self-promoting, but it is enthusiastic. It walks the walk. It is rooted in truth. Sadly, few are willing to commit to the battle that ultimately leads to relevance and that is why the US is in the shape it is in. Winston Churchill said, “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” The long term relevant often fail, but they continue the journey. They don’t quit because their goal is truth, not fleeting relevance. Don’t you think it is time you got engaged in your government- for your children and grandchildren’s sake?
Monday, May 27, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
NEW STATE AGENCY NOT NEEDED!
by Steve Fair
Last week, the Oklahoma legislature passed and Governor Stitt signed HB 2765 which appropriated $8.1 billion to state agencies and placed $200 million in savings. The $8.3 billion dollar budget included $157 million for common education(K-12 public schools), with a raise for public school teachers of $1,200 and money earmarked for school district to hire more classroom teachers. State employees got a raise as well (up to $1,300 annually), and $1.7 million was appropriated to create a new state agency called the Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency (LOFT), which is to be a bipartisan committee that would conduct performance audits on state agencies.
First, this is the largest Oklahoma state government budget in history. The first year Republicans took over the legislature (2006), the state budget was $5.95 billion. In just thirteen years, the state budget has increased +28.3%,slightly more than the rate of inflation. Republicans gained control of the legislature by promising to reduce government’s footprint, but the fact is the rate of spending is no different than the Democrats. Tax revenue is at an all-time high- under Republican control. Sir Winston Churchill said a government that tries to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle. It’s like a poor person trying to spend their way to wealth. It will not work.
Second, why do we need another state agency to conduct performance audits on state agencies? Isn’t that the job of the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector’s office? Instead of funding the constitutionally created Auditor’s office to conduct performance audits, the legislature creates an agency that will report directly to them? This doesn’t make sense- or maybe it does. If the issue is about accountability, creating a new state agency is hypocritical. No one is more accountable than an elected official and the elected official in Oklahoma who is charged with auditing is the State Auditor’s office, not the legislature. Audits shouldn’t be political and controlled by politicians. Performance audits should be done on every entity that gets a dime of state tax dollars and it should be done by someone accountable to Oklahoma taxpayers- the State Auditor and Inspector.
Third, expect Oklahoma public school student test scores to significantly improve in the coming years. With the investment and commitment Oklahoma taxpayers are making in common education, public schools are under pressure to perform. For years, common education leaders have said if Oklahoma classroom teachers were paid at the regional average, student test scores would improve to the regional average. The investment has been made- now it’s time for education to deliver results.
The legislature adjourned on Friday Sine Die (Latin meaning no set day to return), a week before the law prescribes they had to adjourn. Many observers gave the legislature and the newly elected governor high marks for getting done early and agreeing on a budget. But spending more money because you have more money because you passed historic tax increases last year isn’t the way to turn around Oklahoma- it’s a way to continue down the same path.
Monday, May 20, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
THE GREAT DIVIDE!
by Steve Fair
The 2020 Democrat race for the presidential nomination has drawn 23 candidates. Former Vice President Joe Biden, seven US current Senators, six current and former members of the House of Representatives, four mayors, three governors, one businessman, and one self-help author are in the race. In recent polling, Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders are tied in Iowa- the first state to kick off presidential primaries. Of the 615 likely caucus-goers in Iowa, Sanders and Biden had 24%, followed by Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 14%, Senator Elizabeth Warren at 12%, Senator Kamala Harris at 10% and Beto O’Rouke at 5%. Second choices are very important in Iowa because a candidate must get 15% to get delegates to the national convention. Warren is the second choice of 19% of those polled followed by Biden, Harris and Sanders. A third of Warren’s second choice supporters list Sanders as their first choice. In the Real Clear Politics average national poll, Biden leads Sanders 39% to 16%. In a projected matchup against President Trump, the former VP bests him 42% to 36%, but the only poll that matters is the one on November 3, 2020.
Last week at a campaign rally, Joe Biden said anger is ripping the country apart and the Democrat nominee needed to help unified the country. He described President Trump as the Divider-in Chief, who inherited a good economy and doesn’t understand the role of government. He criticized his primary opponents for promoting disunity and fueling anger. Clearly Biden’s strategy is to appeal to the more moderate Democrats and concede the radical left to Sanders while making himself acceptable to them if he gets the nomination. Two thoughts:
First, Biden is right about anger ripping America apart. Confrontation, contention, and strife rein in politics. Civil discourse is all but dead. Disagreement and differing opinions are not tolerated. Respect for the other person’s right to express their first amendment rights is ignored. The extreme wings- in both Parties- have created a toxic environment where little gets done but self-promoting banter. While Biden may have re-branded himself as the ‘cool head in the room’, he was the Vice President in the most partisan administration in American history, which fueled much of the cultural divide we see today.
Second, America has changed. We are not the country of just 50 years ago. We have deliberately shifted from Judeo-Christian ethics, which recognizes the Creator from which we derive our rights, to a focus on personal individual rights, liberty, and freedom. Americans not only want the government to leave them alone, but the Creator as well. And it appears He has. Interest in the things of God is at an all-time low in America. The depravity of man’s sin nature is on full display.The only thing that will cool the anger in America is the gospel of Christ. Until God regenerates individual Americans, the divide will continue to grow. Christians should spend more time lobbying Him to have mercy on our country and less time arguing with those who are unregenerate
Monday, May 13, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
Governor Kevin Stitt has nominated Estella Hernandez and Jennifer Monies to serve on the Oklahoma state school board. The nominations require Senate confirmation.
Mrs. Hernandez was brought to the United States from El Salvador by her mother when she was six years old because her mom was escaping a civil war and wanted a better life for herself and her children. Estela became a U.S. naturalized citizen at age 18 as soon as it was legal to do so. She still attends the monthly nationalization ceremonies at the federal courthouse in OKC where she helps register the new citizens to vote. She and her husband Zeke have two daughters and one son. She is a licensed realtor and she and her husband run a construction company. Hernadez is a former Vice Chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party, spokesperson for Mundo Fox- Oklahoma City and briefly worked for conservative think-tank Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs(OCPA).
Mrs. Monies lives in OKC and has two children. She is an award winning journalist who has worked for Congressional Quarterly and The Oklahoman. She served as press and policy advisor for the Oklahoma state House of Representatives, and ran an education nonprofit organization. She now works for Saxum, an OKC based Public Affairs Company.
Traditionally, the senator from the nominee’s district carry/present the nominations to the Senate. It is more of a formality than a necessity, and in the past even those from opposing political Parties carried their constituent’s nomination to the body. But last week that changed. Senate Carrie Hicks, (D-OKC) announced that she will not carry Hernandez and Monies’ nominations because she says they support school choice(vouchers) and local school board control. “Both pretty well indicated that they would use the power the state Legislature has entrusted into them to override those local school board decisions. That’s just a disagreement that I can’t support,” Hicks said. Hicks’ refusal to carry the nominations doesn’t kill them, but her state reasons for not doing it bring up some interesting questions:
First, what is wrong with school choice? Why is Oklahoma public education so afraid of competition? If they believe they are doing a good job, then why oppose a parent’s right to choose to take their tax money and spend it as they please on their child’s education? Good schools don’t require compulsory tax support and bad ones don’t deserve it.
Second, what is wrong with local school board control? Local schools should have the flexibility to adapt. Centralized mandates on education from ivory towers haven’t resulted in Oklahoma’s common ed producing better results. Expanding local control of education should be something every Oklahoman supports.
Senator Hicks is one of only nine Democrats in the Senate and her unwillingness to carry the nominations will not likely result in two qualified nominees not being confirmed. But as a former classroom teacher, Hicks should recognize what Oklahoma has been doing in common education is not working and embrace new ideas from qualified citizens. Contact your state senator and encourage them to support the nomination of both these state school board nominees.
Monday, May 6, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
LEGISLATURE WINDING DOWN SESSION!
by Steve Fair
The Oklahoma legislature is winding down the 2019 session. By law, lawmakers are required to complete the 2019 regular session by May 31st at 5pm. They have yet to pass a budget, but that is normal. Traditionally that has been one of the last things they get hammered out. With the Senate, the House and the Governor all having their versions of a budget, a ‘meetings of the minds’ must take place before success is achieved. They have also not agreed on whether to give a $1,200 pay raise to classroom teachers or to adjust the common education funding formula letting local school districts determine if they want to fund staff or use for other purposes. There is also a proposal to expand Medicaid in the Sooner state, mirrored after a similar program in Arkansas and several other states. Critics, including conservative think tank OCPA, claim Medicaid expansion in those states has been a failure.
While efficiency and cooperation between the governor and the legislature was much improved this session, Governor Stitt did veto several bills sent to his desk this year; They include one that would have allowed professional hunting and fishing guides on state owned land, another would have allowed overtime pay for state employees, one involved police and fire unions, and a common education bill changing how expenses could be classified. They joined the first bill Stitt vetoed, which would have created a task force for home health recipients. It does not appear the legislature will attempt to overturn any of the bills vetoed by Governor Stitt.
Oklahoma government budget will be the largest in state history. No matter which version is agreed upon, this budget will be historical. That is primarily due to increased revenue coming into state coffers from the record tax increases passed last year. Some legislators are lobbying to place a significant amount of the increased revenue into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, others favor spending it. As one Republican lawmaker said, “it’s not a matter of if Oklahoma government will experience a downturn, it’s a matter of when.” The legislature should fully fund the Rainy Day Fund.
Criminal justice reform is another hot topic being debated in the legislature. After the changes brought about when SQ #780 and #781 were approved by voters in 2016, many crimes that were formerly felonies are now misdemeanors. After being shamed by do-gooders embarrassed by Oklahoma’s incarnation rates, voters went to the polls and voted de-criminalize and reclassify many crimes. It’s no wonder the state’s DAs and law enforcement community are up in arms. Releasing criminals early is bad enough, but when crime is decriminalized, honest citizens are placed in harm’s way. Lowering the incarnation rate in Oklahoma is a great goal, but de-criminalizing and reclassifying crime is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. Oklahoma’s reputation should be; ‘you do the crime-you do the time.’
On Saturday May 18th, the SCGOP will hold their 15th annual Fish Fry at the SC Fairgrounds. This year’s keynote speaker is Governor Kevin Stitt. This event has become the single largest gathering of Republicans in the state each year outside a state GOP convention. Email email@example.com for information.