Sunday, August 15, 2010

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
DON’T IGNORE SOUTHWEST OKLAHOMA!
by Steve Fair
At last week’s regular monthly GOP meeting, Representative Dennis Johnson, (R-Duncan) invited the current sitting Speaker of the House Chris Benge, (R-Tulsa) and the Speaker designate Representative Kris Steele, (R-Shawnee) to attend. They were in the area for a fundraiser for State Representative Ann Coody, (R-Lawton).
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Benge is term-limited, so he is essentially done in November. He is the third Republican Speaker of the House in modern history and ascended to the position when former Speaker Lance Cargill resigned after facing criticism over not paying his taxes on time. Benge isn’t as flamboyant as Cargill or as polished a speaker, but he has led the House in some of the most difficult times in Oklahoma history. From the current budget crisis to organizing the House after Cargill left so abruptly, Benge has proven he has crisis leadership skills. It’s what he didn’t do that is a disappointment.
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While Oklahomans will have eleven State Questions to vote on in November, one of them is not a proposal to reduce the annual five percent property tax increase to three percent. Benge wouldn’t let a Joint Resolution that would have put the issue on the November ballot go to a vote on the House floor. Benge’s reasoning was that he believed it was not the right time because of the current state government budget crisis.
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At Thursday’s meeting Benge was brief and gracious. He talked about the progress the legislature has made on Oklahoma roads and bridges. He talked about the current fiscal condition of Oklahoma and how despite the budget crisis, Oklahoma is not looking to the federal government to ‘bail them out.” But Benge took no questions from the Party faithful. Good thing- I doubt he could have satisfactory explained his actions on the property tax issue to those in attendance.
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Speaker designate Kris Steele graduated from Broken Bow High School and Oklahoma Baptist University. He is an ordained Methodist minister. Steele, 37, can only serve two years as Speaker because he is term limited in 2012. He is articulate and more polished than Benge. When he addressed those in attendance, he talked about health care. Steele was the author of a bill in last year’s legislative session that increased Oklahomans access to affordable, quality health care. Steele’s plan is targeted for small businesses and their employees. Similar programs have been very successful in other states.
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Steele also talked about redistricting. “One of the most important things we will do in the 2011 legislature session is redistricting. We will draw not only the Congressional district lines, but every legislative and county commission line in the state,” Steele said. Redistricting is important. In years past, lines have been drawn to protect incumbents with little common sense used. At one time, Senate District #24 ran from the Red River to OKC, bypassing cities and towns along the way. That has since been corrected, but it is still one of the largest geographic Senate districts in the State.
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Care should be taken to insure that legislature districts are drawn with more thought and logic. Citizens in those districts should have common interests and share common values and concerns. Carving out a district to protect an incumbent sends the message the elected official is more important than the people they represent.
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Steele has appointed a nine-member panel to begin preliminary work on redistricting. There is just one problem- there is no one from Southwest Oklahoma on the panel. The closest geographically is Representative Lisa Billy, (R-Purcell), but no State House member from the SW quadrant of the state is there, so unless Steele rethinks his appointments, it appears the SW quadrant of the state will not be represented on the redistricting panel. That’s unacceptable!
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It was historical to have Speaker Benge and Speaker designate Steele in Stephens County at the same time. They are both good moral, ethical, and honest men. But Oklahoma needs a transformational leader. Steele offers hope, but he can’t ignore our area of the state if he expects to be successful.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Precisely - and it's a similar situation for eastern Oklahoma. Most of the 9 are from an OKC-Stillwater-Tulsa corridor, with a few outside of that box.