Monday, February 27, 2012

BAN TAXPAYER FUNDED LOBBYISTS!
by Steve Fair


Lobbying is defined as ‘the process of influencing public and government policy at all levels: federal, state, and local.’ Lobbying involves the advocacy of an interest that is affected, actually or potentially, by the decisions of government leaders. Individuals and interest groups alike can and do lobby government. When an individual citizens calls an elected representative to express their opinion on an issue or bill, they are ‘lobbying.’

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Some individuals and organizations form associations and contract with lobbying firms to advocate for their group with state and federal elected officials. The lobbyist for those groups represent a myriad of different causes from business to union workers. These hired guns often attempt to influence lawmakers votes and decisions with tinker toys, balloons and cotton candy. Actually it’s more like Thunder tickets, fancy dinners, and gifts. According to the latest information from the Oklahoma Ethics commission registered lobbyists spent over $12,000 between July and December on state legislators and the Oklahoma legislature wasn’t even in session.

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According to the Oklahoma State Ethics Commission, there were 331 registered lobbyists in Oklahoma in 2011. Nearly 25% of the registered lobbyists (79) represented 54 state funded entities. That’s right- Oklahoma taxpayers/citizens are paying lobbyists to convince the state legislature to give state agencies more taxpayer money.
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Senator Anthony Sykes, (R-Moore) has been railing about taxpayer funded lobbyists since he was elected in 2006. Sykes says, "I was just totally shocked that public tax dollars were being used to basically grow government. It's the machine feeding itself and the irony is, it's tax dollars being used to do it.” Sykes has vowed to introduce a bill to stop the practice in Oklahoma. "If the public knew about it, things might change," Sykes said. "For a couple of years that was one of my main issues ... I ran into a brick wall when it came to trying to either ban or make it transparent."
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First, all ‘lobbying’ is not bad. Every citizen should be their own lobbyist on issues they are passionate about. Lobbyists for private sector associations represent people who often can not come to the Capitol in person and lobby their legislator on an issue. Those lobbyists have a place in the political process. They supply valuable information to lawmakers on issues. It’s when paid lobbyists begin to utilize gifts and campaign donation to gain access to a lawmaker that they cross the line. It is when legislators begin to listen to lobbyists more than their constituents because of the gift/relationship/friendship when it gets off the rails.
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Second, state lawmakers should recognize there is no such thing as a free lunch. That term “free lunch” relates back to the once-common tradition of saloons and bars in the United States providing a “free lunch” to patrons who had purchased at least one drink. All the foods they offered were high in salt (e.g. ham, cheese and salted crackers) so those who ate them ended up buying a lot of beer, which they had marked up to pay for the ‘free lunch.’ When a lobbyist buys a ticket, a drink, a meal or leaves a box of chocolates with an elected official, they are expecting a ‘return on their investment.’ They have to pay for lunch in some manner. Any lobbyist or legislator who denies there are no strings to a lobbyist’s gifts is either lying or na├»ve. The lobbyist may only expect access to the legislator, but they expect something and at some point they have to collect.
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Third, taxpayer funded lobbyists should be banned in Oklahoma. For a state agency or university to spend Oklahoma taxpayer dollars to lobby for more of our money is ridiculous. Most Oklahoma state agencies have on staff a ‘legislative liaison’ whose primary job is to advocate on behalf of the agency with the state legislators. That may include lobbying for more money or it may be to work with lawmakers on bills that might improve the efficiency of the agency. These ‘liaisons’ are not required to register as a lobbyist with the Ethics Commission. But in addition to their liaisons, several Oklahoma state agencies hire contract lobbyists with taxpayer dollars to get more taxpayer dollars out of the legislature.

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Senator Sykes plans to offer another proposal to ban taxpayer funded lobbyists at the State Capitol. It is past time for other lawmakers to recognize that allowing state government to lobby itself for more money is not a good spend of taxpayer dollars.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

After much thought and prayer, I am pleased to announce my candidacy for Oklahoma Republican National Committeeman. I have served as Stephens County(Duncan) Republican Chairman for almost twenty years and 4th district Chairman for 10 years. I have served on the State GOP Executive Committee, Budget Committee, and as State GOP Treasurer. I have been a National Delegate to the past two National Conventions.
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My platform is simple- we need a solid lasting foundation in the Oklahoma Republican Party that stays engaged. That can only be done by building our local COUNTY GOP organizations.
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All too often, the focus is on national and statewide races, but true change in our government comes from the bottom up. We must have a solid foundation. In order to leave a lasting legacy, we need a vital functioning COUNTY organization in every county in Oklahoma. I pledge to help build that infrastructure by aiding in fundraising, training and organization.
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The second tenet of my platform is I pledge to help keep Republican activists engaged in the process- all the time! We need fundraising events, educational events, and Party building events in County GOP organizations every year. Those events should attract crowds and harness energy that is needed to build a lasting organization that will change government for the better.
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The election for the Republican National Committeeman will take place in Norman at the Oklahoma State Republican Convention on Saturday May 19, 2012, In order to vote, you must be a credentialed delegate to the state convention.
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I look forward to visiting with you soon at your county or district convention. If you have questions, please let me know. You can email me at okgop@aol.com or call me at 405.990.7449

Monday, February 20, 2012

Weekly Opinion Editorial



LIFE BEGINS AT CONCEPTION!
by Steve Fair






According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly one half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended and forty percent of those pregnancies are terminated by abortion. Guttmacher also says over 1.21 million abortions are performed in America each year.
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Last Wednesday, the Oklahoma State Senate passed Senate Bill #1433 known as ‘The Personhood Act.” The Pro-life bill was the first of the 2012 session to pass the upper chamber. The floor vote was 34-8 with several Democrats joining Republicans to define that life begins at conception and to grant the same rights to the unborn as to those outside the womb. The bill now goes to the State House, where it faces almost certain passage.



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Senator Brian Crain, (R-Tulsa) and author of the bill said, “The unborn have no voice of their own. We must be the voice of the unborn. This bill will take us to the very limit of what the U.S. Supreme Court has deemed to be constitutional.”



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Senate Pro Temp Brian Bingman, (R-Sapaula), said "With this vote the Senate made a loud and clear statement—we believe life begins at conception. We believe in protecting the unborn. Oklahoma is a conservative pro-life state—we are proud to stand up for what we know is right. This bill is one of many Senate Republicans have advanced which affirms the right to life and I am proud to support it."
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It is amazing how far Oklahoma has come in just a decade. Ten years ago, the Democrat controlled Senate would not allow any pro-life bill to get past the Health/Human Resources committee and to the floor for a vote. State Senator Bernest Cain, (R-OKC), who served as Chair of the committee, was the point person to block pro-life legislation. Cain was very successful until Republican took over the upper chamber in 2006. After Oklahoma voters imposed term limits on the legislature, Cain, not to be confused with Crain, was termed out and a new day dawned for the unborn in Oklahoma.



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Personhood’ amendments are relatively new to the political scene. The one that received the most national press coverage was in Mississippi. SQ #26 would have banned virtually all abortions, including those resulting from rape or incest in Mississippi. It would also have barred some birth control methods, including IUDs and “morning-after pills,” which prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. SQ#26 was defeated 58% to 42%.
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Why did a strong conservative, pro-life state like Mississippi vote down the ‘Personhood’ amendment? The primary reason was the pro-choice opposition to the amendment flat out lied about what the amendment did. If one is willing to cheat to win, they have a definitive advantage over principled opposition.



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The second reason was the issue of stem cell research and contraception clouded the overall issue of the ‘Personhood’ amendment. That fuzziness allowed pro-choicers to talk about ‘unintended consequences,’ and planted doubt in voter’s minds.
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Third, the pro-abortion crowd changed their tactics and strategy. Many pro-choicers now condemn the practice of abortion, but say it should be legal because the issue is one of personal choice, constitutional rights and personal liberty. Harnessing themselves to an emerging ‘libertarian’ movement, the pro-choice movement has gotten gained new allies and traction and that was manifest in Mississippi.
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The battle over abortion is one that never ends, mainly because the two major Parties differ greatly on this issue. The national Republican Party platform has this to say about abortion: “As a country, we must keep our pledge to the first guarantee of the Declaration of Independence. That is why we say the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation to make it clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.”
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The national Democrat platform states: “Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a woman’s right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right. At the same time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.”
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Note the stark contrast- Republicans are clearly pro-life- Democrats pro-choice. As the battle for the rights of the unborn continues, Oklahoma state legislators are right to legally define when life begins. If they do not stand up for the unborn, who will? Please share these platform planks with your pro-life Democrat friends and family. It's time they aligned with the Party that stands up for the unborn.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Weekly Opinion Editorial

PUT RECORDS ON THE WEB!
by Steve Fair


Oklahoma’s Open Records Act was passed in 1977 and signed into law by then Governor David Boren. It states, “The people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government. The purpose of this act is to ensure and facilitate the public’s right of access to and review of government records so they may efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power.”

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To comply with the Open Records Act, Oklahoma law requires all public bodies to designate a ‘public records official.’ Records requests are then directed towards the official records custodian of the department in possession of the records. The law does not require a statement of purpose for a records request. However, if the purpose is commercial, there is a charge for document collection. There is, however, no restriction on the use of public records, once received. The law does not specify a response time.

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The reality is that anyone who wants to access an Oklahoma public record had to go to a lot of trouble. They are currently required to go to the agency and often are met with resistance by bureaucrats who question why a person wants a document. The intimidation factor often discourages citizens from making requests. The legislature is considering a way to fix that.
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Representative Josh Cockroft, (R-Tecumseh) is the author of House Bill #2379, which was approved unanimously last week in the House Government Modernization Committee. It now goes to the House floor for consideration. Cockroft’s bill would authorize Alex Pettit, Oklahoma's first Chief Information Officer, to create and maintain a website where the public would make open records requests. The CIO would then make the requested documents available at another site.

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“This legislation would make filing open record requests more straightforward,” said Cockroft (R-Tecumseh). “My bill would cut through the bureaucracy. Our goal is to make state government as transparent as we can.”

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According to the Pew Charitable Trust Center of the States, a conservative think tank founded by Sun Oil company heir Joseph Pew, technology has given citizens a unique opportunity for access to public records. They write, “In today’s world, the Internet makes it possible for states to provide citizens with easy access to information. Creating a transparent government helps to overcome the inherent mistrust that people have of their government. In particular, a transparent government means that citizens can easily find information about how their money is being spent and whether their money is being spent effectively,”

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Three thoughts on Cockroft’s proposal:

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First, making it easier for citizens to access Open Records online will increase transparency in Oklahoma government and that is a good thing. Lou Gerstner of IBM said, “All too often people do what is inspected, not what is expected.” Citizens should have the right to check up on their own government without fear of being harassed or questioned by bureaucrats when they make an Open Records request.

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Second, an amendment to the bill needs to be added that would require a government agency comply with the request in a reasonable timeframe- perhaps ten working days. The current law allows records requests to be delayed for months. It is not unreasonable to expect the request be handled in a timely way.

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Third, technology has given us access to almost instant access to information that in years past took hours to research. Education, industry, entertainment, and recreation have embraced it, but government has been resistant to moving into the twenty first century- perhaps because they don’t want true transparency. The Open Records Act says Oklahomans should be able to “efficiently and intelligently exercise their inherent political power by accessing public records.”
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Why do some in government oppose Open Records and transparency? Their critics say it’s because they are crooks and cheats, but that is not always the case. Some elected officials and bureaucrats resist because they don’t want to deal with a multitude of questions on how they conduct their legitimate activities. They believe having to comply with records requests distracts from their primary responsibilities and reduces productivity in their offices. That may be true, but working in government requires people who understand the citizens have an inherent right to know what is going on in their government.

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This bill should be passed by both chambers and signed into law- it’s good for Oklahoma.
Commentary for Sooner Poll

THE DEVIL WE KNOW!
by Steve Fair


According to a poll taken by Sooner Poll http://soonerpoll.com/ in late November/early December, Oklahomans favor a flat tax over the current state personal income tax system. Nearly sixty percent of likely voters polled said they preferred just one marginal rate. Voters registered Republican preferred simplifying the system over those registered Democrat and Independent.

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The state income tax has been at the forefront of Governor Fallin and the Oklahoma Republican legislature agenda for the upcoming 2012 session. They want to eliminate the state income tax over an extended period of time- something like 10 years. They claim by letting Oklahoma private citizens keep that money, it will grow the tax base and revenue to Oklahoma state government would not suffer. Much of their conclusions are based on the ‘Laffer curve’ and economic projections from the Oklahoma conservative think tank- OCPA.

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First, I am not against reforming or even elimination of the Oklahoma state personal income tax. However, the Governor and the legislature should use this opportunity to take a two pronged approach. Phase out the income tax and trim government by the same amount. Deal with both sides of the ledger. We know Oklahoma has too many state employees. Make strategic surgical cuts to Oklahoma government- not across the board cuts. Some state agencies need more funding, some need to be cut back or eliminated.

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Second, the talk of a Flat Tax implies the Oklahoma personal income tax is not going away, but is just going to be reformed. A flat tax is a far better and fairer system of taxation than any other. Everyone pays the same percentage, so as your income increases you pay the same percentage. If that system (the tithe) is good enough for a sovereign creator, it should be good enough for Oklahoma state government. But going to a Flat Tax is not what the Governor and legislature are talking about- they are talking about phasing out the state income tax completely.


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Third, currently Oklahoma’s personal income tax system is unfair, but we know it exists- it’s the devil we know. When Oklahoma state government starts talking about eliminating the income tax- over twenty percent of state government’s income stream- it causes me to worry about where they plan to make up the shortfall if the Laffer curve projections fail. I believe in supply side economics and the projections may come to past, but if they don’t where will they hide the taxes and fees to make up the shortfall?

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Until I see the details, I am skeptical of revamping, reforming, eliminating the state income tax. Oklahoma Republican leaders should not miss a golden opportunity to put forward a ten year plan to streamline Oklahoma government and reduce taxation at the same time.

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This op/ed was written for Sooner Poll. The opinions do not necessarily reflect Sooner Poll's staff and ownership's opinion- it is only the opinion of Steve Fair. The results of polling of Oklahoma's income tax and several other timely issues, go to http://soonerpoll.com/

Monday, February 6, 2012

Weekly Opinion Editorial

NEITHER MAN NOR BEAST IS SAFE!
by Steve Fair


The Oklahoma legislature is back in session. The 2012 state legislative session started Monday. Governor Fallin delivered her ‘State of the State’ address which includes a plan to eliminate the state income tax and streamline Oklahoma government. If successfully implemented and executed, elimination of the income tax would move the state forward and attract industry and jobs to Oklahoma. But if projections are wrong, then it could be a complete disaster for Oklahoma government. The legislature should proceed with caution when considering the elimination of a large part of the state government revenue stream until the details are clear.
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Stephens County now has five state lawmakers representing county residents at the State Capitol- up from four. Senator Anthony Sykes, (R-Moore), Senator Don Barrington, (R-Lawton), Representative Dennis Johnson, (R-Duncan), Representative Corey Holland, (R-Marlow), and Representative Joe Dorman, (D-Rush Springs). Dorman now represents the western edge of Stephens County and Barrington has a much larger piece of the county than before. The job of an Oklahoma legislator is to represent their constituency in an honest, principled manner. They should be accessible and listen to those they represent. The job of an Oklahoma citizen/voter is to know their legislator, what they stand for and to express their views on issues in a civil manner.
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Here are seven suggestions for the 2012 Oklahoma legislature:
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First, get the transferable tax credit situation under control. That includes not only the elimination of many that have been abused, but those that are not eliminated should be within the scope of an audit. That will involve expanding the role of the State Auditor’s office, but taxpayers must have the oversight to insure we aren’t being cheated.
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Second, fix DHS. With the retirement of former State Senator Howard Hedrick as Director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services, the entire agency should be revamped and reorganized. DHS is the state’s largest agency and no doubt has some government waste. There will be no better time than the present to streamline it and make it more efficient.
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Third, require welfare recipients to be subject to random drug testing. Last year, several bills were filed, but none made into law. According to a study by the University of Michigan, almost twenty percent of welfare recipients report recent use of some illicit drug. If someone wants help from Oklahoma taxpayers, they should be willing to stay off illegal drugs.
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Fourth, be cautious when allowing state agencies to float bonds for capital improvements. Bonds are just another word for ‘debt.’ Some state buildings, including the Capitol, need work, but lawmakers need to be very cautious before they let taxpayers get on the hook for a long term mortgage.
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Fifth, fold the Turnpike Authority into the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. Several bills are filed each session, but never make to the Governor’s desk. With Republicans in control of the legislature and the Governor’s office, this should sail through the chambers and get signed into law early in the session. We will see if the campaign rhetoric matches action.
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Sixth, pass a bill that would require the County Board of Commissioners to call a special election within 90 days of the death, resignation, or retirement of any county elected official. This ‘passing the baton’ to the next top aide reeks of good old boy politics. Voters should have a say in who represents them in county offices. This practice goes on throughout the state and should be stopped.
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Seventh, pass House Joint Resolution 1076 authored by Representative Corey Holland, (R-Marlow) that will force retiring Oklahoma legislators to wait for two years before they can go to work in state government. That two year moratorium is already in place, but both former Republican and Democrat state legislators have found a way around it by asking for an Attorney General’s opinion. Holland’s proposal would close the AG loophole.
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Between now and the end of May, the legislature will consider hundreds of bills. Many of them will impact your life and your wallet. Pay attention to what is going on at the Oklahoma State Capitol. Democrat and Oklahoma favorite son, Will Rogers said it best; “When the Oklahoma legislature is in session, neither man nor beast is safe.”