Sunday, January 26, 2014
Weekly Opinion Editorial
LIBERTY & FREEDOM!
by Steve Fair
A recent study conducted by two George Mason University professors on freedom ranked Oklahoma as one of the top five states in the U.S. in overall freedom. The study evaluated the fifty (50) states in three broad categories: Fiscal policy, Regulatory Policy, and Personal Freedom. Using thirty eight (38) sub categories, they complied the results and ranked the states overall. The study has a definite liberal/libertarian slant, but the scholarship and research appears to be fair and in most instances accurate.
The two individuals who conducted the study provide their definition of freedom. They write, “In our view, individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and property as they see fit, so long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. This understanding of freedom follows from the natural-rights liberal thought of John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and Robert Nozick.” The two Profs obviously lean libertarian and in some of the sub categories, they give high scores to liberal states on social issues and low scores to more conservative states, but the study is worth looking at.
In Fiscal Policy, Oklahoma ranks third nationally, down from second in last year’s rankings. Tennessee moved ahead of us this year. Fiscal Policy includes the sub categories of tax burden (we rank second), state government spending and debt. It appears Oklahoma is doing better than other states on government debt and spending, but we are still at least eleven (11) billion dollars in debt in unfunded pension plan liability. Before state leaders start congratulating each other, they should ask themselves the simple question: Should state government be in debt at all? Does our state constitution forbid lawmakers borrowing money without a vote of the people? Should state government be mortgaging our children and grandchildren’s future income? While Oklahoma is doing fine vs. other states, we should heed the admonition of scripture which says comparing ourselves with other states concerning debt- it’s just not wise.
In Regulatory Policy, Oklahoma ranks seventeenth (17), down from twelfth (12) last year. It would appear the study took into account the ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court concerning tort reform. This sub category includes tort policies as well as occupational licensing freedom. Indiana is the state ranked first in this category. Not surprisingly, California is last.
In Personal Freedom, Oklahoma ranks #28, same as last year. Alaska is first, Illinois last. This category includes victimless crime freedom (legalized prostitution/drug use) gun control (conceal/carry), access to gambling, and educational freedom. Good news for homeschoolers- Oklahoma ranks #2 in the country in freedom for homeschoolers. In gambling access, the study ranks the Sooner state at #28. What? I demand a recount. The state did jump four spots from last year.
The index did not include matters that fell squarely within the control of the federal government, such as immigration and homeland security. While those things do affect the experience of freedom in all 50 states, they do not fall within the control of state and local governments.
What the index does show is that Oklahoma is a state that has more liberty comparatively than most other states across the nation, but it does reveal we have opportunities to improve.
President Lincoln said, “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” While Lincoln was talking about the issue slavery, it certainly applies to other areas of freedom. Senator Tom Coburn said essentially the same thing when he announced his intention to resign from the Senate at the conclusion of this year’s session. “I’m going home to live under the laws I supported and opposed while in Congress,” Coburn remarked. He recognized that what he did in Congress impacted every American’s life.
So much of our personal freedom depends on who represents us in the state legislature and Congress. Americans should understand that with every governmental giveaway program, tax, fee, or regulation, a portion of your freedom is sliced away. Vet the candidates who are running this year. There will be many seeking your vote. Make sure the one who earns your vote will stand up for your freedom.
As Patrick Henry famously said, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
To view the study, go to http://freedominthe50states.org/
Monday, January 20, 2014
Weekly Opinion Editorial
BIG SHOES TO FILL!
by Steve Fair
No one is irreplaceable. No one is indispensable. There is always someone who has the ability to do a job as well as the person before them. Occasionally the person who follows a highly effective person will do an even better job than the first person. It is difficult to follow a highly successful person because they have set the bar for success so high. The next junior U.S. Senator from Oklahoma will have a very difficult task following Senator Tom Coburn.
Dr. Tom announced last week he will resign from the US Senate early, due in part to his health. Governor Fallin set the ‘special election’ to fill the remainder of Coburn’s term to coincide with the 2014 primary and general elections in Oklahoma. Congressman James Lankford, (R-OKC) has indicated he will seek the seat. Congressman Tom Cole, (R-Moore), and Attorney General Scott Pruitt have said they will not run for the open seat, but will instead seek reelection to their current posts. Other candidates, both Republicans and Democrats will no doubt get in the race.
Coburn’s legacy in politics is one worth examining. Dr. Tom ran for Congress from a very Democrat congressional district in eastern Oklahoma in 1994. Swept into office with former Congressman J.C. Watts and Steve Largent, these young conservatives became immediately effective within the Republican House caucus; Coburn and Largent, for their challenging of then Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s leadership, and Watts for his ability to formulate and articulate the conservative message. Coburn pledged to only serve 6 years in Congress and kept that promise. In 2000 he came back to Muskogee and resumed his medical practice.
In 2004, former U.S. Senator Don Nickles announced he would not seek reelection after four terms in the Senate. A mad scramble ensued and a ‘passing of the baton’ was attempted by several prominent elected officials. They encouraged the OKGOP to help ‘clear the primary’ for their chosen candidate. Republican grassroots activists persuaded Dr. Coburn to get in the race late and he won the three way primary with 61% of the vote. In 2010, he was re-elected in the general election with 70% of the vote.
Four things I want to point out about Dr. Coburn.
First, Dr. Coburn is a true citizen legislator. He believes the founders of our country never meant for career politicians to run our government. He has always said citizens should consider setting aside their vocation and serving ‘briefly’ in government. He is a consistent voice for term limits. Because he has that mindset, he never thinks about the next election- he’s thinking about the next generation.
Second, Senator Coburn hates wasteful government spending. No one in Congress has been more consistent on fiscal issues than Dr. Tom- and that means no one! He has published his WASTE BOOK for years exposing where our tax dollars have been wasted and misused. He has no sacred cows. His annual Waste Book exposes unbelievable waste in the Defense Department which he dubbed The Department of Everything. He has endured the ridicule of both conservatives and liberals when he has attacked their pet projects. He has stood in the gap for taxpayers when other so-called fiscal conservatives were justifying their so called ‘essential’ projects.
Third, Senator Coburn has been a consistent voice for the unborn. As an OBGYN, he has delivered over 4,000 babies in eastern Oklahoma. He has debated and been an outspoken opponent of abortion on demand. He believes life begins at conception.
Fourth, Dr. Tom is solid in his convictions. That attribute is one that has angered both sides of the political spectrum. Critics of Coburn claim he doesn’t listen to their side of an issue because he already has his mind made up. There is certainly a sense in which that allegation is true. Dr. Coburn is not swayed by popular opinion or polls. He votes his convictions.
Senator Tom Coburn is not just an Oklahoma treasure, but a national treasure. He has been a game changer in the U.S. Senate. The next junior US Senator from Oklahoma has BIG shoes to fill. Tom Coburn comes as close to being irreplaceable as any elected official in my lifetime.
Monday, January 13, 2014
Weekly Opinion Editorial
FAIR VOTE ISN’T FAIR!
by Steve Fair
In 1966, I was in the eighth grade, in Civics class our teacher presented why the founders of America had used the ‘electoral college’ as a mechanism to elect the president. He carefully explained the Electoral College concept was not one of the three original proposals of the founders to elect the POTUS.
The founders rejected having the president selected by Congress or by the state legislatures; because they believed it would have created an oligarchy- a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. They also rejected electing the president by ‘popular vote,’ because they believed the larger more populous States would have too much influence over the government. They referred the issue to a committee of eleven who came up with the Electoral College concept.
The reason they choose this method of indirectly electing the president was for two very important reasons. First, they wanted to reinforce the concept America was a republic and not a pure democracy. By indirectly electing the president, the ‘representative’ form of government became reality. Second, they wanted to give the smaller, less populous States a slightly greater voice, proportionally speaking in their government, which the Electoral College does. For example, California is the largest State in population and their electors represent significantly more population than electors in Wyoming, the smallest State. It was a question of states rights. Individual states were given power, not individual voters, again reinforcing the republic form of government.
The concept seemed to be clear to all of us in the eighth grade civics class and the teacher marveled at the wisdom of the founders. They understood we were the United STATES of America, he said. They rejected what he called ‘mob rule’ or a true democracy. It appears some Americans were asleep in their eighth grade civics class.
The Electoral College has been under attack for years by various groups. Because the concept is not taught like it once was in school, most Americans don’t understand the Electoral College. That has given rise to groups who advocate our abandoning the Electoral College and elect the president by popular vote.
One such group is FairVote, whose Chairman Krist Novoselic is one of the founding members of the rock bank Nirvana. FairVote also wants to establish what they describe as ‘proportional representation’ for electing members of Congress. They want to abolish the congressional district lines and allow Representatives to be elected ‘at large.’ FairVote is holding a conference in Miami Beach this week with six members of the Oklahoma legislature in attendance. If this group can get the attention of legislators from conservative Oklahoma, can a National Popular Vote or Proportional Representation bill in the Sooner state be far behind?
Why should Oklahoma citizens be concerned about FairVote?
First, if the president were elected by popular vote, Oklahoma would lose. We currently get little or no attention in a presidential race, but in the Electoral College, we have a disproportional amount of influence in the process. If the president were elected by popular vote, nominees would only concentrate their efforts on large population centers. If you think Oklahoma is a fly over state now, wait until the president is elected by popular vote.
Second, these concepts are the European model for electing political leaders. Europe has nothing we need in America. Europe has out of control government spending, low worker productivity, citizen discontent and their governments are disintegrating before our very eyes. Wealth redistribution hasn’t worked out in Europe and will not work here. Our founders established a ‘REPUBLIC,’ form of government, far superior to a Democracy. Citizens of Europe would happily exchange their government for ours.
Third, Proportional Representation violates the concept of a representative form of government. The current system requires a Congressman to represent a specific geographic area with a specific population. They must be aware of how issues will impact their specific district. By blurring the lines, a ‘federalist’ mindset is established and government is removed from the intents of our founders. If you think your representatives to the U.S. Congress don’t listen to you now, wait until you go to proportional representation.
FairVote is NOT a fair concept. If left unopposed, it will move America toward federalism. Call your Oklahoma state senators and representatives today and tell them to oppose the National Popular Vote and Proportional Representation proposals.
For more information on FAIRVOTE, go to http://www.fairvote.org/.
Monday, January 6, 2014
Weekly Opinion Editorial
CONSUMERS, NOT COMPANIES PAY TAXES!
by Steve Fair
It goes without saying that Oklahoma as a state is very dependent on the energy sector. The oil and gas business provides thousands of jobs across the state. There is a great deal of drilling and exploration in Oklahoma. Part of the reason is because the state legislature lowered the tax on horizontal drilling to one percent from seven percent to encourage more drilling in the state. The reduction is set to expire in July 2015.
Oklahoma State Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon, (R-Lawton) has announced that he will introduce legislation in the upcoming session to make the one percent tax permanent in order to continue to encourage drilling.
"Some have suggested we should raise this tax or allow it to expire in order to bring more money in to the general fund and grow government," said Speaker Shannon. "But I don't believe in the tax more, spend more approach. The current tax rate on horizontal drilling has been doing exactly what it was designed to do: encourage more drilling in Oklahoma. Therefore, I believe we should make this rate permanent and send the message that Oklahoma is a place that welcomes the oil and gas industry, along with the jobs and economic development they bring to our great state."
Four things to consider:
First, Oklahoma state government is dependent on the energy sector. More than ten percent of the revenue Oklahoma state government receives comes from the oil/gas sector. Last year, that amount was nearly 800 million dollars. Oil and gas, as an industry, contributes more than its fair share to Oklahoma government already. Taxing an industry just because it’s a great source of revenue is short term thinking. Capital is a coward and will go where the business environment is more friendly. Those who think companies will merely pay the tax and more on are foolish.
Second, oil and gas companies don’t pay production taxes; consumers pay taxes. As Steve Forbes often tells his audiences, taxes are a cost, just as paper and laptops are. That means he just passes those costs on to whoever is buying his product. The oil and gas industry just consider taxes a cost of doing business. When government taxes the company, they just take a price increase and the consumer ends up paying more for goods and services. Those who oppose tax cuts either don’t understand simple economics or believe that ‘redistribution’ of wealth leads to economic prosperity. Government can give you no more than they can take away from you, minus a large handling fee.
Third, by its nature, government grows. Government never stops growing. The more revenue that comes in, the more government spends, Thankfully, the Oklahoma state legislature has to ‘balance’ the budget, meaning they can’t spend more than they take in, but consider that Oklahoma government’s budget has grown from 6.6 billion in 2011 to an expected 7.1 billion in 2014-that is under Republican control. While core services can’t be skimped on, you can bet there is plenty of waste in Oklahoma government.
Fourth, we need to find the waste in Oklahoma government. We do that by empowering and funding the State Auditor’s office. Give the Auditor’s office the manpower to find the waste. We know it’s there, but we seem reluctant to actually try to locate it. Oklahoma government should go to a zero-based budget process; where an agency must justify EVERY dime in their budget and not just copy and paste last year’s budget.
Shannon’s proposal is a solid one and the lower tax rate should be made permanent to encourage drilling and exploration in Oklahoma, but even more important is stopping the growth of Oklahoma state government. Unfortunately that will have to be done by stopping the revenue stream to government.