Monday, August 14, 2017
Weekly Opinion Editorial
WE ARE OUT OF ROAD
TO KICK THE CAN DOWN!
by Steve Fair
Last week, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the $1.50 per pack cigarette tax the state legislature passed this session is unconstitutional. That was after the state’s lawyer in verbal argument before the court maintained the real objective of the increase on smokes was to keep people from smoking- and he said it with a straight face. Never mind the legislature estimated the increase would generate over $250 million dollars in revenue. If the legislature is serious about stopping smoking, why not make it illegal to smoke?
After getting the news of the court’s ruling, Governor Mary Fallin said, “I am disappointed to hear the Supreme Court struck down the smoking cessation fee, but I certainly respect the justices’ authority. I will be discussing with legislative leaders from both parties the need to address the $215 million shortfall this will create for the Department of Human Services, the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the three agencies that received the bulk of the money that was to be generated by the cessation fee. These agencies and the people they serve cannot sustain the kind of cuts that will occur if we do not find a solution. My belief is we will have to come into special session to address this issue.”
The Senate Pro Tem Mike Schulz, R-Altus, said, “While I disagree, I appreciate the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s quick ruling allowing the governor and the Legislature to immediately address the matter. There are several options available to us, and Senate leadership will continue to work with the governor’s office and the House on deciding the best move forward.”
Speaker of the House Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said, "The tobacco fee for health care was passed in an effort to avoid significant budget cuts. After House Democrats refused time and again to support increased revenue measures, the fee was our only opportunity to balance the budget without deeper cuts. The minority party decided to play games with the budget, and now that opportunity has passed."
If the legislature couldn’t get a budget agreement in the entire regular session, what are the odds they will get one in special session? A special session costs taxpayers about $30,000 per day. Based on what happened during the regular session, this could be a long special session. The failure of legislative leadership to hold the GOP caucus together to reach the 75% margin to raise taxes doesn’t seem to have changed. As McCall said, the Democrats have not cooperated, but GOP leadership can’t blame the Ds when they have super majorities in both chambers.What is likely to happen will be another ‘kick the can down the road,’ budget where all state agencies take across the board cuts. So expect more of the same until we run out of road.
Monday, August 7, 2017
Weekly Opinion Editorial
THE MORE THINGS CHANGE-
THE MORE THEY REMAIN THE SAME!
by Steve Fair
When term limits for state legislators was overwhelmingly passed by Oklahoma voters in September 1990, those who opposed the limits said the loss of ‘institutional knowledge’ would result in a government run by the bureaucrats. Supporters of term limits said that was hogwash and the turnover of lawmakers would result in true citizen legislators. They envisioned Oklahomans who would go to 23rd and Lincoln serve for 12 years and then come back home and go back into the private sector. Both sides were wrong.
First, the ‘institutional knowledge’ that controlled Oklahoma state government before term limits had led the state to the bottom in virtually every economical category, so losing that leadership wasn’t a mistake. Before term limits, the legislature was controlled by a small group that was beholden to no one. State lawmakers served decades and graft, corruption, kickbacks, and bribery was standard operating procedure. That ‘institutional knowledge’ maintained the status quo and grew Oklahoma government to where we had the most state government employees per capita in the United States. We led the nation in the diversion of federal highway funds for other uses- and the list goes on and on. It couldn’t have gotten worse.
Second, along comes term limits and instead of ‘citizen legislators’ replacing the career politicians, like advocates for term limits expected, the ‘clueless’ replaced them. Candidates emerged who had never paid attention to state government and didn’t understand state government got elected. These novice lawmakers relied on leadership to guide them and that leadership grew government. Many of them view the legislative job as a stepping stone to a higher office, or a lifetime government position, exactly like the career politicians terms limits promised to eliminate.
Has legislative term limits been good for Oklahoma? Yes, as a whole. It has allowed some really good people to serve in the legislature that likely wouldn’t have if not for term limits. It has purged the legislature of most of the ‘good ole boy’ network that held us back for nearly a century. But you can’t prove by the numbers that term limits has resulted in better Oklahoma state government. Our economic rankings still remain near the bottom. We still export our most valuable resource- our children- to other states for jobs. We still have too many school districts and far too many regional colleges and tech centers. We haven’t diversified economically and continue to heavily depend on the energy sector. Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a French journalist said, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”
The answer isn't scrapping term limits. The answer is elected people who know something about the issues facing state government BEFORE they get to 23rd and Lincoln. Lawmakers can't be 'learning on the job'- not when they are spending my money.
Monday, July 31, 2017
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
The White House Chief of Staff (COS) is traditionally the highest ranking person in the White House. Their duties include staffing the West Wing, structuring the staff, controlling the flow of people into the Oval Office and in general protecting the interests of the president. They traditionally help the president negotiate with Congress. Most often the COS is the president’s closest advisor. On Friday, White House Chief of Staff Reince Preibus was replaced by President Trump with Secretary of Homeland Security General John Kelly. The average tenure of a COS is just eighteen months. Preibus, the former Chairman of the Republican National Committee, served as Trump’s COS for six months. Four observations:
First, Reince Preibus is an honorable man. He did an outstanding job leading the RNC and ran a fair primary system that Trump won, in spite of his complaining the system was rigged. Preibus raised the money and led the RNC to build campaign infrastructure- called 24/7/365- in swing states that helped Trump prevail in the general election. Preibus’ importance to Trump’s victory in November can’t be overstated. For that reason alone, he didn’t deserve the personal insults and attacks that Anthony Scaramucci leveled against him last week. To his credit Reince never publically criticized the president or got in the mud with Scaramucci.
Second, Preibus was given the COS job to help Trump get his agenda through Congress. That is where he failed. Because Reince is close friends with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, the president expected him to capitalize on that relationship and others he has with members of Congress and help move Trump’s agenda through Congress. That didn’t happen, for a variety of reasons, and none of them Reince Preibus’ fault. He had the relationships and is well respected on the Hill, but the fundamental problem is the inability of the GOP caucus to stick together and the ability of the Democrats to stick together. That is what has created this crazy do-nothing dynamic. It is critical the president find someone to replace Preibus that will ‘hawk his message’ on the Hill and that person isn’t Kelly.
Third, Trump is not looking for a traditional Chief of Staff. Many advisors have his ear, including two family members. Trump’s COS has the unenviable task of trying to maintain conventional order in an unconventional environment. This president doesn’t sit down with key advisors and ask for counsel before he tweets. He fires the gun and then aims, expecting his staff to provide proof texts for his tweets.
Fourth, Trump prefers authoritative leaders and John Kelly fits that bill. He is 67 and a retired 40 year Marine 4 star general. His first request of the president was to ask for him to fire Anthony Scaramucci, who had the Communications Director’s job for eleven days. It appears Kelly has Trump’s ear- something that Preibus had lost.
With the turnover in the White House the last couple of weeks, it reminds you on an episode of Trump on The Apprentice, where he concluded every show with, "You're Fired!"
Monday, July 24, 2017
Weekly Opinion Editorial
WELCOME TO THE NEW REALITY!
by Steve Fair
With the departure of Sean Spicer as White House Press Secretary and Communications Director and the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci, a hard charging former Wall Street executive, it appears President Trump is planning to go even more unconventional in delivering his message to the public. On Saturday, the president tweeted no less than ten times on a variety of subjects. Trump has been vocal of his criticism of the mainstream media, but it appears the new plan is to bypass them altogether. Four observations:
First, the purpose for daily press briefings at the White House is to put their ‘spin’ on what they are doing. Trump is not the first president to use the briefings to defend, deflect and solicit support for his agenda. Every president in modern times used the press briefing as a propaganda tool. Those who say Trump is the first are either ignorant or dishonest. The daily briefing is not required of an administration and Trump may elect to discontinue it.
Second, the press created this credibility situation. It is highly unlikely that Trump would have been effective in cutting out the media if the media had been doing their job. Instead of being journalists, they have been editorialists. The media ‘spins’ every story and that goes for both conservatives and liberals. Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and the rest have become so predictable in how they cover Trump, it’s laughable.
Third, just because Trump is cutting out the middleman, it doesn’t mean the ‘spin’ will stop. The president is always going to present his view as fact. When he tweets out a message, he is ‘spinning’ the facts his way. So long as people understand that. Far too many conservatives treat Trump’s tweets like divine revelation. Blind loyalty to any man- conservative or liberal- is a mistake. As Reagan said, trust, but verify.
Fourth, millennials get their news and information from sources other than mainstream media. Social media, such as texting, tweeting, and Facebook are millennials’ go to source for news. Trump- and Scaramucci- understand that. Scaramucci said, “I have in my pocket a radio studio, a television, and a movie studio.” He’s right. Traditional media is a thing of the past. Anyone with a smart phone can record and report.
The founding fathers understood the importance of a free press. That is why they included it in the first amendment. A free press, by presenting the facts, can be an effective tool to hold government officials accountable to the people. They can help educate and can publicize issues that need attention. The founders understood that. Unfortunately, the modern press has evolved into nothing more than propaganda actors who ‘spin’ the news to fit their worldview. It’s unlikely we will see a return to true professional journalism again. Welcome to the new information age reality where tweeting and spinning are the norm.
Monday, July 17, 2017
Weekly Opinion Editorial
CORRUPTION IN POLITICS?
by Steve Fair
What makes America’s political process corrupt? It is not restricted to just one Party. Both major political Parties have elected officials that lie, cheat and steal to remain in power. Both Parties have been plagued with sex, embezzlement, and bribery scandals. You can’t pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV and not see a report about political scandal. Is America’s political process corrupt? How did it get that way and how do we rectify it?
First, politicians are just like everyone else. They are born with an inherent sin nature and are subject to the same temptations as any other person. To expect an elected official to behave at a higher moral level than the general public just because they are in a position of leadership is foolhardy. Until God does a work of regeneration in any man, they will be a slave to pride and covetousness, the root causes of corruption.
Second, no one is irreplaceable. Too many politicians think of themselves as indispensable. There are too many ‘career’ politicians. Our federal political system rewards seniority. Recently an Oklahoma congressman announced his decision to break a pledge to serve just six years in Congress because in his words (I’m paraphrasing) he was just too valuable to the country to come back home. Think of the pride and arrogance of that statement? It should immediately disqualify the person from public service. The late French president Charles DeGaulle said, ‘the cemeteries of the world are full of indispensable men.” When an elected official (or anyone else) takes themselves so serious that they begin to believe they can’t be replaced, quickly step back away from them. You don’t want to be close when the lightening from heaven strikes.
Third, many elected officials are simply ‘in over their head.’ That means they are either not qualified to do the job or simply can’t cope with the rigors of the job. When unqualified people are elected to office, it provides a seedbed for corruption. How do unqualified people get elected? Politics has evolved from public service to a multi-billion dollar industry composed of consultants and fundraisers, using well executed marketing plans to get candidates elected who are beholden to those who funded their campaigns. The goal then becomes staying in office, not serving the public. The elected official’s staff strokes their ego and tells them how important and vital they are to the country. They begin to believe it and act accordingly.
Until God chooses to move on the heart of unregenerate man and draw them to Christ, we can expect to have corrupt politicians (and citizens). What might make the difference would be for those who are involved in the political process to start living out the gospel in their lives, instead of contradicting it. The hope of America is not the cleaning up of the political process- it is the gospel of Christ.