Monday, December 28, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
by Steve Fair

Oklahoma citizens may have lost out economically last week because our two United States Senators have integrity. Neither Senators Jim Inhofe nor Tom Coburn were willing to sell their vote on the health care bill in exchange for preferential treatment for their constituents. That was not the case with several of their Democrat colleagues.
Rest assured, there will be short sighted people in the Sooner state who will criticize Coburn and Inhofe for failing to ‘bring home the bacon’ like the more aggressive, less principled lawmakers who were willing to sell their vote. But until Congress is full of people who are looking out for the average guy, American citizens are the long-term losers in these ‘vote auctions’ the Democrats are conducting.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid,( D-NV) secured the 60th vote – that of Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson -- for promising $100 million in Medicaid assistance for the Cornhusker state. In effect, the other 49 states will subsidize Nebraska. Previously, Reid made a $600 million deal for Vermont, a $500 million boondoggle for Massachusetts, and Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, (D-LA) committed her vote for $300 million. In addition, Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, (D-CT) has reportedly received $100 Million in the health care bill to build a hospital at the University of Connecticut.
Nelson’s actions will not just impact Nebraska, but all states. Oklahoma State Senate Pro Tem Glenn Coffee said, “Oklahoma taxpayers – and citizens of Texas, Arkansas, Kansas and other states will pay in multiple ways for years to come for Harry Reid’s outrageous Christmas gifts to his fellow Democrat senators,” Coffee said. “The favoring of one state and its Senator at the expense of other states and their taxpayers is unjust.”
Nelson’s ‘deal’ is not likely to stand up to Constitutional scrutiny. U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham, (R-SC) said, “Legally, I think other states can make a constitutional challenge. Instead of negotiating in public, there was a back-room deal. One state cannot have a different plan than the other forty-nine. I think Nelson sold his vote for nothing.”
Whether the deal stands up or not, the point is no deal should have been made. Senators should not be auctioning off their vote to the highest bidder. With an economy on the verge of collapse, a national debt that has grown by twenty five percent the last year and a weak dollar, America needs political leaders with the courage and wherewithal to say no to earmarks and bribes. Abramoff is serving time for bribing elected officials with private money, but Reid is using our money to accomplish much the same thing.
When Senator Coburn said about the upcoming vote, "What the American people ought to pray is that somebody can't make the vote tonight. That's what they ought to pray," the liberals went nuts!
They accused Coburn of wanting Senator Robert Byrd, (D-WV) to die. The ninty three year old Byrd has to be wheeled into the Senate chamber to cast his votes. Known as the ‘king of pork’ in Congress, Byrd has never excercised fiscal restrainst in his fifty plus year political career. Coburn never mentioned Byrd by name during his floor speech, but Democrat Senator Dick Durbin, (D-Illinois) took issue with Coburn’s remarks saying, "I don't think it's appropriate to be invoking prayer to wish misfortune on a colleague. I've tried to reach out to him. He is my friend and I have worked with him but this statement goes too far. The simple reality is this: we are becoming more coarse and more divided here."
Who is really who is at fault because of this ‘coarse and divided’ enviroment? Is it the Republicans who have not been given any imput into ‘the most important piece of legislation since Social Security.’ The Democrats have not allowed any meaningful debate or discussion on this bill and some even admit they are unsure what is in it.
The impact of the federal health care bill on the Oklahoma state budget could be catastrophic according to State Senate Pro-Temp Coffee. “While Harry Reid sells his soul and financial indulgences for the votes of his fellow Democrat senators this Christmas season, all he will leave for Oklahoma taxpayers will be a multi-year, multi-million dollar lump of coal, and a cumbersome, unaffordable system that will disenfranchise more citizens than it will help,” Coffee said. “This is the ultimate Dirty Santa gift that we can’t pass off to someone else.”
“Aside from the obvious bad policy that is being foisted on an unwilling American public, the financial realities of this Christmas catastrophe are unconscionable,” Coffee continued. “And the right-thinking, responsible folks here in Oklahoma are helpless to stop it.“We can only hope some sort of sense will overtake those leading the charge to push this disaster on the public, and that Oklahomans – Democrats and Republicans alike – will make their voices heard in Washington,” Coffee added. “We can count our blessings during this season of joy for Oklahoma’s federal delegation, but Washington needs a little more Oklahoma common sense,” he concluded.
The Portland Liberal Examiner disagrees with Coffee about Inhofe and Coburn. They write: “Thank you, Oklahoma voters, for giving the rest of America the worst Senator pair in the country. Do these two represent the citizens of Oklahoma, or their own self-interests?”
Yes, Coburn and Inhofe are ours and represent Oklahoma common sense values. We are blessed to have them, and so is America, if nothing else because they are ‘not for sale!’

Monday, December 21, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
by Steve Fair
Last fall, the national media said Oklahoma was one of the few states that had dodged the economic recession. But last week, the National Conference of State Legislatures released a report that showed the Sooner state has the largest budget shortfall of all fifty states- a whopping 18.5%. In just the first five months of this fiscal year, Oklahoma’s tax revenue is down 28.5% below last year. If the trend continues, revenue will be more than 1 billion short of projections for the 2009 fiscal year.
Oklahoma’s 2009 state budget is 7.06 billion, which is down –6.7% from 2008. Of that total, Education gets 54%, Health and Human Services 27%, and Public Safety and Judiciary 11.3%. That leaves less than 8% of the state budget for General Government, Natural Resources and Regulatory Services. Realistically, any meaningful cuts have to come from the first three listed.
Why is revenue down? Oklahoma state government gets revenue from seventy (70) different sources, but a substantial amount of state revenue comes from ‘gross production tax.’ The seven percent tax is accessed on oil and gas producers, but was off a whopping 84% in November alone. Every major source of state revenue was off except motor vehicle tax by double digits in November. Less money is coming in than was projected, so it’s belt-tightening time- or is it?
Some legislators, Republicans as well as Democrats, favor taking the $600 million ‘federal stimulus’ money Oklahoma has left and cleaning out the Rainy Day fund (also $600 million) to shore up the budget. That would solve this year’s budget woes, but what if things get worse? The Spears School of Business at OSU believes economic conditions in the state will not get better in 2010 and budget woes may continue into 2011.
In a report released November 17th in OKC, they conclude, “ While FY 2009 was challenging for state and local budgets, FY 2010 will exhibit continued deterioration of the tax base. We anticipate some tax base recovery in FY 2011, but not enough to restore tax collections to their FY 2009 levels. “ They go on to say, “No significant recovery in U.S. natural gas prices is currently projected, but much could change through this winter. End of March storage and production levels should offer more insight into the trajectory of energy prices through 2011.”
The Spear’s report lists four major ‘risks’ to the state forecast; (1) Further deterioration of national economic conditions. (2) Suppressed oil and natural gas prices through 2010 and lack of resolution on energy policy from Obama Administration. (3) Negative multiplier effects from strained state and local budgets. (4) Restricted capital access to Oklahoma's small businesses.
With a projection that things could get worse, cleaning out the savings account (Rainy Day fund) is not the solution. That’s irresponsible and requires no creativity. That’s just ‘kicking the can down the road.’ Tough times require tough decisions by tough leaders.
Ronald Reagan said, “A leader, once convinced a particular course of action is the right one, must have the courage and determination to stick with it and be undaunted when the going gets tough.”
Here are a couple of suggestions for the legislature. Since Common Education gets the lion’s share of the state budget, it’s time for them to deal with the ‘elephant in the room.’ They should present a plan to share administration and infrastructure. They should lead the charge in the consolidating of Oklahoma’s 539 school districts. Instead of just lobbying for more money, Education should lead this initiative.
Secondly, state agencies should be required to submit next year’s budget requirements using ‘zero based’ budgeting. They should have to justify every tax dollar they receive. The legislature should check their work; verify the taxpayer’s money is being spent in an efficient and prudent way.
Legislators should make strategic cuts that deal with waste, duplication, and unnecessary functions. Everyone knows there is waste in Oklahoma state government. Everyone knows Oklahoma should share school administration and infrastructure. Everyone knows Oklahoma has more school districts than is efficient or necessary. But every legislature has just ‘kicked the can down the road’ in the hope a future legislature will deal with it.
“Kicking the can down the road" was a game played by children in years past. In most versions of the game, someone kicked the can and then the person who was "it" had to retrieve the can before they could chase the other players. Kicking the can as far down the road as possible gave the other players the maximum possible time to hide or scatter or whatever is required by the game. Metaphorically, "kicking the can down the road" is similar to a delaying tactic, putting it off until later, etc. Let’s hope the Republican led legislature will show some courage and not play this children’s game.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

From the Wall Street Journal
The Health Bill Is Scary
"Government guidelines would likely have forbidden
the test I used to discover Sheila's cancer. "
By Senator Tom Coburn, M.D.

I recently suggested that seniors will die sooner if Congress actually implements the Medicare cuts in the health-care bill put forward by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. My colleagues who defend the bill—none of whom have practiced medicine—predictably dismissed my concern as a scare tactic. They are wrong. Every American, not just seniors, should know that the rationing provisions in the Reid bill will not only reduce their quality of life, but their life spans as well.
My 25 years as a practicing physician have shown me what happens when government attempts to practice medicine: Doctors respond to government coercion instead of patient cues, and patients die prematurely. Even if the public option is eliminated from the bill, these onerous rationing provisions will remain intact.
For instance, the Reid bill (in sections 3403 and 2021) explicitly empowers Medicare to deny treatment based on cost. An Independent Medicare Advisory Board created by the bill—composed of permanent, unelected and, therefore, unaccountable members—will greatly expand the rationing practices that already occur in the program. Medicare, for example, has limited cancer patients' access to Epogen, a costly but vital drug that stimulates red blood cell production. It has limited the use of virtual, and safer, colonoscopies due to cost concerns. And Medicare refuses medical claims at twice the rate of the largest private insurers.
Section 6301 of the Reid bill creates new comparative effectiveness research (CER) programs. CER panels have been used as rationing commissions in other countries such as the U.K., where 15,000 cancer patients die prematurely every year according to the National Cancer Intelligence Network. CER panels here could effectively dictate coverage options and ration care for plans that participate in the state insurance exchanges created by the bill.
Additionally, the Reid bill depends on the recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in no fewer than 14 places. This task force was responsible for advising women under 50 to not undergo annual mammograms. The administration claims the task force recommendations do not carry the force of law, but the Reid bill itself contradicts them in section 2713. The bill explicitly states, on page 17, that health insurance plans "shall provide coverage for" services approved by the task force. This chilling provision represents the government stepping between doctors and patients. When the government asserts the power to provide care, it also asserts the power to deny care.
If the bill expands Medicaid eligibility to 133% of the poverty level, that too will lead to rationing. Because Washington bureaucrats have created a system that underpays doctors, 40% of doctors already restrict access to Medicaid patients, and therefore ration care.
Medicaid demonstrates, tragically in some cases, that access to a government program does not guarantee access to health care. In Maryland, 17,000 Medicaid patients are currently on a waiting list for medical services, and as many as 250 may have died while awaiting care, according to state auditors. Kansas, the home state of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, faces a Medicaid backlog of more than 15,000 applicants.
Other unintended consequences of the Reid bill could wreak havoc on patients' lives. What happens, for instance, when savvy consumers commanded to buy insurance realize the penalty is the de facto premium? It won't take long for younger, healthier Americans to realize it's cheaper to pay a $750 tax for coverage instead of, say, $5,000 in annual premiums when coverage can't be denied if you get sick.
OMB Budget Director Peter Orzsag's belief that mandatory health insurance will become a "cultural norm" is bureaucratic naivete that will produce skyrocketing premiums and reduced care for everyone. My state's own insurance commissioner, a Democrat, recently confirmed this concern to me in a letter noting that "the result will be higher insurance rates due to a higher percentage of insured being higher risk/expense individuals."
But the most fundamental flaw of the Reid bill is best captured by the story of one my patients I'll call Sheila. When Sheila came to me at the age of 33 with a lump in her breast, traditional tests like a mammogram under the standard of care indicated she had a cyst and nothing more. Because I knew her medical history, I wasn't convinced. I aspirated the cyst and discovered she had a highly malignant form of breast cancer. Sheila fought a heroic battle against breast cancer and enjoyed 12 good years with her family before succumbing to the disease.
If I had been practicing under the Reid bill, the government would have likely told me I couldn't have done the test that discovered Sheila's cancer because it wasn't approved under CER. Under the Reid bill, Sheila may have lived another year instead of 12, and her daughters would have missed a decade with their mom.
The bottom line is that under the Reid bill the majority of America's patients might be fine. But some will be like Sheila—patients whose lives hang in the balance and require the care of a doctor who understands the science and art of medicine, and can make decisions without government interference.
The American people are opposing this bill in greater numbers every day because the facts of the bill—not any tactic—are cause for serious concern.

Monday, December 14, 2009

by Steve Fair

All Americans want our schools and children attending them to be safe. Of course ‘SAFE’ means different things to different people. President Obama has appointed Kevin Jennings as his ‘Safe Schools Czar’- officially the Assistant Deputy Secretary for safe and drug- free schools in the Department of Education. Jennings has a very interesting background.
Born in Winston Salem, NC, the son of a fundamentalist Southern Baptist preacher who died when Kevin was eight, Jennings is a self proclaimed, ‘Mama’s Boy.’ In his book, “Mama’s Boy- Preacher’s Son,” Jennings disclosures how he rejected society’s inequities and his Southern Baptist upbringing by finding his 'salvation' in school. Graduating from Harvard in 1985, getting a Masters at Columbia and earning an MBA from NYU has given Jennings 'an education beyond his intelligence.'
In 1990, Jennings founded Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and headed the organization until last year. Jennings is openly gay, living with his partner of fifteen years, Jeff and two dogs. He also plays hockey in a ‘gay’ hockey league!
To say this guy is ‘out of the mainstream’ is to put it mildly. In September it came out that, when he was a teacher in Massachusetts, Jennings did not report an incident in which a 16-year-old boy told him that he was having sexual relations with an older man he met in a bus station bathroom. He has defended his decision, which should have been enough to get him fired, but not in the liberal Obama administration.
After the incident was revealed, fifty-three House Republicans wrote President Barack Obama asking him to remove Jennings from that position. The lawmakers accused Jennings of "pushing a pro-homosexual agenda" and said that Jennings's past writings exhibit a record that makes him unfit for the position. "We respectfully request that you remove Kevin Jennings, the Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, from your Administration," the Republicans wrote. "It is clear that Mr. Jennings lacks the appropriate qualifications and ethical standards to serve in this capacity."
Now it is has been reported that GLSEN recommends books for reading by kids that are pornographic. GLSEN says it works to create a welcoming atmosphere for homosexual students in schools, and that effort includes recommending books for students of all ages.
But critics say many of the books, particularly some that are targeted for children between Grades 7 to 12, are inappropriately explicit. A full list is available at the blog Gateway Pundit, which has published dozens of controversial passages from the books. These recommendations were made when Jennings was heading up GLSEN!
Peter Sprigg, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, says the content of the books is shocking, and it raises concerns about Jennings' judgment. "The graphic sexual content of these books is so extreme that I think any average parent or citizen, regardless of how they feel about homosexuality, would be shocked at these books being recommended to young people," Sprigg said. GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard defended her group's recommendations, telling in a written statement:
"Some of the books that might be used with young adult audiences contain mature content, as is true of many memoirs and works of literature. Because of the presence of mature content in some of the works, GLSEN provides very clear guidelines throughout, recommending that adults review each book to make sure the book is suitable."
"It's like Jennings just doesn't realize he's working with kids here.... You need a totally different set of rules when you're working with kids,"
said Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.
Safe is defined as being free from danger or the risk of harm; "a safe place"; "a safe bet." It’s obvious that Jennings is working to create a “safe” enviroment for homosexuals in the public school system. The only students that will not be ‘safe’ are those who don’t agree with his liberal agenda. He should resign and go back to promoting his liberal agenda unfunded with taxpayer money!
Weekly Opinion/Editorial

by Steve Fair
In November 1996, Oklahoma voters went to the polls to vote on SQ 676. The proposal read in part, “This measure would limit the fair cash value of real property for property tax purposes. The fair cash value would not increase by more than 5% in any taxable year.”
Oklahoma citizens were told the change would rein in ‘loose cannon’ county assessors across the Sooner state who were assessing taxes with no statutory guidelines or legal restraint. The proposal was supposed to give them a ceiling increase by allowing them to assess a maximum increase in property tax of no more than five(5) percent per year.
Property tax is an important source of revenue for schools, vo-techs, and county government. Schools get about 60% of the money, Vo-Techs, county and city government get the rest. Property tax are caulated by using four factors- the market value of the property, an ‘assessment ratio’(currently 11%), less homestead exemption and applying the county millage (tax rate per $1000). Because property tax assessment wasn’t widely understood by the average Oklahoman, any proposal to rein in their increase was met with approval.
The late Jack Edens was a popular radio talk show host at KTOK in Oklahoma City. Knowledgeable in fiscal issues, Edens passionately railed against the proposal, stating it was "full of fishhooks" and would be interpreted that property tax increases of 5% annually be ‘mandated.’ Edens was dismissed by most people as being an alarmist. A month after he gave an impassioned plea at the Republican 4th District Convention at Duncan’s Simmons Center, Edens died of a heart attack. Edens’ warning was ignored and Oklahoma voter passed the measure in November 1996 and amended the state constitution. 808,429 voters supported the initiative, and 290,433 voters opposed. Edens was right on target and the measure had ‘unintended consequences.’ In some parts of the state, property taxes have more than doubled in 14 years.
In Oklahoma’s two largest counties, property taxes are up over 35% in just five years. "This (property tax) is the fastest-growing tax in the state," said State Representative Russ Roach, (D- Tulsa). Roach said the law is intended to allow growth counties to raise property taxes up to 5 percent a year instead of a mandated 5 percent. "What was intended to be a tax increase ceiling has instead become an annual tax increase floor," Roach said. In July, Roach asked the Attorney General for an opinion on Article 10- section 8B of the State Constitution(SQ 676).
In response to the request, an opinion was released in September by Attorney General Drew Edmondson which said, “the assessor must increase the assessed fair cash value by 5 percent each year until it is within 5 percent of the actual fair cash value." In other words, the only way this boondongle can be changed is by amending the constitution to avoid almost routine property tax increases every year.
"It is clear to me that the AG's opinion says the citizens will have to change the law if they want relief from what has become an almost automatic 5 percent increase in property taxes each year," Roach said.
Last session, State Senator Jim Reynolds, (R-Moore) authored SJR 5 which would have let Oklahomans vote to lower the current property tax cap of five percent to three percent. SJR 5 passed the Senate and moved to the House where it stalled and was not voted on.
“House Speaker Chris Benge, (R-Tulsa) must be credited with effectively killing the bill. In doing this he’s denied seniors and hard-working Oklahomans the opportunity to voice their opinion on ever increasing property taxes. The intention was to keep the annual property tax increases under that cap, but instead, numerous county assessors have raised property taxes the maximum five percent each year,” Reynolds said. "Property tax relief is due for Oklahomans," Reynolds said. "It affects everybody, senior citizens, baby boomers and newlyweds."
State Representative Jason Murphey, (R-Guthrie) has proposed legislation that places a temporary freeze on property tax assessments. This freeze would take place over a two year time period after which time the cap on new assessments could never be higher than 2.5% and could be as low as 0%. Murphey has also announced he will introduce a bill increasing the amount allowed for homestead exemption. It has been more than twenty years since any adjustment has been made to homestead.
Its clear Oklahoma voters should be given the chance to fix the ‘unintended consequences’ of SQ 676. The lack of courage by House Republican leadership in not getting this issue voted on before the end of session is disappointing. Granted, budget shortfalls and tax revenue shortages make it a difficult time to deal with this issue, but it’s the right thing to do and will send a message that Republicans don’t avoid the tough issues- even in tough times.
Jack Edens didn’t live long enough to get to say, “I told you so,” about the effects of SQ 676, but his example of looking out for the citizens of Oklahoma should be followed by elected officials on both sides of the aisle.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial

by Steve Fair

Almost a year before the 2010 elections, the field is already getting crowded in the races that will be on the ballot. Oklahomans will elect a U.S. Senator next November. Currently the only announced candidate in the race is the incumbent, U.S. Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican. Coburn will be tough to beat and no well-known Democrat has announced in the race. Governor Henry cannot seek another term, but what he plans to do politically is still subject to speculation. At age 46, and having approval ratings that have never gotten below 60%, it’s likely Henry will be on the ballot in the future.

The list of candidates running for Henry’s job include state Attorney General Drew Edmondson and Lt. Governor Jari Askins who are vying for the Democrat nomination. U.S. Congresswoman Mary Fallin and State Senator Randy Brogdon are the Republican candidates.

With Askins not running for re-election as Lt. Governor, three candidates have announced their candidacy to replace her. State Senator Todd Lamb, (R-Edmond) and State Representative John Wright, (R-Tulsa) are the Republicans seeking the seat and State Senator Kenneth Corn, (D-Howe) is the announced candidate for the Democrat nomination.

Because Edmondson is running for Governor, the AG’s race is open and three candidates have announced. Former Governor Keating’s son-in-law and U.S. District Judge Tim Leonard’s son, Ryan Leonard is seeking the GOP nomination. He has a primary opponent in State Senator Clark Jolley, (R-Edmond). Jolley was re-elected to the state senate in 2008 and would not lose his seat if he weren’t elected AG. That’s something that should be changed in Oklahoma. Elected officials shouldn’t be able to run for another office without resigning the one they hold. The ‘safety net’ should be eliminated. Jim Priest, an attorney and Church of the Nazarene lay minister, has announced for the Democrat nomination. Priest, 54, will be a formidable candidate in the race.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Sandy Garrett has announced that she is not seeking re-election. Two Republicans have announced: Dr. Janet Barresi, an Oklahoma City Dentist, and Dr. Shawn Hime, former Enid School Superintendent. State Senator Susan Paddack, (D-Ada) has announced her candidacy for the Democrat nomination.

Oklahoma voters will also elect a Labor Commissioner, a State Auditor and Inspector, an Insurance Commissioner, State Treasurer, and a Corporation Commissioner in 2010. Jason Reese is the only announced GOP candidate for Labor Commissioner. Incumbent Labor Commissioner Lloyd Fields is expected to run for re-election. Fields, a Democrat, won the 2010 race by less than 3,000 votes statewide, so Republicans are optimistic they can regain an office they held for twelve years under Brenda Reneau.

The State Auditor’s race has not drawn an announced GOP candidate. The current office holder is Steve Burrage, a Democrat, who was appointed to the post by Governor Henry after Jeff McMahan was convicted on fraud charges in federal court. Gary Jones, the current Republican State Chairman, was the parties’ nominee for this office the past two cycles, but has indicated he will not run this cycle.

Kim Holland is the State Insurance Commissioner. She will likely seek re-election. Several Republicans have indicated interest in the race, but have not announced. Current State Treasurer Scott Meacham has announced he will ‘retire’ from politics, making the Treasurer’s race an open race. Two Republicans have announced. State Representative Ken Miller, (R-Edmond); the chairman of the State House A&B committee and former State Senator Owen Laughlin from Woodward will battle it out for the GOP nomination. No Democrat has announced for the post.

State Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy is up for re-election in 2010 after winning a close race in 2008. Murphy is up for a full term and will likely face opposition, even though she has no announced opponent. Murphy’s race against Democrat Jim Roth was the most expensive Corporation Commission race in state history.

U.S. Congressman Tom Cole has at least one announced opponent for the GOP nomination; R.J. Harris from Norman has been campaigning since early this year. No Democrat has formally announced.

Locally, there will be State legislative races and county races for County Commissioners Districts 1 and 3. Each County Assessor and County Treasurer are also up in 2010.

With ten statewide races, a congressional race, local races, and state questions on the ballot, 2010 shapes up to be a year that will require informed voters to pay attention. Don’t go into the voting booth uninformed. Study the issues and candidates. Be an educated voter.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

by Steve Fair
Gary Jones, state Republican chairman, filed a lawsuit last week against his former political opponent Jeff McMahan and McMahan’s wife Lori along with four other defendants. Jones is seeking reimbursement of nearly $250,000 for what he personally spent on the 2002 and 2006 State Auditor and Inspector races.

Jones alleges, and Steve Phipps verified in McMahan’s trial, the two elections were “stolen” from him. Jones lost both elections by razor thin margins. In an opinion/editorial on Thanksgiving Day entitled, “Jones’ stew: State GOP chairman can’t let elections go,” ( The Oklahoman said. “We’d like to think the state’s GOP chairman has better things to do. Surely Oklahoma’s court’s do.”

Is Jones’ lawsuit sour grapes? Does the state GOP chairman have better things to do than sue his former political opponent? Is this a frivolous lawsuit?

Let’s address these questions in reverse order. First, do the courts have better things to do? Is this a frivolous lawsuit? According to a legal dictionary a “frivolous” lawsuit is defined as, A baseless lawsuit that is filed with little or no prospect of success.

Jones’ lawsuit is not baseless as the editorial itself admits. The Oklahoman says, “his opponent each time, Jeff McMahan, proved to be as crooked as the day is long, and now is serving eight years in prison for accepting illegal campaign contributions.” There is no doubt Jones’ was cheated in both elections and the federal court system bore out that fact with the conviction of the McMahons and Phipps.

Does Jones’ have a prospect of success with this lawsuit? Only a jury knows, but he certainly deserves his day in court for having the two elections stolen from him. The implication by The Oklahoman that political candidates relinquish the right to legal recourse when opponents lie, cheat and steal to win an election is flat wrong. The lawsuit is not frivolous and if Jones wins, it will act as a deterrent to like-minded cheats and crooks that seek to “steal” future elections.

Second, does the state GOP chairman have better things to do than sue his former political opponent? I’m not sure what The Oklahoman thinks the GOP chair’s job involves, but it’s not one of “going gently into that good night” or overlooking corruption. The chair is charged with leading by example and with making sure GOP candidates are treated fairly in elections. The chair coordinates the state party’s efforts to recruit candidates, train them, and exhort them to play by the rules in the elective process. Jones’ filing of this lawsuit sends the message the GOP plays by the rules and expects everyone else to play by the rules or face the consequences. That’s a huge part of what the GOP chair’s job should be- lead by example. Jones filing of the lawsuit is consistent with that mantra.

Third, is Jones’ lawsuit sour grapes? The contention Jones’ can’t get past the two elections he had stolen from him is probably accurate, but who could? It’s human nature to play the “what if” game in our mind. Jones ran competitive well-organized campaigns that needed ‘just a little more’ to get over the top. He lost both elections by less than 40,000 votes statewide. Secondary statewide races are tough races to raise money for, hence the reason Jones ponied up nearly a quarter of a million of his own money in the two races. The input of the illegal campaign contributions likely resulted in Jones’ close defeat. Some say Jones should just duck his head, sigh and go on? Even some Republicans agree with this 'laissez faire' approach, but those same Rs are not very courageous and avoid the “tough” issues like the plague, so their creditability is seriously lacking. The “right” thing to do is insure cheats and crooks are sent a message that stealing elections has consequences and the best place to send that message is through the court system by hitting these cheaters in their pocketbook.

The Oklahoman endorsed McMahan when he ran in 2002. In 2006, they were presented compelling evidence of McMahan’s illegal campaign finance scheme, but instead of endorsing Jones, they chose to “stay out of the race.” They endorsed no one. In either year, the race was so close, an endorsement by the state’s largest newspaper would likely have swung the election in Jones’ favor.

Instead of attacking Jones for filing a lawsuit against people who wronged him, The Oklahoman should be apologizing to the people of Oklahoma for helping get McMahan elected. As to their catty, immature comment about Jones’ “mental anguish” in the editorial, it was The Oklahoman who gave the citizens of Oklahoma five years of “mental anguish” by promoting a crook for elective office.

Jones’ shouldn’t let those elections go. They exposed major corruption in Oklahoma government and in the elective process. Oklahoma citizens are better off because Gary Jones had the courage to run for office and to expose corruption in the elective process.

The definition of stew is, “to be in a huff; be silent or sullen. Jones isn’t the one “in a stew-“ it’s The Oklahoman and wimps who wrongly believe McMahan and his cronies are the only ones that want to steal elections. This lawsuit sends a message that if you cheat, you pay!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
by Steve Fair
Representative Dennis Johnson, (R-Duncan) expects that one of the first bills voted on in the State House when the upcoming 2010 legislative session begins will be a bill that would increase the penalties for gang-related activities. SB #826 authored by Johnson and Senator Anthony Sykes, (R-Moore) would make recruiting members to a criminal street gang a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Any gang member or anyone convicted of a crime, as a condition of a gang membership would be sentenced to an additional five years.
The bill would also provide immunity to school employees and teachers for providing information to the district superintendent or designated school official about suspected gang activity. The superintendent would then decide or whether to act on the information by having the student talk with a counselor to try to prevent the student from joining a gang or by giving the information to law enforcement officers.

But some believe SB #826 takes the wrong approach to the gang problem. At a recent joint meeting of the Oklahoma Youth and Gang Violence Coordinating Council and the Oklahoma Gang Intervention Steering Committee, Representative Mike Shelton, (D-Oklahoma), said legislators "can’t arrest our way to fix the gang problem. It just needs to be a holistic approach to working with these gang members. Some of them definitely need to be in jail; some of them just need to be diverted in a different direction.”

Representative Johnson agrees that preventing young people from joining a gang is a great objective, saying, "The ultimate goal is prevention.” Prevention must start early. In an recent article in The Oklahoman, it was reported that Oklahoma City and Tulsa police officers are now seeing gang members as young as 10 years old, compared with the youngest being identified as 12 years old just three years ago. Oklahoma City officers reported that some youngsters are recruited as young as 8 years old. Oklahoma City and Tulsa officers reported "third-generation” gang members, where son, dad and grandfather all belong to the same criminal gang.

According to a recent survey in Oklahoma on gangs, gang members are using cellphones, text messaging and social medias like Facebook and YouTube to recruit members as young as second-graders. The survey indicated that only 15 of the state’s 77 counties reported no gangs in 2009 compared with 19 counties three years ago. The survey also shows there has been a two percent increase in the number of gangs in the Sooner state the past three years.

In April 2007, The U.S. Attorney General announced the expansion of the Justice Department’s Comprehensive Anti-Gang Initiative to include Oklahoma City. The initiative targets dangerous street gangs and promotes prevention efforts to keep communities and neighborhoods safe. The DOJ estimates there are over one million gang members in the United States with about fifteen percent of that number incarcerated. Often gang leaders run their operations from prison.

Oklahoma City police estimates there are more than 5,000 gang members in Oklahoma City, which is about one percent of the city’s total population. "Gangs are the biggest cancer across the United States, and they are eating it up from the inside out," said Police Master Sgt. Tim Hock, the lead inspector with city police's gang enforcement unit. "They're urban terrorists." The number of gang related drive-by shootings has increased five fold in Oklahoma City and tripled in rural areas in just the past five years.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, street gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and prison gangs are the primary distributors of illegal drugs on the streets of the United States. Gangs also smuggle drugs into the United States and produce and transport drugs within the country. Oklahoma still has a meth problem and with drugs come gangs.
The Oklahoma Gang Investigators Association is a non-profit organization consisting of law enforcement and law-enforcement related professionals whose mission is two-fold: to share gang intelligence among our law enforcement members, and to educate the public to the violence associated with gangs. The OGIA, headquartered in Lawton, began in 1993 with a dozen dedicated police officers that met and shared intelligence regarding gang activities in their respective jurisdictions. This organization works to eliminate gang and their influence in our society.
Gangs are a problem in metro and rural Oklahoma and we can’t just ignore their presence. The argument that gang members would ignore this law just like they ignore other laws has little merit, because getting those recruiters off the street will prevent some grade schooler from becoming a gangbanger. Sykes and Johnson have authored a bill that will provide punishment for recruitment to gangs- a good first step in eliminating them.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

In today's Oklahoman the front page story- above the fold- is about Gary Jones'(Oklahoma State GOP Chairman) lawsuit against his former political opponent Jeff McMahan, former State Senator Gene Stipe, and former State Auditor and Inspector Clifton Scott. Jones was defeated by McMahan in both 2002 and 2006 in the State Auditor's race by razor thin margains. I wrote an article in 2005 that appeared in The Duncan Banner entitled 'Is Big Daddy McMahan's Sugar Daddy?' After the article appeared, State Auditor Jeff McMahan wrote a full page response that appeared in the following Sunday edition. In his rebuttal, Jeff falsely claimed he didn't know Steve Phipps at all. That has since been proven a lie as well several other falsehoods McMahan made in his rebuttal. Jeff said I was the mouthpiece for the State GOP. He was right about the MOUTHPIECE part, but not for the State GOP. Since today's article broke, I have been asked to post the infamous BIG DADDY article. Here it is- as it appeared over four years ago- Enjoy!

Is Big Daddy McMahan’s Sugar Daddy?
by Steve Fair
In the 1970s, a popular television show was The Dukes of Hazard. In every episode, Bo and Luke Duke battled the local political boss- appropriately named Boss Hogg. It was not your classic case of good vs. evil, because sometimes the Duke boys bent the law a little to suit their taste, but fundamentally they were the good guys. Boss Hogg had his dirty work done by Roscoe the dim-witted sheriff and Cletus, the Deputy. Roscoe never worried about re-election so long as the Boss was happy. The Boss reigned sovereign in Hazard County! It was good entertainment because we knew that in every episode, the Dukes would win out over Boss Hogg. It wasn’t set in Oklahoma because in the Sooner state unfortunately, the good guys don’t always win.

For decades when one thought of sleazy, backroom politics in Oklahoma, Gene Stipe instantly came to mind. Stipe was at one time the longest serving elected official in America. Serving over 50 years in the Oklahoma state legislature, he was the poster boy for term limits. During his reign, Stipe abused his office as State Senator by using his power to build what can only be described as an empire in Southeast Oklahoma. Senator Stipe was so notorious that he earned the nickname “The Prince of Darkness”- a real-life Boss Hogg. It seems the Prince has left his mark on many associates and partners that will perpetuate the Good Ole Boy network for decades to come in Oklahoma. Stipe followers have watched their idol rule over the State in a way that only a mafia boss could appreciate.
The good Senator manipulated and abused the system so effectively that his personal wealth is estimated to be over 26 million dollars. Many Oklahomans were hopeful that the day of Good Ole Boy politics in Oklahoma had come to an end when Stipe was forced to resign in shame. He pled guilty of violating federal campaign laws by illegally funneling $50,000 into Walt Roberts failed Congressional campaign, but it appears he hasn’t learned his lesson yet. Now, one of Stipe’s minions, Steve Phipps along with the former Senator are being investigated for what appears to be a scam to open a dog food plant in McAlester. The plant, which was financed by state and city tax dollars, has not produced a single can or bag of dog food. It has not created the 25 jobs that were promised. However: the facility has been utilized to service Indian gaming machines.
Phipps owns a business that provides that service to the tribes and he evidently, is using the facility to work on one arm bandits, but not to make pet food. Who is Steve Phipps? His nickname is “Big Daddy.” It seems that the dog food factory isn’t the only connection Big Daddy has to the Prince. Phipps and Stipe are partners in abstract companies across Southeast Oklahoma. Anyone selling or refinancing property in Oklahoma are required to have titles brought up to date within a 90 day period. Abstract companies are the only place to get that done in the state. In many counties, Phipps and Stipe own the only abstract office in town. To add insult to injury, abstractors set their own rates. What an industry-to have customers that have to do business with you- on your terms- at your price?
One has to ask how such a system could be allowed to exist in Oklahoma? Who is responsible for watching the abstractors? That responsibility falls to the Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector. The author of the bill that gave the Auditor’s office that job? That’s right- Senator Gene Stipe. The Bellamy Brothers sang, What you need is a Sugar Daddy. It looks like Jeff McMahan has found one- maybe two. Now we learn that Big Daddy, The Prince and many of their employees and associates contributed to the 2002 campaign war chest of State Auditor Jeff McMahan.
When asked about the contributions McMahan stated that he would take any “legal campaign contribution.” He went on to say that anyone contributing to him was doing so because they “believed in good government.” The average Oklahoma taxpayer’s idea of good government and Phipps’ and Stipe’s idea might be a much different. To accept campaign contributions from any and everyone shows a serious lack of judgment on McMahan’s part. Who says that contributing to campaigns doesn’t pay dividends? It has paid excellent dividends for Phipps and Stipe.
McMahan has refused to audit the Private Economic Authority that gave the money to Phipps to build the phantom pet food plant. The land the authority gave to Phipps was purchased from Gene Stipe at more than 2 ½ times the assessed value. This whole multi-pronged transaction doesn’t pass the “smell” test.
And when Steve Phipps-aka- Big Daddy- feels the need to meet with someone at the State Capital to try to get laws passed, who does he call?. He calls his good buddy Jeff McMahan. Evidently, Steve Phipps has used the State Auditor’s office to meet with legislators and others on numerous occasions while trying to influence legislation. He may have gotten some wording inserted into a bill that gave him a competitive advantage to produce Indian Gaming machines.
As private citizens and taxpayers, we may not be able to do much about Stipe and Phipps and their shady dealings. That will be left to the investigators and prosecutors, but McMahan is another matter. His ties to Stipe and Phipps are troubling. We need to change our image in Oklahoma. McMahan is up for re-election in 2006 and we need to McFIRE him.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial

by Steve Fair
In 1985, Oklahoma voters approved the creation of the Constitutional Reserve Fund- aka the Rainy Day Fund (RDF). After the oil bust of the 1980s, it was created to fill in the gaps when Oklahoma state government hit “real hard times.” The state legislature can allocate up to ten percent of the total budget into the Rainy Day fund. Since its creation, the fund has been “tapped” for over one billion dollars, but it has not been used in six years. That’s primarily because Republicans have taken control of the legislature and they have exercised more fiscal restraint than Democrats.

The current balance in the Rainy Day fund is $600 million and with revenues down almost twenty percent from estimates, Governor Henry, education leaders, and others are saying it’s time to declare Oklahoma a “flood” zone and tap the RDF. State Treasurer Scott Meacham has projected a $700 billion dollar shortfall by fiscal year end. Based on the guidelines for tapping the RDF, $223 million can be used immediately due to the shortfalls- more if the governor and the legislature declare an emergency.
Henry has said, “As governor, I have scrupulously guarded the Rainy Day Fund so that we would have a safety net in place when Oklahoma faced a true emergency. With revenues continuing to decline and important services facing larger and larger cuts, I believe we are facing such an emergency.” The last time the RDF was tapped was Henry’s first year in office (2003) when the Democrat controlled legislature, at Henry’s urging, spent $70 million dollars and that “rain” didn’t get a windshield wet.
Speaker of the House Chris Benge, (R-Tulsa) says he isn’t so sure it’s time to tap the RDF. Benge said, “We are trying to figure out where the bottom is. We are not sure if we have reached it or not. From our line of thinking we would like to error on the side of cutting more and then if then if things are better than we expect, we can come back in and address those critical needs," Benge went on to say, "We must work to find the delicate balance between deeper cuts and use of our savings fund to ensure we balance our budget this year, while also positioning ourselves to be able to withstand likely continued declining revenues into the foreseeable future.”
Senate Pro Tempore Glenn Coffee, (R-Bethany) agrees with Benge saying, "Our state continues to face uncertain revenue prospects for the foreseeable future, and the correct course of action is to continue to pare back expenditures throughout state government until better days return. We will continue to be conservative in our budgeting processes and look for waste or duplication in government services, and see the state through this challenging time.”
There was talk of a special legislative session to deal with the budget shortfalls, but that idea has apparently been scrapped. It appears the budget shortfall will be the first thing on the legislature’s plate when they convene in February. Governor Henry said, "When the regular legislative session convenes in February, we will have a better picture of the overall revenue outlook and more tools available to address the shortfall. We know the cuts will cause additional hardship for agencies and programs, but given the short-term fiscal outlook, there are no good options available.”
Three comments concerning the tapping of the Rainy Day Fund. First, if the RDF is tapped, it should be for the least amount possible. Cutting budgets and the size of government should be done first. I’m afraid many who want to tap the RDF see an opportunity to operate government as if times were good when the private sector and indiviuals are making major adjustments to their budgets due to the economy. It is true state agencies had their budgets cut this fiscal year and most have experienced reductions of five(5) percent in state funding from that number, but who in their right mind doesn’t believe government has at least twelve(12%) percent wasteful spending?

Second, these budget shortfalls present legislative leaders with the opportunity to tackle hard issues- like closing unnecessary state agencies and revamping common education in Oklahoma by uttering the “C” word (school district consolidation). It also gives lawmakers the opportunity to observe what areas of government are really necessary, which can be cut and those agencies we can do without.

Third, if we tap the RDF this year and things get worse, where is our “safety net?” The Rainy Day Fund is there when it’s really raining, not when the forecast calls for rain. True, these are not good times, but it’s not as bad as it could get. The RDF monies have always “burnt a hole” in the pocket of government bureucrats who cry “flood” when their budgets are cut. They are never willing to tighten their belts in tough times.
Speaker Benge and Pro Tempore Coffee should hold the line and focus on cutting wasteful spending first and tap the RDF when it’s really raining.

Monday, November 16, 2009

by Steve Fair

It’s critical that activist Republicans are honest when we evaluate so called ‘leaders’ who want to thrust themselves into becoming the GOP NATIONAL SPOKESPERSON. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s book, “Going Rogue,” is coming out tomorrow and she is making all the talk shows*(even the liberal ones) in order to promote it. Palin is the choice of a lot of conservative activists for the 2012 presidential race, including some of my friends, but let me give you three reasons why she should not be considered:

(1) SHE QUIT! When Palin resigned her office before the completion of her term, she said it was because she was not seeking re-election and would be a lame duck Governor. She believed that she could not effectively govern as a lame duck. The truth is at some point, EVERY elected official becomes a lame duck. That was a ‘lame’ excuse. Vince Lombardi said, "once you learn to quit, it becomes a habit." You can't 'cut and run' when it gets tough. I suspect the real reason Palin quit was to ‘make a few bucks’ by writing a tell-all book. While Palin hasn’t cranked out the books like Neutron Newt Gingrich, her self-promotion is apparent and cheap.

(2) SHE IS INEXPERIENCED! I know Obama has no experience and is a novice, but Republicans should not promote an inexperienced candidate no matter how attractive they may be or how much they can excite the base. Face facts- Palin has little to no experience on foreign policy. She talks tough, but just being tough doesn’t necessarily mean you have the ability to govern the country. Her tough talk may be just a cover (see point 3)

(3) SHE WHINES! One of the most unflattering traits in a leader is when they whine about how they were treated by people. In Palin’s book, she gripes about McCain’s staff and how they mistreated her. She complained about how she was uncomfortable wearing high dollar clothes at the GOP convention. Anyone with a basic understanding of politics knows that ‘consultants’ formulate the message and ‘manage’ the campaign. These hirelings have few convictions and no ethical standards, and while Palin may not have been prepared for their ‘hardball’ tactics, they are nothing compared to a foreign head of state like Chavez or Kim Jong il. If she couldn't take the heat, she shouldn't have been in the kitchen. Lord Jeffrey said, “The tendency to whining and complaining may be taken as the surest sign symptom of little souls and inferior intellects.”

The title of Palin’s book implies she is a ROGUE which is defined by Webster as (1) An unprincipled, deceitful, and unreliable person; a scoundrel or rascal or (2) One who is playfully mischievous; a scamp.

I’m sure Palin prefers the latter definition but neither is acceptable for leadership. Read the book for it's entertainment value, but dismiss the former Governor as a great fundraising tool for the GOP and nothing more.

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
by Steve Fair
In this year’s legislative session, Senator Anthony Sykes, (R-Moore) and Representative Mark McCullough, (R-Sapulpa) authored a bill known as the “Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act.” House Bill 2167 would have required Oklahoma governmental agencies to issue and publicly post a “Request for Proposals” for legal services and then publicly list all attorneys and law firms that are awarded contracts. McCullough and Sykes were attempting to stop what the Wall Street Journal called in a May 23rd editorial a “pay to sue” racket. They simply wanted the state to competitively bid the outside legal counsel the state uses. The current system allows the Attorney General to hire outside law firms and retain private lawyers on a contingency basis without a competitive bid.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously with overwhelming bipartisan support. It passed the State House 57-39 and was sent to the Governor, but Henry vetoed it saying, “While HB 2167 is well intended and has many good provisions, the legislation potentially does more harm than good because of its unintended consequences. Many state agencies could easily comply with the contracting restrictions in question, but for those agencies, such as Oklahoma Department of Transportation, that must respond quickly to a lawsuit or that must execute a large volume of legal contracts by virtue of their statutory responsibilities, such mandates would impair their ability to respond to pressing legal issues or to timely complete crucial projects, causing undue delays, increasing costs to the state and causing them to miss court-imposed deadlines. The Legislature should consider legislation that recognizes the unique statutory responsibilities of such adversely-impacted agencies.” Because it was such a close vote in the House, it was not likely the veto could have been overturned, but Sykes has vowed to file a similar bill in the next session.
There are several problems with Henry’s reason for his veto; First, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation has multiple attorneys on their staff? Shouldn’t their internal counsel be handling these “emergencies” that arise? Isn’t that why ODOT and the taxpayer employ them?

Secondly, the Private Attorney Retention Sunshine Act is model legislation developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, and has been passed in Texas, North Dakota, Colorado, Kansas and Virginia. Several other states are considering the same legislation. That means three of our bordering states have enacted this policy to provide more transparency in government. If Oklahoma continues to lag behind the region in dealing with tort reform, we can expect to lose more doctors and health care professionals to states that have enacted true tort reform.

And finally, there is a fundamental moral problem with the practice itself. The head of a government agency should not be able to hire his friends or supporters with taxpayer money without a competitive bid and then solicit campaign contributions from those same friends and supporters. That is a clear conflict of interest and invites corruption.

According to the May 2009 WSJ editorial, “Mr. Edmondson was one of the first AGs to jump into the 1990s tobacco litigation. He gave work to two non-Oklahoma giants of tobacco torts, Motley Rice and Scruggs Millette. Also receiving contracts were three Oklahoma firms, including Riggs Abney -- home to Mr. Edmondson's friend and political ally, another former AG named Mike Turpen. As their part of the tobacco settlement, the firms would ultimately reap $250 million in legal fees. Mr. Turpen's firm collected $30 million.”

Edmondson just announced he is the first candidate for Governor to raise one million dollars in his campaign. A large majority of his contributions came from trial attorneys, many who also just happen to be on retainer by the state as outside counsel.

If the current hiring “outside counsel” process isn’t corrupt, then what’s wrong with opening it up by competitively bidding the process? After all, it is taxpayer money and we have a right to know how our money is being spent. If we are getting a good deal, then why wouldn’t the firms that are getting the business be eager to bid? This ‘good ole boy’ practice and the fact it was not widely known to the average Oklahoman just reinforces that Oklahoma has a long way before we have true transparency in government.
Edmondson has a great Oklahoma political name. His father served in Congress and his uncle, J. Howard, was the youngest governor in Oklahoma history, just thirty three years old when he was elected in 1958. Drew has certainly won his share of statewide elections (three), but his resistance to tort reform makes him a poor choice to lead Oklahoma. Henry’s two terms have shown he doesn’t favor meaningful tort reform- an issue which impacts Oklahoma negatively. Edmondson would be more of the same and Oklahoma can ill afford to hold to a flawed philosophy of continuing to cater to trial attorneys in our state.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial OKLAHOMA’S FOOD POLICE!
by Steve Fair

The “food police” are in Oklahoma. A couple of Tulsa area legislators recently held an interim study on how to get “healthy” grocery stores to come to the Sooner state. State Reps. Seneca Scott, D-Tulsa, and Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, want to determine how to incentivize rural and urban grocers that offer healthy, affordable, locally-grown produce and products. In other words, they want to use taxpayer dollars to get “mom and pop” healthy grocers that would compete with Whole Foods or some similar retailer.

During the interim study, Landon Norton of the Oklahoma Department of Health said that a recent Centers for Disease Control report showed Oklahoma state healthy food retail policies would positively impact its residents’ consumption of fruits and vegetables. The report found that Oklahoma had far fewer healthy food retailers than the national average and “food deserts” or areas with little access to healthy foods. “Access is not what it could be, not what it needs to be,” Norton said.

Scott, D-Tulsa, said it is clear that encouraging healthy neighborhood grocers could trigger more Oklahomans to begin living healthier lifestyles. “Oklahomans rank dead last nationally when it comes to nutrition and are the most likely Americans to suffer heart disease,” Scott, D-Tulsa, said. “Though lawmakers can’t force people to become healthy overnight, I think we can make healthy options available to them, while helping to support our local farmers and producers.”

Scott Smith, who spoke during the study, owns the type of store Scott and Shumate want to encourage. The Blue Jackalope Grocery Store is a small neighborhood grocer and coffee shop located in Tulsa’s Crosbie Heights neighborhood. Smith sells locally grown produce and says he has created a “community center” in his store. “The whole thing is the wonderful sense of connectedness that has resulted from what we’ve done at the store,” Smith said.

“Incentivizing healthy grocers helps the economy, lowers health care costs and, most importantly, means Oklahomans won’t have to choose between convenience and health,” Scott said. “One way to incentivize them could be to amend the state’s quality jobs act to benefit grocers,” he said. The Oklahoma Healthy Corner Stores Initiative is the proposed title of the legislation he hopes to carry in the next legislative session.

“In too many areas of the state we lack access to affordable, high quality, fresh foods,” Scott said. “The Oklahoma Legislature needs to help these working families and at the same time help local growers and small businesses, making it a win-win for all Oklahomans.”

Of the top ten “health conscious grocers ranked by only one operates in Oklahoma. Whole Foods (279 stores in 38 states) has a store in Tulsa and has announced they will soon build a store in OKC. The new Classen Curve shopping center near the Chesapeake Energy campus is the likely location, but no formal announcement has been made. But what Scott and Shumate want to give incentives to are “mom and pop” healthy grocers, not Whole Foods. The two challenges for the smaller “healthy” retailer is a consistent source of supply- finding a niche wholesaler who specializes in “healthy” products and could they generate sufficient volume to make money? There are a few wholesalers, but none in the central part of the United States and the issue of volume would be anyone’s guess. While Scott and Shumate’s actions don’t raise to the level of some of the nation’s food police, they still need to mind their own business and stop trying to tell us how to eat.

Consider some of the radical actions by the “Food Police.” The Public Health Advocacy Institute served notice to eight of the largest food producers in America they will sue food producers if they do not change formulas to help “slim down” America. That explains why Oreos don’t have as much delicious filling as they used to.

A group of lawyers have said they plan to start suing doctors who do not adequately warn patients about obesity. In several states, including Texas, soda pop has been banned in schools, even diet, but fruit juice, which contains more calories than pop remains. In one Massachusetts city, fast food restaurants are “banned” from coming to town. The Center for Science in the Public Interest advocates treating candy like porn and putting it behind the counter to discourage sales. Texas Agricultural Commissioner Susan Combs, who calls herself the “Food Czarina” says, shared sweets like birthday cakes should not be allowed in schools.

And it’s not just in the U.S. Did you know that in Canada, there is a “sin” tax on meals under $4 and in New Zealand, they “card”(check ages) when someone want to buy candy?

No matter how noble Scott and Shumate’s motives are, they are misguided. It is not the job of state government to tell Oklahomans what to eat and where to shop. With Oklahoma’s crumbling infrastructure and budget shortages, taxpayer dollars can be better spent dealing with real issues. Scott and Shumate should stay out of our cupboards.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial

by Steve Fair
In November 2010, Oklahoma voters will vote on a proposed constitutional amendment that would tie common education funding to a regional average of Oklahoma’s bordering states. The so-called HOPE amendment would force the state to fund common education at the same per student level as the surrounding state average. According to, the regional average spent for common education per student is $9,078 and Oklahoma’s funding is $7,615 per student- the lowest in the region.

Currently common education gets thirty six percent of the Oklahoma state annual budget- by far the largest allocation of any agency. If SQ 744 passes, common education would receive nearly one half of the state budget.

The actual ballot language for SQ 744 is:

The measure repeals a Section of the State Constitution. The repealed section required the Legislature annually to spend $42.00 for each common school student. Common schools offer pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade.The measure also adds a new Article to the Constitution. It sets a minimum average amount the State must annually spend on common schools. It requires the State to spend annually, no less than the average amount spent on each student by the surrounding states. Those surrounding states are Missouri, Texas, Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado and New Mexico. When the average amount spent by surrounding states declines, Oklahoma must spend the amount it spent the year before. The measure deals with money spend on day-to-day operations of the schools and school districts. This includes spending on instructions, support services and non-instruction services. The measure does not deal with money spent to pay debt, on buildings or on other capital needs.The measure requires that increased spending begin in the first fiscal year after its passage. It requires that the surrounding state average be met in the third fiscal year after passage.The measure does not raise taxes, nor does it provide new funding for the new spending requirements.

The last sentence of the measure is very revealing. Passage of the proposal would create an “unfunded” mandate. SQ 744 would require the state to provide funding, but suggests no method on how to get those funds. Chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget committee State Representative Ken Miller, R-Edmond, says, “While the petitioners of State Question 744 may be well-intended, the question is irresponsible-it is a zero-sum game where one budget component benefits to the detriment of the other vital state service like transportation, public safety and health care. If this state question is approved, the people’s representatives will not be able to prioritize competing needs and will have no say on the largest single component of the state’s budget. Instead education policy will be arbitrarily set by a rigid regional formula.”

Realistically, if SQ 744 passed, the legislature would be forced to either raise taxes or reduce funding to other agencies to meet the requirement 744 would mandate. Some estimates of other agency cuts range as high as twenty percent. According to the State House fiscal staff, if SQ # 744 passes, personal income tax would have to be raised from its current level of 5.5% to more than 7% to raise the money SQ 744 mandates.

Here are just three reasons State Question 744 should not be approved:

First, forcing state government to increase funding to common education based on what bordering states are doing will not improve Oklahoma education. Oklahoma has a more fundamental problem- it is how we spend our education dollar. We have too many school districts. Oklahoma has 554 school districts, Kansas 304, Arkansas 271, Colorado 178 and New Mexico only has 84. Each of Oklahoma’s five hundred plus districts have buildings, buses and bosses. Consolidation is not a word anyone likes to utter, but if education wants to get serious about education and get the money to the classroom where it really makes a difference, the “C” word will have to discussed.

Second, education funding is not the only thing we need to improve in Oklahoma. Our state has crumbling infrastructure that is dangerous for school buses(or any other vehicle) to travel on. Oklahoma also ranks high in mental health issues, obesity, and drug use. If SQ 744 passes, either huge tax increases would need to be implemented or those infrastructure and social ills would face funding cuts. Neither alternative seems wise concerning these tough economic times.

Third, Oklahoman’s tax burden is high enough. According to The Tax Foundation, Oklahoma's taxpayers have gone from the 42nd highest state and local tax burden in 1977 to the 19th highest in 2008. Estimated at 9.8% of income, Oklahoma's current state/local tax burden is above the national average. Oklahomans pay $3,761 per capita in state and local taxes.

It is true that teachers are underpaid in Oklahoma. They rank a dismal 47th in the country among their peers, but all Oklahoma workers are unpaid. The average Oklahoman earns $5,000 less than the average American doing the same job. US Census data indicates that only two of our bordering states have lower per capita income than Oklahoma, but SQ # 744 is not the answer- it just creates more questions.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial


by Steve Fair

In November 2010, Oklahoma voters will be casting their ballot on a State Question authored by State Senator Anthony Sykes, R-Moore. The State Question, if passed, will amend the State Constitution to require that Oklahoma state government conduct business in the English language. According to a poll by Bill Shapard of Soonerpoll, 86% of Oklahomans support making English the official language of states government. The joint resolution passed the State House by a vote of 89-8 and the Senate by a vote of 44-2 back in May during the later part of the 2009 legislative session.

“Making English the official language of state government is not only the humane thing to do, it’s also cost-effective. Right now, Oklahoma taxpayers can be forced to pay for government materials to be printed in up to 300 different languages or even pay for individual translators in every language. We are already seeing large sums spent on Spanish-language driver’s manuals no one uses while facing a shortage of English manuals. It’s time to eliminate that waste and be efficient with taxpayer funds.” I’m certain that the people of the state of Oklahoma will support the resolution as drafted and it will be part of our constitution,” Sykes said confidently.

The actual ballot language for the SQ is: “This measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It would add a new Article 30. This amendment states that English is the common and unifying language of the state. All official actions of the state would be in English, except as required by federal law. No one would have a cause of action against an agency or subdivision of the state for failure to provide actions in any other language. The amendment could not be construed to diminish or impair uses of Native American languages. The Legislature would be able to enact related laws.”

Note that Sykes and the House authors made a provision for Oklahoma rich Native American language heritage, which had been a controversial issue in the 2008 legislative session.
Already thirty other states and more than fifty nations have adopted official English laws. Sykes has worked long and hard on this issue. He campaigned on the issue when he ran in 2006. But getting it to a vote of the people did not come without difficulty.

In a letter dated April 14, 2009(in the middle of the "English" debate in the legislature) from Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King, the DOJ letter states, “As you know, recipients of federal financial assistance must comply with various civil rights statutes, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964…which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin.” The letter continues, “State agencies and other entities in Oklahoma that receive federal financial assistance thus would be precluded by federal law from abiding by an English-only requirement where it conflicts with their obligations under Title VI.”

The not so veiled threat from the feds that Oklahoma would lose federal money if voters chose to make English the official language of state government raised the hackles of the Oklahoma Congressional delegation. Senators Coburn, Inhofe, and U.S. Reps Lucus, Cole, Fallin, Sullivan, and Boren fired off a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder pointing out that several other states have passed similar legislation and asked if they too have been “accused by the Department of Justice to be in violation with Title VI, or formally threatened with funding termination?” The delegation letter asked for an explanation for what prompted the DOJ to write the state of Oklahoma on this issue and seeks explanation for what funds would be eliminated should Oklahomans pass the English only amendment.

Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. said, “Attorney General Holder owes the residents of Oklahoma an explanation as to why this thinly veiled threat was issued to Oklahoma on a state matter. The last thing Oklahoma needs is a bureaucrat in Washington dictating more of what we can and cannot do. Officials at the Department of Justice should focus on more pressing matters under their jurisdiction before issuing statements about a state issue that has yet to become law.”

On October 9th, the Congressional delegation received a response from the DOJ. The explanation stated the Department learned of the Oklahoma Constitutional amendment through media reports and said, “Please be assured that voter approval next year of Oklahoma’s official English amendment would not affect the state’s eligibility for federal financial assistance from the Department.” U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe said, “I am pleased that the Justice Department has backed off its threat over Oklahoma’s proposed English-only constitutional amendment.”

Voters should vote to approve the State Question next November and the reasons are clear. First, by making English our official language we encourage immigrants to assimilate into American society. President Theodore Roosevelt once said, "We have one language here, and that is the English language, and we intend to see that the [assimilation] crucible turns our people out as Americans." Secondly, Official English would also reinforce America's historic message to new immigrants - that we expect them to learn English as the first step in that assimilation.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Weekly Opinion/Editorial
by Steve Fair

In June, Oklahoma State House Speaker Chris Benge- R, Tulsa, authorized one hundred and twenty “interim” studies to study issues. One of the studies was requested by State Representatives Sue Tibbs, R-Tulsa, and Danny Morgan, D-Prague to study cell phone and texting use while driving. Tibbs chairs the House Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, in which Morgan is a member.

Morgan, who is the House minority leader, has filed bills to ban cell phone use in cars the past two legislative sessions, but it hasn’t gotten anywhere. Morgan remains undeterred in his attempts to emphasize the risks of distracted driving. "Erratic driving due to cell phone use is only getting worse as drivers continue to overestimate their own ability to juggle phone use while behind the wheel," Morgan claims.

Currently six states (California, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington) as well as Washington DC ban handheld cell phone for all drivers. With the exception of Washington State, these laws are all primary enforcement—an officer may ticket a driver for using a handheld cell phone while driving without any other traffic offense-taking place.
No state completely bans all types of cell phone use (handheld and hands-free) for all drivers, but many prohibit cell phone use by certain segments of the population.

For example, twenty-one state and DC ban all cell phone use by novice drivers (under 21). Eighteen states and the District of Columbia now ban text messaging for all drivers and nine states prohibit text messaging by novice drivers.

At last week’s interim study at the State Capital, an emotional Jennifer Smith told the story of how her mother was killed in a car accident last September by a driver distracted on a cell phone who ran a red light. The emotional and passionate Smith advocates banning all cell phone use in moving vehicles.

Scott Watkins, director of the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office, also spoke at the meeting and said there is no evidence to show that talking on a cell phone is more of a distraction than other distractions. Watkins said that in 2008 only 2.3% of car wrecks were due to driver distracted with cell phones.

That number may be higher because currently cell-phone use is self-reported at the time of an accident. That means drivers can admit or deny they were on their cell phone or texting. Current Oklahoma law requires that a subpoena or court order be issued to get cell phone records to find out if a driver was using their phone using the phone/texting. Law enforcement would like to be able to get that information without getting a court order or subpoena.

In 2008, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 34,017 fatalities in 2008 from auto accidents. According to the NHTSA, thirty one percent of fatal crashes in 2008 were alcohol related. Mark Edwards, Director of Traffic Safety at the American Automobile Association, believes driver distraction is a close second. Edward says, "The research tells us that somewhere between 25-50 percent of all motor vehicle crashes in this country really have driver distraction as their root cause." Distractions include rubbernecking, driver fatigue, kids/passengers, reading maps or other documents and grooming. The AAA study said that talking on your mobile while driving will increase crash risks fourfold.

In a study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, people who send text messages while driving are 23 times more likely to be in a crash (or what they call a near-crash event) than nondistracted drivers. Prevention magazine says that at least eighty five percent of cell phone users talk on their phone while driving.

Technology has advanced at such a rate that lawmakers believe it essential they deal with it. Not only is the Oklahoma state legislature taking up the issue of cell phone use while driving, but so are state cities and municipalities. The Duncan City Council already has the issue on their radar screen.

The problem of people not excercising common sense and using electronics of all types while driving is certainly a problem. I drive over 50K miles each year and have seen about every “distraction” you can imagine by passing drivers. It’s also true that modern communication technology has made it almost seemingly impossible for some people to be “off the grid” for even an hour while driving, but with the amount of traffic laws on the books, I’m not sure adding another is the answer.

It seems rather discriminating for us to single out just one cause of distraction for possible ticketing. Shouldn’t we make it illegal for people to “groom” while driving? How often have you seen a woman putting on make-up or a guy shaving while passing you at 75? How about making it illegal for people to “look back” (rubberneck) while driving?

These proposed “cell phone” laws take away individual personal liberty in the name of personal safety. Individual personal security can’t be legislated and these laws are intrusive and unnecessary.