Monday, May 19, 2014
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
This is the last week of the 2014 Oklahoma state legislative session. According to the Oklahoma state constitution, legislative sessions must begin at noon on the first Monday in February, cannot exceed one hundred and sixty days, and must be finally adjourned by no later than five o'clock p.m. on the last Friday in May of each year. This has been an interesting legislative session. Early in the session, the Senate passed a bill to approve the National Popular Vote compact, but after an uprising from the citizens in the state, the House thankfully killed the bill. Common Core has been debated all session and appears to be headed for repeal in the Sooner state (we’ll see). Tax breaks for drilling, increased bonding authority for school districts to build storm shelters, funding for the Indian Cultural Center, and repair of the Capitol are still issues the legislature may tackle before they Sine Die on Friday.
The legislature did approve a budget last week that is $102 million less than last year’s budget. Common education (public schools) funding, however, increased by $80 million. Many state agencies took cuts of 5-6% but public safety, higher ed, and mental health were not cut.
Some observations about the issues that still linger at the legislature:
First, the Indian Cultural Center is a money pit. It’s an uncompleted building in a high traffic location- I40 & I35- in Oklahoma City. The state has already been out over $100 million dollars on this boondoggle, but here’s the dilemma; do you let the building just set there unfinished or do you appropriate taxpayer dollars to finish it? Bear in mind, the state is paying for maintenance and upkeep on the building now. It’s a tough issue and there is no clear cut right answer. Some Republicans are adamant that we should not fund the project- others say give them the $40 million and get it finished. This whole project has been a complete mismanaged mess, but if completed, the museum ‘could’ be a great compliment to the Western Heritage Museum- or not. Who really knows? A plan to take $40 million out of unclaimed property was rejected because the legislature rightfully recognized that in a down budget year, it sends the wrong message if you fund the Cultural Session, but cut more essential services. It is a quagmire.
Second, why are we not using some of the rainy day fund to repair the Capitol? The Rainy Day fund has been tapped for funding shortfalls far less legitimate than the crumbling Capitol building. Or better yet, why not use a portion of the ‘reserve funds’ state agencies have sitting in the bank? According to last estimates, over $800 million of taxpayer dollars is sitting in state agency bank accounts. The estimates to fix the Capitol- and it needs repair- is $120 million. Why doesn’t the legislature pass a bill to have every agency to send in 20% of the reserve funds? That sounds reasonable and logical, but no one is talking about the reserve funds. Isn’t that money the taxpayers? That’s not the property of the state agency! I can assure you that if a vote were taken, the vast majority of Oklahomans would support taking money out of the accounts of state agencies in lieu borrowing money and having their kids and grandkids pay it back.
Third, increasing the bonding amount for school districts to build storm shelters is a no-brainer. It allows the local school district to determine whether they want a shelter on not. The legislature should also look at giving a tax break to organizations and individuals who would contribute to a school district for a storm shelter. Everyone wants Oklahoma’s kids safe, but mandating a district to provide a storm shelter when they don’t want or need one is foolhardy. School districts are not one size fits all.
Fourth, the tax break for horizontal drilling is a complicated one. When the tax break was initiated, just a small percentage of wells were horizontal, but now the vast majority of wells drilled are horizontal. The tax breaks should continue for the following reason- it’s their money! It’s not the state’s money! What many legislators mistakenly believe is a corporation pays taxes, but ultimately tax increases are passed on to the consumer. Keep the tax on drilling low and you stimulate drilling.On a personal note, my wife Debbie will retire on Friday. She has been teaching for 39.5 years in three Oklahoma school systems. She has positively impacted literally thousands of children’s lives. She’s the real hero in our family!
Monday, May 12, 2014
Weekly Opinion Editorial
FISH FRY IS A BIG DEAL!
by Steve Fair
The first SCGOP Fish Fry was held in 2005 and the speaker was Congressman Tom Cole. Through the years, the event has featured both politicos and entertainers. Keynotes have included a Will Rogers impersonator, a John Wayne impersonator, and Prayer Force One, a bus painted like Air Force One. For the first couple of years, it was held in the Territory Hall at the Fairgrounds, but the last five years, the event has been held in the Stephens County Fairgrounds Rodeo Arena. Last year U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe spoke to over 750, the year before, Senator Anthony Sykes to a similar number. In 2010, Senator Tom Coburn spoke to over 850. The largest crowd in the event’s history is expected this year when Governor Mary Fallin is the keynote speaker. Republicans will travel from all over the state to be at the largest gathering of Rs before the June 24th primary.
This event is unique for a variety of reasons. First, it is completely and totally planned and executed by volunteers. There is no caterer, decorator, event planner, or professional fundraiser. Local GOP volunteers clean, bread and fry the fish. Local candidates and elected officials serve the fish and everyone helps clean up. It is a complete team effort. The local Party owns two large ‘Cajun Cooker’ fish fryers, and borrows two others. Each of the fryers has four frying baskets. The huge crowd is served hot fish with all the trimmings in less than thirty minutes. The logistics itself is impressive. Why would volunteers invest their time and energy on an event that requires hours of sacrifice? Quite simply, because they believe they are making a difference in their government. They know the money raised will be used to help elect solid conservative candidates to office.
The second reason the event is unique is because it features only one keynote speaker. Unlike most political events, where everyone who is an elected official or a candidate gets to speak, on Saturday night only Governor Fallin will speak. There will be literally dozens of elected officials in attendance. Nine of the twelve statewide elected officials in Oklahoma are expected to attend. More than a dozen state legislators will be there. There will be at least three candidates for the open U.S. Senate seat and both candidates for the Corporation Commission seat. And none will get to speak from the platform other than the keynote speaker. They are encouraged to campaign and engage those in attendance person to person, but this event is a fundraiser for the local Party, not a candidate forum.
The final reason this event is unique is because it is fun. Most political events can’t be categorized as fun. The Stephens County GOP Fish Fry features clowns (real ones, not just the politicians) for the kids, fun videos and there is an informal causal festive atmosphere. It’s readily apparent the organizers of this event don’t take themselves seriously even though they take the cause very seriously. There is laughing and joking and the live auction becomes entertainment in and of itself. This year, the auction will have a pair of George HW Bush’s socks, a Browning 28 gauge over and under, and a Henry Golden Boy 22! This event is special simply because it is different than a normal political event.
The Stephens County GOP does present the Dr. Gerald Beasley Jr. Memorial Award at the Fish Fry. It is an award given annually to a local volunteer activist who has demonstrated a true grassroots spirit of changing their government from the bottom up. The late Dr. Beasley was a long time Duncan physician whose passion was politics. The recipient of the award is not publicly disclosed until the time of presentation.
If you want to meet a lot of elected officials, have some great fish and a fun time; come join the Stephens County Republican Party on Saturday night at the Stephens County Fairgrounds. It all kicks off at 6pm, but rest assured the candidates and the clowns will be there early. For ticket information, call 580.656.7951 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, May 5, 2014
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve FairOn Monday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that prayers at town council meetings do not violate the U.S. Constitution. In a 5-4 decision, the court said the content of the prayers are fine, so long as they do not denigrate non-Christians or are used to proselyte people of other faiths. The lawsuit, Greece vs. Galloway- was brought by two citizens of Greece, NY who were afraid non-Christians could be offended by the prayers offered before the council meetings. A lower court ruled in the town’s favor, but the ruling was overturned by the federal appeals court. The town then appealed to the nation’s highest court.
Four observations regarding the ruling;
First, public prayer is a tradition in America. Public prayer predates the founding of our country. At the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin, one of the least religious founders, said, “I therefore beg leave to move—that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.” Even Franklin recognized that calling upon the Creator was important. Up until 1962, most public schools opened the day with prayer. But for fifty years, school children in America have not been able to publicly pray in school. The liberals have successfully lobbied to make American society tolerant and inclusive for everyone but Christians.
Second, public prayer isn’t what it used to be. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, said the public prayers are largely ceremonial and in keeping with the nation's traditions. "The inclusion of a brief, ceremonial prayer as part of a larger exercise in civic recognition suggests that its purpose and effect are to acknowledge religious leaders and the institutions they represent, rather than to exclude or coerce nonbelievers," Kennedy said. The sad commentary on Kennedy’s statement is that it is true- public prayers today are largely ceremonial. Many who offer public prayer try to be inclusive and to not offend anyone in attendance.
Third, no court of man can sanction or ban prayer. That is the fallacy of the ruling. Nine black-robed justices can neither mandate nor stop public prayer. They can sanction a ritualistic prayer before a council meeting or stop the prayer before a football game (they did that in 1992), but in reality, prayer is personal communication with God. Charles Spurgeon said, “True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is a spiritual commerce with the Creator of heaven and earth.” I’m sure you have heard the adage, “so long as there are tests in school, there will be prayer in school.”Fourth, the Supreme Court has been inconsistent on rulings regarding public prayer. In 1962, the court ruled that prayer in public schools was unconstitutional. In 1983, the court ruled the Nebraska legislature could open their sessions with prayer. In 1992, the high court ruled a student’s prayer before a football game was a violation of the constitution. Now this week’s ruling in favor of prayer. The reason for the inconsistency is the make-up of the court at any given time. Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life by the President. Currently we have what is generally considered a ‘conservative’ court, even though that is certainly debatable.
This week’s ruling was good for America. Our country certainly needs public prayer, but more importantly than fighting to make sure a ‘tradition’ is preserved, we need to implore the God of heaven and earth, privately, to regenerate hearts in America and to draw men to Him.