Wednesday, December 30, 2015
Weekly Opinion Editorial
2016 PRESENTS A CHALLENGE TO LAWMAKERS
by Steve Fair
2015 is almost in the books and it has been an interesting year in politics. The 2016 presidential election kicked off with no less than thirty seven Republicans tossing their hat in the ring. Only thirteen were considered serious candidates and now that field has been winnowed down to ten. Eleven of the major candidates spoke in May at the Cox Center in Oklahoma City at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference. The SRLC was the largest political event ever staged in Oklahoma. Over 2,000 attended and it put Oklahoma in the worldwide political spotlight for 72 hours. It allowed Oklahoma to have some impact in the GOP primary process.
The first votes to be cast to determine the two major Parties nominee will be on Monday February 1st at the Iowa caucus. Iowa’s delegate count is less than 1% of the delegates to the GOP national convention, but since it is the first in the country, it is considered to be very important. The race is reportedly very close and history has shown the candidate with more ‘boots on the ground’ than the competition will win. Huckabee, Santorum, and Howard Dean have all won Iowa. They are examples of candidates with little money, but passionate volunteers who get their vote out. The presidential race is, and will continue to be, fun to watch, but Oklahomans need to pay attention to something closer to home.
Last week, the Oklahoma State Board of Equalization, a seven member board composed of six statewide elected officials and the Secretary of Agriculture, who is appointed by the Governor met. Their job, according to the state constitution, is to review state revenue figures and ‘certify’ the amount of money the Oklahoma state legislature has to appropriate in the upcoming fiscal year, which begins in July. That number is 901 million dollars, 13% less than last year. The board also heard the amount they certified last year is going to fall short about 2-4%, based on current revenue trends. That will mean Oklahoma common education (schools), agencies, and transportation will face budget shortfalls in the next six months. Times are tough in Oklahoma government. If these numbers were presented to a corporate, publically traded board, massive layoffs would ensue and every departmental head would be charged to justify every dime they were asking to spend. Until the ‘income’ side of the ledger showed some improvement, management would impose a hiring and wage freeze, but that is not how government- at any level- works. Government doesn’t do layoffs or wage freezes.
In a 2011 USA Today analysis, it was found that government fires only about .55% of workers annually for poor performance, compared to 3% in the private sector. Most of those fired by the government were entry level, where in the private sector it was evenly distributed throughout all levels. Ronald Reagan said.: “the closest thing to eternity life in this world is a government job.”
The basic problem is when government faces a shortfall, they try to fix only one side of the ledger- the revenue side. When the budget is down, even conservative Republicans begin to talk about eliminating tax credits and exemptions like uncollected tax money belongs to the government and not to the people who generated it. Make no mistake, some tax credits should be reviewed, because of fraud and abuse, but conservatives need to be careful in proclaiming that uncollected tax money is the governments. It isn’t. It belongs to the one who earned it.
Another issue the Oklahoma legislature faces is the amount of actual truly ‘appropriated’ money they get to control. With all the ‘earmarks,’ (money off the top), the legislature will get to actually haggle over less than half the $901 million. Through the years past legislatures have made long-term revenue commitments to causes that bind future legislatures. Legislative leaders and the Governor would like to see that changed
“A lot of our agencies have lost anywhere from one-fourth to one-third of their budgets, but those off-the-top entities haven't," Speaker of the House Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview said. "They get their money off the top, paid in full, and they have never felt any of this pain like a lot of our agencies." Hickman makes a valid point, but until the legislature is willing to work on the spending side of the ledger, this is merely wealth redistribution.
Trump’s appeal to many voters is his pledge to run government like a business. The fact is, government can’t be run like a business because government is an entity far different than a business, but fundamental principles of common sense that successful businesses use would be a great improvement over our current government model of tax and spend.
Monday, December 21, 2015
Weekly Opinion Editorial
CHRISTMAS AND POLITICS!
by Steve Fair
In two days, the world will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. While it isn’t universally accepted that Jesus of Nazareth was born on December 25th, it is a historical fact He was born, so it is appropriate to celebrate the incarnation of God in flesh. In a so-called Christian nation like America, most people believe they know the ‘reason for the season,’ but most really do not. Most do not grasp the primary reason Christ was born. Was his birth to present God to man? Was it to teach truth or to fulfill the Mosaic Law? It must have been to offer His kingdom to mankind or to reveal God’s love to mankind? It has to be to heal the sick? Christ did came to do those things, but those were secondary to his primary purpose. The primary purpose Christ was born was to suffer and die. He was born to die.
John MacArthur says because Christ died, He is five things to a believer: (1) He is our substitute, (2) He is our salvation captain, (3) He is our sanctifier, (4) He is our Satan conqueror, and (5) He is our sympathetic high priest. “He (Jesus Christ) died to recreate men into a creature that God had always intended man to be. He died to make a man what man was meant to be but without Him could never be,” MacArthur says. Most people this time of year have an image of Christ as a helpless baby in a manger, but He was the very image of God in helpless babe. He was much more than mere man; He was God made flesh. So what does the birth of Christ have to do with politics?
First, Christ is the Creator and as such He owns and controls everything in His creation. That means that ‘helpless’ babe controls everything that happens in the world, including the political arena. He controls who gets elected and who doesn’t- who votes liberal and who doesn’t. He can choose to stop wickedness or allow man to manifest his depravity in his inhumanity toward his fellow man. That ‘helpless’ babe sets up kings (and presidents and dog catchers) and brings them down. Fox News, MSNBS, political consultants, activists, and influence peddlers may think they are running the show in politics, but the fact is, they are mere pawns in the hand of a sovereign Creator.
Second, Christ can’t be pleased with politics in America. Backbiting, lying, situational ethics, self promotion, and incessant bragging are standard operating procedure in politics today. The pride and arrogance of the modern politician, liberal and conservative, doesn’t square with the revealed word of God. Politics in a society is a mere reflection of that society. Our politicians are a reflection of who we are as a country. In a self-governed system, we only have ourselves to blame. Until the average American recognizes that doing things God’s way is the only hope of America, we are doomed to having the loud and proud crowd as political leaders.
Third, Christ came to seek and save the lost. How do you identify the lost? They are proud, self-absorbed, and see no need for God. That describes the political class. Because of the aforementioned behavior, they certainly fail to show forth the ‘fruit of the spirit.’ Humility and meekness are not attributes elected officials strive to have. Bluster and hyperbole are the order of the day in politics. Thankfully, there are some in politics who are thoughtful and Christ-like, but they are rare. Most in the political profession need the gospel. They need the regenerating work of Christ upon their sinful depraved heart. They need to see themselves as they are before a holy God as He is.As you celebrate the birth of a Savior this week, recognize God will not bless America if we are not following His principles- in politics or in any other part of our society. To expect otherwise is naïve and foolhardy. The ‘helpless’ babe is in fact the great Creator and He rules the world- period.
Monday, December 14, 2015
Weekly Opinion Editorial
JUDICIAL RACES SHOULD BE PARTISAN!
by Steve Fair
State Representative Kevin Calvey, (R-Edmond) will file a bill- House Joint Resolution #1037- to place on the November 2016 ballot the opportunity for Oklahomans to vote on whether the State Supreme Court and two appellate court judges would be elected in nonpartisan elections. The bill would have to clear the State House and Senate before it gets to the ballot.
“Our current system of selecting state Supreme Court jurists is not transparent, not accountable to the people and is dominated by the lawyers’ special interest group. No wonder we get outrageous state Supreme Court decisions like banning the Ten Commandments, causing extra costs on doctors and small business owners and allowing predatory abortionists like felon Dr. Patel to remain unregulated. Twenty-one states elect their state Supreme Court by popular election. States which elect their Supreme Courts actually rank better than Oklahoma in terms of impartiality and the competence of judges. Contrary to the special-interest hysteria of entrenched opponents of reform, the facts show that electing state Supreme Court jurists will improve Oklahoma’s judiciary, not cause problems. It is also contrary to false claims from the lawyers’ special interest group, the Oklahoma Bar Association, that Oklahoma’s current system was not necessary to prevent judicial corruption in a 1960s court bribery scandal. The truth is, the lawyers used the judicial bribery scandal as a pretext to enact Oklahoma's lawyer-dominated judicial selection system, a system that had been proposed over 25 years earlier,” Calvey said.
Calvey is right on the history of how Oklahoma went from directly electing the judicial to a retention ballot system that simply doesn’t work. The law lobby effectively convinced the public they knew who would be better on the bench than the electorate. Currently seventeen states, including Oklahoma hold ‘retention’ elections for judges. Retention doesn’t work here and it doesn’t work across the country. In the sixty years since Kansas has had retention, it hasn’t voted out a judge. There is a major movement in Illinois to jettison the retention ballot system. There the judge has to get 60% to stay on the bench, and they have never kicked one off the bench.
A recent poll conducted by North Star Opinion found that 79% of registered voters polled favor directly electing the judiciary with only 16% favoring the current retention system. A.J. Ferate, the State GOP General Counsel, says the poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Oklahomans want to see real elections for judges. “When implemented, HJR 1037 will bring transparency to judicial selection and balance of powers between the branches of government,” said Ferate. “The poll numbers show that independent of political party, Oklahomans want change in the way state Supreme Court jurists are selected.”
Currently seven states, including Texas Alabama, and Louisiana, have ‘partisan’ races for their high courts. Fourteen states hold non-partisan elections for justices.
Calvey’s proposal would mirror how district and associate district judges are currently elected in the Sooner state. They are elected in what is billed as non-partisan elections and can’t associate with any political Party or tell people how they are registered. The non-disclosure of Party affiliation is a stupid rule and quite frankly makes no sense. Fact is- no election is completely non-partisan. Partisan is defined as someone who is a strong supporter of a party, cause or person. Every person has values, opinions, and convictions. One of the best ways to discern what those values, opinions and convictions is to know which political Party they are affiliated with. If they are pro-life, pro-second amendment, pro-limited government, they are likely registered Republican. If they are pro-choice, pro-gun control, and believe the government should run every facet of our life, then they are likely a Democrat. Party affiliation is our first vote. It is important. A person should be proud of the political Party affiliation, just like their religious affiliation. Every candidate, at all levels and for all races should all have to declare what their Party affiliation is. It helps voters identify what their view of the role of government truly is.
Calvey’s idea is a far sight better than what we have, but encourage your state legislator to support a proposal to make judges run partisan races, like in Texas, Alabama, and Louisiana. That would force judicial candidates to help us know if they are a conservative or liberal. We have enough liberal jurists now.
Monday, December 7, 2015
Weekly Opinion Editorial
RETENTION NEEDS TO BE RELEASED!
by Steve Fair
Oklahoma’s court system has five types of court functions: (1) A court of limited jurisdiction, (2) A court of general jurisdiction, (3) An immediate appellate court, (4) A special court, and (5) a court of last resort. Only Oklahoma and Texas have a court of last resort. The Oklahoma Supreme Court and Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals are courts of last resort. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals is an intermediate appeals court. You lose there and you can still appeal to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Confused? Just wait, it gets better.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court is made up of nine justices(8 of the current 9 appointed by a Democrat). Their average tenure is 13 years. The Court of Criminal Appeals has five justices(3 of the 5 appointed by a Democrat). Their average tenure is 15.6 years. The Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals has twelve judges(8 of the 12 appointed by a Democrat). Their average tenure is 12.2 years.
Unlike District Judges, these twenty six are appointed by the Governor. Nineteen of the current judges on the three courts were appointed by a Democrat. The process to appoint involves the Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission, a fifteen member board- six are appointed by the Governor and six are appointed by the Oklahoma bar, one appointed each by the Speaker of the House and the Senate Pro Tempore and selected at large by the commission itself. After screening and interviews, the Commission recommends three qualified candidates for the Governor to choose from. The Governor can deviate from their recommendations, but seldom does. Judges are appointed for life, but must face voters on a retention ballot every six years.
Up until 1967, Oklahoma voters elected these twenty six judges just like they do district judges, and associate district judges, but after approving State Question #447 in July(primary election) by a narrow margin, the state went to a retention ballot for the top two courts. In 1987, the Court of Civil Appeals joined them. Since Oklahoma adopted a retention ballot system regarding judges, not one judge has been kicked out. It has been close a couple of times, but they always manage to get enough yes votes to stay. Either these judges in Oklahoma have done an amazing job over the past 60 years or the retention system isn’t working.
On average about ten to twelve judges are on the ballot in Oklahoma’s general election every two years. Because of Oklahoma statute 1401.1, judges- even local ones- are forbidden from disclosing their political Party affiliation. They can’t even attend a political Party event because their office is ‘non-partisan.’ Fact is, every race is partisan and voters deserve to know what side of the bread their judicial candidates are buttering.
Finding out information on who is on the retention ballot requires a great deal of personal research. The judges on a retention ballot are not required to provide the public any information on themselves. The Oklahoma Bar Association maintains a website with the names of those on the ballot, when they were appointed and who appointed them, but finding out whether they are a liberal jurist or conservative one is next to impossible. Many voters go into the voting booth with little information on the judges and simply do not vote. The retention portion of the ballot is always the most under voted in every election.
State Representative Bobby Cleveland, (R-Slaughterville) says the state judiciary system is not nearly transparent enough for the public to hold elected judges accountable. Cleveland said he intends to file a bill during the upcoming session that would require disciplinary actions taken against judges – and the reasons behind those actions – be made public. “The public deserves and demands transparency in all branches of government, because it serves as a vital check and balance on government,” said Cleveland. “As an equal branch of government, the judiciary oftentimes works in anonymity when compared to the executive and legislative branches. Nevertheless, it too must be accountable to the public it serves.”
Cleveland is on the right track. The public should be made aware of any disciplinary action a jurist may have received. Full disclosure and transparency should be applicable to the judiciary. Citizens shouldn’t have to hire a private investigator to find out about a tax payer funded judge that is on the ballot. But real judiciary reform in Oklahoma must include discussion of term limits. It is time to consider term limits for the judiciary in Oklahoma. Clearly the retention ballot is not working.
Monday, November 30, 2015
Weekly Opinion Editorial
GOVERNMENT SHOULD REDUCE SIZE!
by Steve Fair
Oklahoma state government has a Rainy Day Fund, aka the Constitutional Reserve Fund. It works as a savings account for government so in the case of an emergency, it can be tapped. Any revenue over 95% of revenue estimates collected in a year is deposited into the Rainy Day Fund. The state constitution caps the amount to be deposited to the fund at 15% of the General Revenue Fund estimate provided by the State Board of Equalization for the prior fiscal year.
The legislature can tap the Rainy Day Fund if the state’s official estimate shows that the following fiscal year will bring in less than the current year. 3/8 of the Rainy Day Fund can be used for supplemental funding. Another ¼ of the fund can be tapped if the governor and ¾ of the legislature declare a state of emergency.
Twice in the past eleven years, Oklahoma voters have changed how the fund works. In 2004, the amount of money the legislature could use was reduced from 1/2 to 3/8. The change passed by a 2 to 1 margin. In 2010, Oklahoma voters narrowly passed a proposal to increase the amount that was to be deposited to the fund- from 10 to 15%. The measure passed by a mere 20,000 votes statewide. Now it appears voters will be asked to vote on changes to the Rainy Day Fund in November 2016.
State Representative Jon Echols, (R-OKC), says he intends to file legislation in the upcoming legislative session allowing voters to amend the Constitution to both increase the cap – but not lower it – and allow the Legislature to appropriate directly to the fund.
“The idea that we should cap how much money the state can save is, frankly, ridiculous. Not only is there a cap on how much we can save, there is also legitimate doubt among House staff as to whether the Legislature has the authority to make direct appropriations into the Rainy Day Fund. Neither of those restrictions make any sense. We had a $600 million budget gap last year, and we are now looking at up to $1 billion less this year to appropriate. Our current approach is shortsighted and bizarre. Taxpayers expect us to be prudent and develop a long-term approach to state spending. This is not the way a citizen would run his or her family and it certainly isn’t the way we should run our state,” Echols said.
Oklahoma Finance Secretary Preston Doerflinger says he would like to create another fund, similar to the Rainy Day Fund that would allow state government to sock away some funds for down budget years. In an editorial in The Oklahoman, Doerflinger said, “I think there are tools we should put in place, maybe a separate fund that would help equalize these types of downturns in the energy sector. It might cause some smoothing or leveling of the pain that occurs if you were to see something this dramatic in the future.”
First, Echols has a point. Why restrict how much money the legislature can put in savings? After all, saving money is better than government spending it. That sounds pretty good, but government is not a family or a business. When government socks away tax dollars into a savings account that means they are overcharging taxpayers. If there is a surplus, give it back to the people it belongs to- the taxpayers. Government, at all levels should operate efficiently, but not be banking up a surplus- in good or bad times.
Second, the legislature taps the Rainy Day Fund virtually every year. It doesn’t even have to cloud up before they hit the savings account. That is why voters overwhelmingly voted to reduce how much the lawmakers could tap. The fund was set up for emergencies, but every year there is an emergency.
Third, the legislature should consider fundamentally changing the budgeting process and force agencies to justify every penny of tax dollar they are appropriated. They should also commit to identifying and eliminating waste. They need to force government agencies to consolidate. Stabilization should never be the goal of government. It should be to become more efficient and reduce in size and scope.Currently the Rainy Day Fund has a balance of $382 million. With an expected budget shortfall of $1 billion or more, it’s a sure bet the legislature will be tapping the fund. Until Oklahoma government is truly right-sized and streamlined, giving Oklahoma government more money- whether in a savings account or not- is inconsistent with good government. Government should be saving money by cutting operational costs, not by efficient management of more money.