Monday, May 30, 2016

Record Budget Hole in 2016!

Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair

     On Friday, the Oklahoma state legislature adjourned sine die, which is Latin for ‘without day.”  That effectively ends this legislative session unless a special session is called.  The session was a challenging one.  Lawmakers faced a historic $1.3 billion dollar budget shortfall primarily due to the depressed price of oil.  On Friday the House narrowly passed the nearly $7 billion dollar budget that borrows $200 million to fill the budget hole. “This budget closes a sizable portion of a monumental budget hole and prevents the dire, unacceptable outcomes so many Oklahomans have feared may happen this session. There are still reductions in this budget, but it is certainly a workable budget even amid a major energy sector downturn that is creating difficulties all across Oklahoma,” Gov. Mary Fallin said in a prepared statement.

     The legislature passed a resolution that will have voters considering modernizing Oklahoma’s liquor laws.  If the State Question passes in November, wine and strong beer will be sold at grocery stores.   They killed a bill that would have increased taxes on cigarettes by $1.50 a pack to shore up the state’s Medicaid program.  They killed the federal mandated RealID, but it will be back. You can bet on it.  National Popular Vote raised its ugly head, but didn’t get any traction, but it will be back as well.   

     Once again the legislature talked about school consolidation, but nothing was done.  Senate President Pro Tempe Brian Bingman, (R- Sapulpa) says it is a major issue the state must address.  “The state doesn’t need over 500 school districts,” he said.  Same goes for consolidation of state law enforcement agencies-talked about, but never seriously considered.

     Education saving accounts(ESAs) were discussed but effective lobbying by the education establishment killed it.  Civil asset forfeiture proposals were opposed by law enforcement and never considered,  A House Joint Resolution to let voters consider making it harder to put restrictions on gun ownership failed.  So did a ‘Vermont carry’ bill. 

     The legislature passed a bill that if signed into law would have made abortion illegal in the state and those who performed abortion subject to having their medical license revoked.  Governor Fallin vetoed the bill, saying it would never pass judicial scrutiny.  The authors of the bill did not attempt to override the Governor’s veto.    

     Voters in November will be voting on whether Oklahoma will participate in a ‘convention of the states,” the so-called Article five convention.  Proponents of an Article Five insist that Congress will never pass a balanced budget amendment and term limits and so states must take the bull by the horns and convene a constitutional convention to get it done.  Those who oppose the Article Five don’t oppose a balanced budget amendment and term limits, but believe the Article Five is not the right vehicle.  Former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn is a big supporter of the Article Five.  Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum opposes an Article Five.  This issue divides many in the conservative ranks.  All agree on the goal, but not on the vehicle. Dr. Tom Coburn correctly pointed out that voters do not have to approve the Article Five- only the state legislature.  I appreciate him pointing that out and it allowed me to address the Article Five in this week's editorial(above)

     Legislators also passed a Joint Resolution that will have voters in November deciding on whether to remove the so-called ‘Blaine amendment,” from the state constitution.  The Blaine was what the state Supreme Court cited as what forced the removal of the Ten Commandments monument from state property. 

    This legislative session has been criticized, second-guessed and maligned more than any in recent history, but fact is no Oklahoma legislature has faced a budget hole this big- ever.  Even in the ‘80s during the oil bust, it was never this bad.  There is no doubt lawmakers could have done some things differently and increasing their own operating budgets doesn’t make you look good, but they did cut state government spending.  Everyone has an opinion- and they are entitled to it- about how the legislature performed.  Abraham Lincoln said, “He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.”  But it’s a lot easier being an arm chair quarterback than playing the game.

Monday, May 23, 2016

In the ring, Trump is relentless!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair

     According to the latest RealClear Politics polling average, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are in a virtual statistical dead heat.  Just six weeks ago, Clinton led Trump by double digits, but the current average has them within .2% of each other.    The only poll that really counts is the one held on Election Day, but it is significant that Trump has surged against Clinton.  Here is why:
     First, Trump is the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party.  For the first time in recent memory, Republicans have a presumptive nominee before the Democrats.  That gives a definitive advantage to Trump.  Clinton is still battling Senator Sanders for the Democrat nomination.  Sanders has little or no chance of wrestling the nomination from Clinton, but so long as he stays in the race, Clinton is fighting battles on two fronts, while Trump is fighting only Clinton. 
     Second, Clinton is not an energy candidate.  Even her inner circle admits she struggles with engaging regular folks and prefers policy wonks.  Patti Solis Doyle, a former campaign aide, says this about Hillary’s attitude toward campaigning:  “You know, [Hillary Clinton is] tired. She gets tired. She does it. She does it dutifully. Is it her most fun thing to do? No,” Doyle said. “Would she rather be looking at policy and going through legislation and working with a bunch of experts on how to, you know, improve the Affordable Care Act? Absolutely.”   Trump has effectively attacked her as being ‘low energy,’ and said he doesn’t think she has the physical strength to be president.  It appears that has gained traction with voters.  You will recall that Trump was able to effectively tag Jeb Bush as a low energy candidate in the early GOP primaries. 
     Third, Trump doesn’t back off- ever.  Traditional politicos don’t attack their opponents on a personal level.  They back off a tad when backing off is more politically expedient than pressing forward.  Trump doubles down when his opponents attack him.  The Donald is the definition of politically incorrect.  He says what is on his mind- every time.  In a political environment where voters have been exploited, manipulated, and lied to, Trump’s real straight talk has appeal.    
     Fourth, Clinton’s track record is dismal.  For someone with an impressive resume- U.S. Senate, Secretary of State and First Lady- she has a poor record of accomplishments.  Experience doesn’t always translate to success.  Clinton has been on the wrong side of most major issues for years.  Hillary is more liberal than Bill Clinton.  She doesn’t work across the aisle well.  Her strength is that everyone knows her- her weakness is that everyone knows her.    
     Fifth, women don’t trust Hillary.  Women are 52% of registered voters and 41% of them identify themselves as Democrats.  For years, Republicans have lost the female vote, but with Hillary on the ticket, Trump could change that.  According to a CBC/New York Times poll, forty (40) percent of Democratic primary voters believe Clinton is politically calculating and someone they don’t trust with the presidency.  
    Clinton is the wrong fighter to put in the ring with Trump.  She has too many weaknesses, flaws and scandals to spar with a heavyweight.  A more ‘gentlemanly candidate’ might take the advice of political operatives and just dance around and play a little ‘rope a dope’ with her, but in Trump’s world everything about his opponent is relevant- personal and policy.  He thrives on attacking and never backs down- never ever.  Winston Churchill said, “Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”  Trump never gives in and that is an attribute to be admired.
     Like him or not, Donald Trump is the ultimate fighter.  In the political ring, Trump is landing significant blows on Clinton.  She continues to throw haymakers and not connect.  If that continues, Trump will knock her out in November.

Monday, May 16, 2016


Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair

     President Obama took a shot at Donald Trump when speaking at Rutgers commencement this past weekend.  "Class of 2016, let me be as clear as I can be: In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue,” Obama told Rutgers University graduates in a commencement address urging broad engagement with the world.  The president went on to take a shot at Trump’s ‘build a wall’ position, saying;  "The world is more interconnected than ever before, and it's becoming more connected every day. Building walls won't change that. The point is: To help ourselves, we've got to help others, not pull up the drawbridge and try to keep the world out."

     Throughout his remarks, the POTUS stressed critical thinking and reasoning over what he called anti-intellectualism.  "Facts, evidence, reason, logic, an understanding of science: These are good things. These are qualities you want in people making policy. ... That might seem obvious. ... We traditionally have valued those things, but if you're listening to today's political debate, you might wonder where this strain of anti-intellectualism came from," he said.  OK, so let’s talk some facts:

     Fact #1: The American economy is not good.  According to Capital Economics, consumer spending is down substantially in the past year.  That coupled with the manufacturing segment being in recession and corporate profits being down point to a full blown recession coming for the country.  The national debt is at 19.2 trillion dollars- $60,000 for every man, woman, boy and girl in the country.  That is nearly double what it was when President Obama assumed office.   There are three million more children categorized as ‘living in poverty’ is in America than there was in 2008.  Food stamp recipients have doubled in number the past eight years.  Salaries are down and the cost of living is up.  Less people are working than in last forty years. The past eight years have not been prosperous ones for the average American.  Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, and a professor at Berkeley says, “The next president will inherit an economy teetering on the edge of recession.”  The fact is the economy is in the tank and Obama’s legacy is that fewer people work in America than in the past generation.

     Fact #2: Federal government spending is out of control.  The federal government spends $7 million dollars a minute.  According to the Congressional Budget Office’s latest report, the 2016 budget deficit will ‘shrink’ to $642 billion.  Believe it or not, it is the smallest shortfall since 2008. The federal government should follow most states, including Oklahoma, and pass a balanced budget amendment.  The fact is the federal government is irresponsible when it spends more than it takes in. 

     Fact #3: Illegal immigration has increased dramatically under Obama.   He issued an executive order telling the Immigration Service to not enforce the law.  According to Homeland Security, the eleven million illegals in the US have less than a 1% chance of being deported under this president.  In the past four years, the president has deported illegals at half the rate he did in the first term.  President Obama announced in November an executive order that was intended to allow five million illegals to avoid deportation.  The state of Texas sued the federal government and won.  The SCOTUS will rule in June and is expected to come to a 4-4 stalemate, which will allow the lower court’s decision to stand and block the executive order.  The fact is our borders are not secure and there are illegal immigrates in our country that broke the law to come to America.

     Obama was right when he said at the commencement: "When our leaders express a disdain for facts, when they're not held accountable for repeating falsehoods and just making stuff up, when actual experts are dismissed as elitists, then we've got a problem."   America clearly has a problem because the current president expresses a complete disregard of the facts regarding the economy and government spending and makes us stuff up that is not within the authority of the presidency- like executive orders on immigration.  Yep, we’ve got a problem!    

Monday, May 9, 2016


Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair

     On Tuesday, Donald Trump won the Indiana primary and Senator Ted Cruz and Governor John Kasich quickly suspended their respective campaigns, leaving Trump as the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party.  Political pundits immediately begin to handicap the November general election and most conventional wisdom is that Trump can’t beat former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Here are five reasons why Trump can and should win in November:
     First, Trump’s message energizes people.  Much like Obama did in 2008, Trump is getting people involved in politics who have never been involved.  And not just a few- literally hundreds of thousands who have never participated in a primary are supporting Trump.  His message of “making America great again,” resonates with the working middle class, who have seen jobs and freedom eroded in the past twenty years.  His ‘secure the border’ message plays well with those who live in border states.  His promise to get government out of the way so America business and manufacturing can be competitive makes sense.  His ‘outsider’ attitude toward politics appeals to the vast majority of Americans.  Trump is getting those people to the polls.  They see something different in Trump than they have ever seen before in a political candidate.  He is candid and holds nothing back. 
     Second, Clinton is a very flawed candidate.  Whether you are talking about Benghazi or the email scandal or the Clinton foundation scandal, she is not perceived as being trustworthy.  In a political environment where ‘insiders’ are viewed with distain, Clinton is the ultimate insider.  Senator Sanders has ran a surprisingly competitive campaign against the Clinton political machine, which reveals the chinks in her political armor. 
     Third, Trump is unpredictable and unconventional.  Trump has proven to not be afraid to hit his opponents hard and often.  Most candidates tread softly when it comes to mentioning their opponents.  Trump says things that are politically incorrect and personally insulting about his opponents.  And he does it with little or no regret.  A lesser candidate might shy away from attacking Clinton on women’s issues.  Not Trump.  He has already attacked her for attacking the women President Clinton had affairs with.   While most politicos cringe when he does it, the average voter sees that boldness as a strength.  The public longs for someone who will really ‘tell it like it is,’ and not just use that as a tagline in their campaign material.  Most people are sick of the mealy mouthed political class and Trump’s unconventional style is somewhat refreshing.
     Fourth, Trump will juggle the electoral map.  For the past thirty years, most states vote either Republican or Democrat in the presidential election.  Oklahoma gets little attention because the Sooner state is predictably always a red state.  Only a handful- less than ten- of states are considered battleground states.  Millions of dollars and thousands of hours are poured into those states to move them from blue to red.  Trump’s ability to appeal to union workers and northeast liberals put states like blue states like New York, New Jersey, California and Pennsylvania in play.  Not since Ronald Reagan has a presidential candidate had the ability to appeal across Party lines.  Reagan’s strength was his ability to get conservative Democrats to vote for him.  Trump can do that.  18 million Republicans are projected to vote in the primary and only 11 million Democrats.  That is the first time since 2000 that Rs have turned out more than Ds for a primary.  Many of those are new voters- people fed up with politicians and Washington.  Pundits, pollsters and prognosticators never saw Trump coming and so conventional wisdom is out of the window for this election.
     Fifth, Trump will do well with all demographics.  Political candidates like Trump confound the conventional political operatives.  The pros base their strategy and campaign plans on the premise that all Hispanics and all African Americans will vote Democrat, but with Trump, all bets are off.  His economic message appeals to every American, regardless of race or gender.    Jobs are important to everyone and more Americans trust him when it comes to the jobs issue.
     A year ago, Donald Trump wasn’t expected to win the Republican nomination.  He has been- and will continue to be- a controversial, confrontational, polarizing candidate, but his electoral success has been historic.  He has spent less per vote than any candidate in recent history.  He has gotten more free media coverage than any candidate in history.  He has gotten more people out to vote in the Republican primary than in the past thirty years. Why?  Because people are sick of conventional politicians who tell them one thing and do another.  They want something different.  Trump fits different to a T.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Schulz and McCall designated as future leaders of Oklahoma legislature!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

Last week, the Oklahoma Senate Republican caucus designated Senator Mike Schulz, (R, Altus) as the next Senate President Pro Tem.  Schulz replaces Senator Brian Bingman, (R, Sapulpa) who is term limited.   “It’s an honor to be selected by my colleagues to lead the Republican caucus in the next legislative session. Under the leadership of Pro Tem Bingman, we’ve made significant progress in making Oklahoma a better place to live, to work and to raise a family,” Schulz said. “Certainly, challenging times lie ahead, but we are a resilient state and there is a very talented group of men and women serving in the Senate who have the passion and creativity to find the solutions that will get our state moving in the right direction. I appreciate the trust my Republican colleagues have placed in me and look forward to serving them, and the people of the great state of Oklahoma as Senate Pro Tempore.”
     Schulz, 52, was elected in a special election in May of 2006 after the death of Senator Kerr in January of that year.  Kerr’s widow ran to complete his term in one of the most expensive state senate races in Oklahoma history.  The balance of power in the upper chamber was in the balance.  Democrats controlled the Senate 25-22 at the time.  Schulz’s win started the snowball down the hill for Senate Republicans, who now control the Senate 36-12.  Schulz is an OSU graduate with a degree in Agriculture.  He has worked for Farm Bureau and he farms and ranches in Jackson County. 
     This week, the seventy one Oklahoma House of Representative Republicans voted to designate Representative Charles McCall, (R-Atoka) as Speaker Designate.  Current Speaker Jeff Hickman, (R-Fairview) is term limited.  McCall was elected in 2012 and is completing his second term in the House.  McCall, 46, graduated from OU with a degree in Finance.  He served as Mayor of Atoka and his family has been in the banking business in southeast Oklahoma since the 1930s. 
     Both Schulz and McCall will have to be confirmed by their caucuses, and elected by the full chamber after the November elections, but that is normally a formality.  Three observations:
     First, both of these leaders are from rural Oklahoma.  That is a good thing.  All too often the rural interests in our state are ignored by the urban legislative leaders.  Atoka, where McCall is from, has a population of around 3,500 people.  Altus, Schulz’s hometown has 20,000 living there.   Sooners from rural Oklahoma look at things much differently than their citified brethren.  McCall will bring a knowledgeable background to the table on water rights.  His small town banking background will give him a perspective of what farmers, ranchers and small businesses struggle with.  The state’s farmers and ranchers have to feel good knowing they have one of their own leading the Senate in Schulz.  Their rural roots will be a great asset.
     Second, both of these leaders must build consensus.  Schulz won his race in the Senate uncontested.  McCall won a close race against a veteran lawmaker.  But both must do the same thing to be successful: get everyone to pull on the same end of the rope at the same time.  That is not easy when you are talking about 70 plus Republicans in the House.  Unity is a difficult task to accomplish.  John Maxwell lists four things a good leader must do to build unity in an organization: (1) Understand the mission, (2) Take ownership of the mission, (3) Contribute to the mission, (4) Pass on the mission.  Maxwell says, “It’s a leader’s responsibility to transmit the mission clearly- not your team’s responsibility to decipher it from their surroundings.”
     Third, both of these leaders face major challenges.  The budget hole Oklahoma state government is in will not be fixed in one legislative session.  Future sessions will deal with revenue shortfalls and questions of where to cut government.  Schulz and McCall will need to lead Oklahoma government down a path of change.  That change can only happen if they can unite Republicans in their respective chambers.  Oklahoma government needs to be streamlined and rightsized.  Perhaps two rural Oklahomans are exactly what is needed to get it done.