Monday, June 25, 2018

Oklahoma Supreme Court discourages citizen involvement in their government!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

     On Friday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled the initiative petition to repeal House Bill 1010XX was invalid, saying the petition was misleading.  "The gist of Referendum Petition No. 25 is misleading for multiple reasons, any of which would suffice alone to declare it insufficient. Combined, these flaws leave no doubt that signatories are not being put on notice of the changes being made," the ruling states. "Further, the failure to include an exact copy of the text of the measure to be referred violates a strict statutory mandate that exists to ensure signatories and voters are put on notice of exactly what law is potentially going to be submitted for their approval."
     Of the nine Justices, five concurred (Combs, Kauger, Edmonson, Reif, and Wyrick), one dissented (Winchester), two were recused (Colbert and Darby) and one concurred and dissented(Gurich).  Four of the five who voted to strike down the petition were appointed by Democrat governors.  Six of the nine current Supreme Court Justices were appointed by a Democrat. Of course, they are non-political and Party affiliation doesn’t mean a thing-right!
     In his dissent opinion, Winchester said the flaws were minor and that it is not the court’s job to prevent taxpayers from voting on legislation they disagree with.  "While this Court's duty is to guard against fraud, corruption or deception in the referendum, our decisions should not serve as a roadblock for the people to voice their objection to legislation," Winchester wrote.  The group that ran the petition-Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite!- now will determine if they want to run another initiation petition, which would have to be completed by July 18th to get on the November ballot. Three points: 
     First, the number of signatures needed to get on the ballot is only 41,000.  That is a low threshold and very doable if the Repeal group decides to amend and circulate.  There are clearly more than 41,000 Oklahoma voters not pleased with the legislature passing the largest tax hike in state history and would relish the opportunity to vote on repealing it.  The challenge any group circulating an initiative petition in the Oklahoma is the hoops and hurdles they have to jump through to gain approval for circulation.  That is not by accident- it is to discourage citizen involvement. 
     Second, the Supreme Court’s decision was political.  As Winchester pointed out the errors were minor and it’s not the court’s job to protect the legislature.  If this would have been an issue the court politically agreed with, no doubt it would have been approved.  The high court’s action should concern everyone in Oklahoma, no matter their political leaning.  Recent rulings from the Oklahoma Supreme Court have been inconsistent, political and partisan. 
     Third, five of the nine Oklahoma Supreme Court Justices will be on the November ballot.   Justices James Edmonson, Yvonne Kauger, Norma Gurich, Patrick Wyrick, and Richard Darby will face voters on a retention ballot.  Since Oklahoma went to the retention ballot system, no judge has been turned out.  Guess they all have done such a flawless job.  Perhaps it’s time to change that and send some of them home.  The job of the court is not to be a roadblock for citizen involvement in their government.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Conservative Ideology is under attack!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

    The long awaited Justice Department Inspector General’s report on the FBI’s conduct regarding Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server came out Thursday.  The IG, Michael Horowitz, found the FBI’s then director James Comey  acted outside the established policies and guidelines of the Justice Department and was ‘insubordinate’ when he announced Clinton wouldn’t be indicted without telling then Attorney General Loretta Lynch.  Horowitz concluded Comey wasn’t politically motivated, but that doesn’t make sense.  What was Comey’s motivation to give Hillary a free pass?  Good government- not likely.  He claims to be a straight arrow, play by the rules guy, but in this situation, he clearly applied situational ethics in more than just his circumventing his incompetent boss.

     The report reveals that two FBI agents involved in the Clinton email investigation were clearly Clinton supporters and hated Trump.  One of the lead investigators was telling his mistress(also an FBI agent) that he would do anything he could to make sure Trump didn’t win- and he wasn’t talking about knocking doors and putting out yard signs for Hillary.  "I just can't imagine the systematic disassembly of the progress we made over the last 8 years," he is quoted as saying in the report.   

     Horowitz’ opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Meeting on Monday reminded members of the committee that the report took seventeen months to complete.  In the process over one hundred witness were interviewed and 1.2 million documents reviewed and the IG did not find any political bias on Comey’s part in not pursuing indictment of Clinton for breach of security.   Horowitz did admit it wasn’t his job to determine if not indicting Clinton was the right decision- just that the decision wasn’t politically motivated by those that choose not to do it.

     Democrats on the committee spent the day trying to get Horowitz to admit his investigation had nothing to do with Special Counsel Robert Muller’s investigation of President Trump and Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential race.  Republicans tried to get Horowitz to say that Clinton should have been indicted.  U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, (R-SC) said his goal was to find out if the Department of Justice (Loretta Lynch and James Comey) were in the tank for Clinton.  Graham believes Horowitz, while critical of the FBl, is still covering for the bias that exists in the agency. 

     First, this report does not ‘totally exonerate’ the president of collusion with Russia.  The 600 page report is about the Clinton email investigation and it proves the FBI did not conduct themselves in a fair and impartial way when that issue was investigated.  It also reveals a disturbing bias in the nation’s highest law enforcement agency. 

     Second, this report does prove Trump’s point about the ‘swamp.’  There is corruption in all walks of life, but none more than in the political world.  This report shows just how much the establishment lifers at the FBI hated Trump.  It leads creditability to Trump’s cry that Robert Mulleur(former FBI director under Bush) is out to get him.  Who they are really out to get is conservative ideology.  Make no mistake about it.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Oklahoma is mired in a CYCLE OF CUSTOMS! ...and the tax goes on...and the tax goes on!

 by Steve Fair
     Oklahoma State Treasurer Ken Miller announced that total gross receipts into the state treasury for the month of May were a record high of $971 million.  Miller also announced that revenues into the state for the past 12 months are within $14 million of matching the all-time 12-month record for collections.   “As has been the case each month for more than a year, Oklahoma’s economy is showing signs of ongoing expansion. In just the past 14 months, since 12-month collections last bottomed out, gross receipts have grown by more than $1.3 billion, an increase of more than 12 percent,” Miller said.  Some of the revenue collected in May was from changes in sales tax exemptions that were eliminated in 2017, but the bulk is because the energy sector has rebounded and as oil/gas goes, so goes Oklahoma state government’s revenue stream.
     First, the new taxes enacted by the legislature in March are not reflected in these revenue numbers.  That means Oklahoma state government revenue will most likely be at record levels for the next couple of years.  The ‘holes in the budget’ will plug themselves and state lawmakers will be looking for more programs to fund and raises to give.  Government will grow and hardworking Oklahomans will foot the bill.
      Since the common education lobby was successful in convincing the legislature to pass historical tax increases this past session to fund teacher pay increases, it is certain they will be back asking for more money and will likely get it.
     Second, the record revenue recovery makes the largest tax increase in Oklahoma history passed in March even harder to swallow.  Taxpayers were told by virtually every elected official the only way Oklahoma government could get out of the ‘budget hole’ was to tax ourselves more. Now we find out that if we would have just waited, the revenue stream would have improved and the tax increases would not have been necessary. 
     There are two reasons we are in this ‘cycle of customs’ in Oklahoma.  The first reason is we send rank novices to 23rd and Lincoln.  Many of our lawmakers never paid attention to Oklahoma public policy in their life until they were elected and now they are in charge of it.  That is a recipe for disaster.  Secondly, many of those elected don’t have the iron rail up the shirt tail to handle the pressure of lobbyists and legislative leadership. Like Ado Annie in the musical Oklahoma, they just can’t say no. 
     This miraculous revenue recovery is not a new phenomenon.  This has happened repeatedly in Oklahoma simply because Oklahoma government revenue is so dependent on the oil/gas industry.  Unfortunately, instead of fixing the ups and downs, elected officials panic, convince the public that state government is broke, and then pass permanent tax increases that never go away.
     All of the GOP candidates running for Governor are advocating auditing state government.  That’s all well and good, but until we have a state legislature with the courage to cut government, auditing will be nothing more than smoke and mirrors.  And the tax goes on- and the tax goes on

Monday, June 4, 2018

Vote NO on SQ #788 on June 26th!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
     The countdown to the primary is now at 20 days.  June 26th will be here before we know it.  Automobile dealership ads on every television news program in Oklahoma have been displaced by political ads for statewide candidates- at least those who have the money to run them.  With so many voters undecided, who knows whether the ads will work on not.  But it’s not just candidates on the primary ballot.  On the primary ballot, Oklahomans will vote on State Question #788, which if approved would allow so-called medical marijuana use in the Sooner state.
     First, the language in SQ  #788 is such that it is not clear it would legalize only medical marijuana.  The reason the issue is on the ballot is because  a group that include former State Representative Joe Dorman circulated an initiative petition to get it on the ballot.  The group claims that a majority of Oklahomans support legalizing pot for medical use.  Dr. Jean R. Hausheer, the president of the Oklahoma state medical association, said at a recent forum SQ #788 has issues and has too many loopholes.  While acknowledging that marijuana does help with chronic pain, she said it came with possible addiction issues. 
     If SQ # 788 were approved, Oklahomans who gained a license could consume pot legally, possess up to three ounces of marijuana, and four and half pounds of edible pot on their person, own six plants and six seedlings, and have up to eight ounces in their home.  
     Second, if SQ #788 is approved the state legislature will take up the issues of legalization.  Lawmakers would establish the criteria for growers and dispensaries.  That is a system ripe for special interest paybacks by legislators. 
     Third, if SQ #788 is approved, Oklahoma would become the first state to remove the ‘qualifying conditions committee.’  Proponents for legalization say if your doctor believes medical marijuana is right for you, under this law you can get access to it without the government having to approve the doc’s decision.  That appeals to small government advocates, but without oversight, abuse is sure to happen.
     U.S. Senator James Lankford, R-OKC, has taken a public position against SQ #788.   “This state question is being sold to Oklahomans as a compassionate medical marijuana bill by outside groups that actually want access to recreational marijuana. Most of us have seen first-hand the damage done to families and our communities from recreational marijuana use. This is a moment when we should work to make our state stronger, healthier and more economically sound, not more drug addicted and distracted. No one will convince me that our families will be better if only more parents and grandparents smoke more marijuana,” Lankford said.  The Senator is right.  This is a poorly written bill that would result in ‘unintended consequences.”
          This issue makes for strange bedfellows.  Expect right and left wing millennials to support legalization and Baby Boomers and Generation Xers to oppose.  Whether Okies will be legally lighting up a doobie depends on who gets out and votes on the 26th.