Monday, July 30, 2018
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
Americans for Prosperity (AFP) is a political lobbying group (501 C-4) founded in 2004 by Wichita, KS, businessmen Charles and David Koch. AFP’s stated goal is to “recruit, educate, and mobilize citizens in support of the policies and goals of a free society at the local, state, and federal level, helping every American live their dream – especially the least fortunate.” AFP claims over 2.5 million members and over $85 million in annual revenue. They have over 700 donors who contribute more than $100,000 annually to the organization. AFP was instrumental in the growth of the Tea Party movement and have always politically leaned libertarian/conservative.
Two of President Trump’s former key political campaign operatives have an AFP background. Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s first campaign manager, and Stuart Jolly, his first National Field Director, were state directors for AFP- Lewandowski in New Hampshire, Jolly in Oklahoma.
Since their inception, AFP has almost exclusively backed Republicans, but that may be coming to an end. On Sunday, Charles Koch, 82, told a group of AFP donors that working with Democrats who want to reduce financial regulations and government spending is on the table. He admitted that might be uncomfortable for some die hard Republicans in the room. Koch, said he regrets supporting politicians who "say they are going to be for these principles we espouse, and then they aren’t. We are going ... to hold people responsible for their commitments.” This was clearly a departure from Koch’s normally ‘back the ‘R’ in the race’ strategy.
On Monday, AFP announced they do not plan to back the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in North Dakota- Kevin Cramer- because he supports President Trump’s trade policies and hardline stance on immigration. The ND seat is one where Republicans are hopeful they can defeat a Democrat incumbent. Koch’s support was considered crucial for financing Cramer’s bid. Three observations:
First, AFP has never been a true grassroots organization. While marketed as one, AFP’s primary goal has always been to push AFP’s agenda by using the established GOP network of Party leaders. Republican volunteers have been siphoned off from the traditional Party infrastructure by AFP, often times with the cooperation of GOP leadership. AFP donors and leadership have been willing to use the grassroots GOP and help fund Party activities so long as it furthered their agenda, but when President Trump announced trade politics AFP doesn’t agree with, the loyalty ended.
Second, AFP has clearly contributed to the ‘too much money in politics’ problem. Campaigns cost money and GOP candidates at all levels run to AFP with their hand out hoping to get a check. AFP was willing to give it out and help finance slick marketed campaigns, knowing someday they would collect on their investment.
Third, candidates should recognize every donation comes with strings. When Koch says he will hold people ‘responsible for their commitment,’ he means he will withhold campaign donations from those who don’t do his bidding. It’s his money and it’s his right to withhold it, but do we really want elected officials- of any political persuasion- to be so obligated to their donor base? If so, they have become no more than a puppet and the donor, the puppet master.
Since AFP plans to start working with progressives, time will tell whether AFP will be as successful infiltrating the Democrat Party as they have the Republican Party.
Sunday, July 22, 2018
Weekly Opinion Editorial
#788 STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS!
by Steve Fair
This week, Oklahoma legislative leadership (Speaker of the House & Senate President Pro Tempe) appointed five Senators and eight Representatives to a working group for drafting a statute for medical marijuana. There are nine Republicans and four Democrats in the working group. They are scheduled to meet for the first time on July 25th.
The group that funded the Yes campaign for SQ#788 has drafted a 270 page working draft of legislation. They say it incorporates regulations used by other states. Working Group Co-chair and State House Majority Leader Jon Echols, (R-OKC) says "The legislature has to both come up with a good product that everyone has signed off on and have an open and transparent process. It’s not going to be a top down process. It’s the legislature working with the drafters behind 788."
The Democrat caucus has called for a special legislative session to address the statue. Governor Mary Fallin has said she will not call for a special session, but Echols said the working group may consider that possibility. A special session of the legislature can be called by joint order of the Senate President pro tem and the Speaker of the House, without the approval of the governor. Three observations:
First, State question #788’s approval by voters has made for some strange happenings. This week, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said the state board of health overstepped their authority in issuing rules. Hunter said that implementing a statute is the legislature’s job, not the appointed boards. Also this week, the state board of health’s general counsel(their top legal counsel) resigned after being charged with using a computer for the purpose of violating Oklahoma statues, falsely reporting a crime, and preparing a false evidence. Ezell allegedly set up a fake email account and sent herself fake threats from medical marijuana proponents. She was given personal security because the health department believed she was in danger. Ezell also was exchanging texts with the executive director of the Oklahoma Pharmacy Board, Chelsea Church. The OSBI, at the request of Oklahoma DA David Prater, is investigating if Church offered Ezell a bribe to include the inclusion of a licensed pharmacist at every medical marijuana dispensary. Church allegedly offered Ezell a higher paying position at the Pharmacy Board than what Ezell had at the Health Department. Two observations:
Second, misbehavior, corruption and graft are non-partisan. They are rooted in human nature and not political Party affiliation. If Ezell and Church were in fact doing what they are accused of (and they deserve their day in court), then they should be punished. Far too many political types justify the actions of their own, but condemn everything the other side does. Mark Twain said, “Loyalty to country always- loyalty to government when it deserves it.”
Third, the ambiguity of State Question #788 had made it difficult for lawmakers. Echols says the working group will listen to those that drafted #788, but the vast majority of the legislature did not support its passage. It is ironic that a body of people who didn’t want the legalization of pot will now draft regulations to dispense it. It is certain whatever they recommend will be controversial and will please few.
Just a reminder- if you are not a registered voter, the last day to register is August 3rd if you want to vote in the August 28th primary runoff. You cannot change Party affiliation from April 1st until September 1st on election years.
Monday, July 16, 2018
Weekly Opinion Editorial
THE TIMES ARE CHANGING!
by Steve Fair
SQ#788 supporters are up in arms because the Oklahoma state health department voted last week on the rules for medical marijuana in Oklahoma. The board voted to limit the amount of THC in certain products, restrict the location and hours that medical dispensaries can operate, require a licensed pharmacist to be on duty at the dispensaries, and prohibit the sale of smokeable marijuana. The board acknowledged their guidelines will likely be challenged in court and several groups have already announced their intention to sue the state. Some say this has taken the most liberal medical marijuana law in the country and made it one of the most restrictive. Three observations:
First, SQ #788 was poorly written. The language gave great latitude to the legislature and governor in how marijuana was to be dispensed and regulated. Who knows what the 500,000 Oklahomans were thinking when they voted yes, but that really doesn’t matter. It matters what the bill actually said and #788 had more holes in it than Swiss cheese. If the proponents of #788 wanted smokeable marijuana, they should have been more specific in their language. Unintended consequences are common in legislation and this is a classic example.
Second, the board of health and governor’s action should concern every Oklahoman. SQ #788 was approved by the people. Many of those who voted for it may not have understood all the implications of what they were voting for, but #788 did pass. When government works to protect ourselves from ourselves, we have a major problem. If this can be done on this issue, it can be done on others. No matter your political leanings, reining in the overreach of government is more important than this one issue. Republican gubernatorial runoff candidates Kevin Stitt and Mick Cornett both said they disagreed with the health department’s rules vote and believed the board was circumventing the will of the people.
Third, the battle over marijuana is not over in Oklahoma. A group known as Green the Vote is in the process of circulating a petition to get recreational marijuana on the ballot. As of last week, they lack 20,000 signatures and have until August 8th to complete the initiative petition. No doubt they will get on the ballot, but it will not likely be in November. The governor establishes when a state question is voted on and Governor Fallin is not likely to place it on the 2018 general election ballot. Recreational marijuana will be voted on in Oklahoma- it’s just a matter of time. Currently nine states and Washington DC have legalized recreational marijuana. It would be ironic if red state, conservative, Bible belt Oklahoma joined them.Oklahoma is changing. While still a political conservative stronghold, changing demographics and an overall lack of conservative leadership has moved the Sooner state into one where libertarians and progressives have made inroads. The passage of SQ #788 is a perfect example. While thirty states have some form of legalized medical marijuana, who would have thought Oklahoma’s would be the most liberal. But in a state with more slot machines per capita than any place on the planet, perhaps it’s not so surprising.
Monday, July 9, 2018
Weekly Opinion Editorial
POLICY WAS PRUITT’S DEMISE!
by Steve Fair
When EPA Administer Scott Pruitt resigned last week, he cited the ‘unrelenting attacks’ on himself and his family as the reason. The attacks were coming from the liberal left and they were brutal. Pruitt was pushed out of the position because of the Trump administration’s environmental policies. While Democrats might claim they were outraged by Pruitt flying first class, handing out raises to his staff, building a secure phone booth at the agency, and trying to buy a used mattress, that was a smoke screen. Pruitt’s effectiveness at undoing the crippling regulations on the fossil fuel industry implemented under the Obama administration was the real reason for his resignation. Three observations on Scott Pruitt’s resignation:
First, conservatives can be fickle. As Pruitt faced more and more ethics investigations in DC, his supporters began to abandon him. Make no mistake, there is no excuse for misbehavior, but many Congressional Republicans and the POTUS abandoned Pruitt because it became politically expedient. Liberals won because conservatives wouldn’t ignore the noise and stick together. As Pruitt’s issues played out in the media, his position became untenable, not because of the Ds, but because of the Rs. Pruitt likely should have been investigated. People in positions of power should be accountable, but he should have counted on conservatives to not fold under public pressure and to play out the hand.
Second, Pruitt should have anticipated the scrutiny. The EPA, under Republican and Democrat presidents, has been an agency whose regulations have hurt the U.S. economy more than any other government agency. While Oklahoma’s attorney general Pruitt sued the EPA a number of times. After appointment as EPA administer, he immediately reigned in the agency’s overreach, which outraged the left. Pruitt should have known the left would try to find anything they could to under mind him. His primary mistake was thinking the left played fair and that the right had his back. Did Scott Pruitt make mistakes in judgment? Sure, but who doesn’t. Were his mistakes exaggerated, caricatured and blown out of proportion by the media? Absolutely! Pruitt should have expected it. What he shouldn’t have expected was conservatives abandoning him.
Third, Pruitt’s political future is yet to be determined. Some so-called political experts say he has no political future- others say he does. Fact is, no one knows, but Scott Pruitt, the voters, and God, not necessarily in that order. But if Scott Pruitt’s political future hinges solely on what happened during his tenure at the EPA, his accomplishments far overshadow his poor judgment. If voters will think in a rational and not emotional way in the voting booth, Pruitt will be just fine. Pruitt did an outstanding job at implementing Trump’s de-regulation policy. Those actions positively impacted the economy. Pruitt’s challenge will be explaining in a 30 second TV spot or on a push card how his problems at EPA were solely over policy.
Of all members of President Trump’s cabinet, none reversed previous administration policy like Scott Pruitt. The EPA’s overreach was being reigned in under his leadership. Regulations that crippled industries, cost American jobs, and forced Americans to pay higher fuel costs, were dialed back. The left couldn’t have that and Pruitt gave them enough ammunition to force him out with the right’s help.
Monday, July 2, 2018
by Steve Fair
In last week’s Oklahoma primary election 891,654 voters showed up- 850,781 voted in the Party primaries. 452,194 voted Republican, 395,038 voted Democrat (Independents can vote in Democrat primary) and 3,549 voted Libertarian. The turnout was over twice what it is for a normal mid-term primary and exceeded the 2016 presidential primary. The reason was SQ #788, the marijuana bill, which passed 57%-43%. Because most of the Republican statewide races had multiple candidates, only one race of the eight races was decided on Tuesday night. Seven(7) statewide races will be on the August 28th runoff ballot, so expect your mailbox to stay full of political push cards for the next two months. Three observations:
First, the top two GOP statewide races feature OKC vs. Tulsa candidates. With former OKC Mayor Mick Cornett and Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt squaring off in runoff to be the GOP nominee for governor and former OKGOP Chairman Matt Pinnell(Tulsa) and Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy for Lt. governor(OKC), the lines are drawn between the two metro areas. The rivalry between the two largest cities in the state has always been intense in politics. There are 170,000 registered Republicans in Tulsa county (51% of total voters). There are 173,000 Rs in Oklahoma county (45%). For years, the Tulsa area dominated GOP statewide primaries, but with the changing of Party affiliation, that advantage has been diminished. These two races will be a clear get out the vote effort. The candidate who does the best job of getting their supporters to the polls to vote will win.
Second, with so many runoffs, Oklahoma should consider ranked/ preferential voting or instant-runoff voting in races that have more than two candidates. Instead of voting only for a single candidate, voters would rank the candidates in order of preference. The ballots would be initially counted for each voter’s top choice, losing candidates would be eliminated, and ballots for losing candidates redistributed until one candidate is the top remaining choice of a majority of the voters. When the field is reduced to two, an "instant runoff" allows a comparison of the top two candidates head-to-head. An ‘instant run-off’ election system would save taxpayers money by eliminating the need for a primary runoff. Maine and Tennessee are both using versions of preferential voting. Australia uses it in all their elections where there are more than two candidates.
Third, a large number of first time, one issue voters cast their ballot last Tuesday. It’s great to see new people becoming engaged in their government, but a large number of the 891k plus voters were there to vote on #788 and were clueless about the races. They just marked a name they were familiar with. That will not be case on August 28th. The primary runoff will have much lower turnout and will have a more informed electorate.This will be the first Republican statewide runoff since 2002, which featured Jeff Cloud and Dana Murphy in a fight for the Republican nomination for Corporation Commission. Only 87,319 people voted in that race, which was won by Cloud. With seven Republican races on the ballot, turnout will be good, but it won’t be half of what it was last Tuesday.