Monday, April 29, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair
Medicaid is a federal and state entitlement program that provides medical benefits to low-income individuals who have no or inadequate health insurance coverage. It guarantees coverage for basic health and long-term care services based upon income and/or resources for eligible Oklahomans. Medicaid is often confused with Medicare, which is health coverage available only to those over the age of 65. Part of the Affordable Care Act(ACA) was the potential expansion of Medicaid by states. If a state expands Medicaid, the federal government matches the state’s share for three years and then the federal match is reduced to 90% with the state required to pick up the difference. Oklahoma is one of only 14 states that has not expanded Medicaid since the passage of the ACA.
Last week, a rally was held at the Oklahoma State Capitol promoting the expansion of Medicaid in Oklahoma. Billed as ‘The Rally for Coverage,’ the group promoted a proposed state question that would expand Medicaid in Oklahoma. On April 19th, a proposed ballot initiative (SQ #802) was filed with the Secretary of State. Once it is approved for signature solicitation, the group will have 90 days to collect 178,000 Oklahoma voter signatures on the petition to get the question on the ballot.
Some state legislators believe that Medicaid expansion is needed. Both State Representatives Marcus McEntire (R-Duncan) and House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, (D-Norman) spoke at Wednesday’s rally advocating for Medicaid expansion. “We(the legislature) have been working, and we’ve been working hard. I’ve put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the plan that hopefully we’ll be able to unveil,” McEntire said. “I think it’s our job to get this done as the Legislature. We were elected to make these types of decisions, and it’s just silly that the people would have to take it into their hands and go through the ballot initiative process,” Virgin said. Governor Kevin Stitt has stated he doesn’t favor expansion of Medicaid in the Sooner state. Three observations:
First, amending the state constitution by state question mandating Medicaid coverage is a terrible idea. Locking Oklahoma taxpayers into paying for an entitlement program dependent on the federal government portion of funding is foolhardy. While it is the right of any group to distribute an initiative petition and have its day at the ballot box, it doesn’t mean it should pass and become law. Virgin is right that if expansion of Medicaid is to be addressed, it should be the state legislature doing it.
Second, the cost of expansion should be carefully researched. The cost to taxpayers on the expansion of Medicaid in other states has been seriously underestimated. In some cases, more than twice the estimated number expected signed up for coverage. When you consider the federal government mandate for states required to pick up the shortfall as their funding is reduced, expansion is a short term solution to a long term problem.
Third, one in seven Oklahomans (14.2%) are uninsured or underinsured according to the Census Bureau. That is significantly higher than the U.S. average. Because health care providers are required by law to provide service, even to those who are uninsured, financial pressure is placed on those providers. But is it the Oklahoma taxpayer’s job to pick up the bill? Is health care insurance the responsibility of government or individual citizens? Those are questions whose answers appear simple, but when sick people are involved become complex.
Friday, April 19, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
SB #444 STILL HAS A FISHHOOK!
by Steve Fair
On Thursday, Senate Bill #444, passed the State House 64-32. The bill was amended earlier that morning removing to remove a provision allowing state workers and teachers to work the polls on Election Day, and receive pay from both. Language was amended that took away the sovereign rule sought by the state and county election secretaries and restored it to the county election boards. But one fishhook remained. In the original bill, 16 year olds, with the permission of their parent and school principal, could have served as a precinct judge, inspector, or clerk. Non-voters(16 year olds can’t register to vote) working an election. After much discussion, it was agreed the section allowing 16 year olds to work elections would be removed from the bill, but at the last minute the following language was added: In the event that a regularly scheduled judge or clerk is unable to serve on election day, the secretary of the county election board may temporarily assign the duties of that judge or clerk to a student precinct official described in this subsection. During debate on the floor, the House author, Rep. Harold Wright, (R-Weatherford), stated that ‘students would only be used as a precinct official temporarily and in an emergency.’ The bill now goes back to the Senate for a vote and unless the bill is amended there, 16 year olds may be handing out ballots at the next election. Three observations:
First, non-voters should NEVER be involved in conducting an election. Everyone wants young people to be involved in their government, but running our elections is not the way. Are we so desperate for poll workers in Oklahoma that we have to get 16 year olds to man the polling places? The process and responsibility for recruiting workers at the polls starts with cooperation between the county election board secretary and the two major Parties. The Party committees are charged with providing a list of potential workers to the election board secretary. Each precinct in the state has a member of each of the Parties working and a third from the Party of the plurality.
Election board secretaries should be reaching out to Party officials and encouraging them to provide them a pool of potential workers from registered voters, not non-voters. SB #444, in its original form, cut out Party involvement in the poll worker recruiting process, but thankfully that provision was removed.
Second, who defines an emergency and temporary? If a county election board secretary decides they want to use a 16 year old at the polls, rest assured an ‘emergency’ will arise and temporary can be a relative term as well. According to the guidelines set forth in using the non-voting 16 year olds, both a school official and parent must sign off before a non-voter can be used. That takes time and why wouldn’t that time be used to find a registered voter (from either Party) to man the polls instead of a non-voter?
Third, poll workers deserve a raise. The raise is a part of SB #444 and by planting fishhooks in this bill, the authors have jeopardized the much needed pay raise. No state in America uses non-voter to work their polls- why would Oklahoma? Please contact your state senator and ask them to oppose passage of SB #444 until the provision to allow 16 year olds(non-voters) to man the polls is removed.
Thursday, April 11, 2019
NON-VOTERS SHOULD NOT
BE WORKING THE POLLS!
by Steve Fair
Senate Bill # 44 concerns the County Election Boards in Oklahoma. All 77 counties in the state have an election board secretary, whose job is to conduct fair elections in their county. Each of the state’s 1,956 precincts has a polling place. On election day, those polling places are manned by three precinct workers- an Inspector, a Judge, and a Clerk. They have specific jobs at the polling place and are charged with conducting a fair, impartial election. The precinct workers are paid a small fee for their 14 hour day. They are selected by the county election board secretary from lists of registered voters provided by the Chairman of the Republican and Democrat Parties in the county. There is supposed to be a Republican and a Democrat at each polling place with the third being someone from the Party of the plurality of the precinct or county.
SB #44, authored Senator Darcy Jech, (R-Kingfisher) and Rep. Harold Wright, (R-Weatherford) passed the Senate by a vote of 45-1 and passed the Rules Committee in the House by a vote of 7-0. According to State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax : “This bill was not intended to be controversial in the least. It is well-reasoned legislation that includes numerous safeguards and was developed with significant input from county election board secretaries. It has received strong bipartisan support at every state of the legislative process. This bill is needed to head off a developing poll worker shortage.” But SB #444 is controversial and here is why:
First, it appears no input was solicited from political Party leadership. The poll workers are the eyes and ears of the Party. Political Party leaders are to provide lists to the local election board secretary for potential workers. Why wasn’t the leadership of each of the two major Parties consulted? Were members of the State election board consulted? That should have happened.
Second, SB #444 would allow sixteen year olds to work the polling places. Non-voters should not be allowed to conduct voting. The polling place is not a learning lab. Voting polls should be rigid and structured in order to maintain integrity of the ballot box.
Third, SB #444 would grant unilateral power to appoint and terminate poll workers to the county election board secretary. Under current protocol, the local county election board oversees that process. If implemented, that would change to sovereign rule by the secretary. That could result in personality and not performance decisions. While more efficient, it eliminates a safeguard necessary to the voting process.
The stated reason SB #444 was requested by the election board secretary is the shortage of qualified poll workers, but asking high school students to work the polls is not the answer. Why hasn’t the state election board partnered with the two major Parties and made an all-out effort to recruit workers from the activists in those Parties? How hasn’t the local county election board secretaries reached out to the local Party leaders? Using non-voters is a bad idea. SB #444 does increase the pay of the precinct workers, which is long overdue, but before it gets to the governor’s desk, it needs to remove the above mentioned provisions.
Monday, April 8, 2019
Weekly Opinion Editorial
GRASSROOTS IN POLITICS!
by Steve Fair
There is a great deal of talk about ‘grassroots’ in modern politics, but what exactly does the word mean? The term ‘grassroots’ is actually a mining term that dates back to the 1870s, and refers to the soil just beneath the ground’s surface. During the Gold Rush, advertisers would often tell potential speculators that gold could be found “at the grassroots” with the most basic of tools. ‘Grassroots’ came to mean getting back to the basics.
The term ‘grassroots’ in the political arena has Oklahoma origins. Adolphus Edward Perry, a Canadian by birth, served as the Vice Chair of the Oklahoma Republican Party in 1907. Known as ‘Dynamite Ed' because he would toss lighted sticks of dynamite from a moving train to call attention to his political cause, Perry made a fortune in mining, real estate and agriculture in the days before statehood. “'I am for a square deal, grass root representation, for keeping close to the people, against ring rule and for fair treatment,” Perry famously said when asked his political philosophy. To Perry ‘grassroots’ meant square dealing, fair treatment and representation close to the people.
Every contemporary politician and candidate (in both major Parties) claim they are from the ‘grassroots.’ They profess undying support of a ‘bottom up’ approach to government decision making and denounce those who support top down governing. They pledge to always listen to the people, be accessible, available, reachable, approachable, and always have their door open. But try and come through that open door and see just how approachable that elected official really is after taking office. Most employ gate-keepers and staff charged with insuring that only certain people get through that ‘open door’ and enforce the price of admission(contribution) to gain access.
There was a time when the term ‘grassroots’ meant those who labored in politics to educate their fellow citizens on the issues. The ‘grassroots’ worked on campaigns ran on a shoestring budget, and engaged in retail(face-to-face) politics. The ‘grassroots’ didn’t berate elected officials who wouldn’t listen to them- they beat ‘em at the ballot box. Those ‘grassroots’ often lost, but they faithfully continued on the path. They kept showing up. They didn’t claim they were cheated because they lost- they just rolled up their sleeves and kept working. Those ‘grassroots’ of yesteryear changed Oklahoma. They turned Oklahoma from a Democrat Party stronghold to a reliable Republican state.
Sadly, many of today’s self-proclaimed ‘grassroots’ believe they were cheated if they lose. They work to censure elected leaders rather than conquer them. They unmercifully attack those who disagree with them, and regularly engage in name-calling and nasty rhetoric. Like ‘Dynamite Ed,’ they lob bombs to call attention to themselves and their cause (which is always just). Disruption, disrespect, and situational ethics are regularly used tactics, but always with an appropriate scripture reference.
Ed Perry filed to run for Lt. Governor in Oklahoma in 1926, but withdrew because the state wouldn’t let him appear on the ballot as ‘Dynamite’ Ed Perry. Today, Perry is a footnote in Oklahoma history in spite of his bomb throwing. That will be the fate of the bomb throwing modern ‘grassroots’ movement because it is ego and not ethic driven.