Monday, November 25, 2019

Gerrymandering is part of politics & it provides accountability!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair 

     In 2000, I ran for State Senate district #31 against a Democrat incumbent.  I knocked on over 5,000 doors, raised nearly $80,000 dollars and with the help of a dedicated army of volunteers gained 38% of the vote against a state Senator who was seeking his final term before being termed out.  In 2001, the Senator took great pride in informing me that he had orchestrated the Democrat led legislature to draw me out of district #31 and into a district with a Republican state senator.  “You can’t run in that district ever again,” he gleefully told me.  That is when I found out that redistricting is politics- that the Party in charge gets to draw the lines- and that is the way it should be.  I never ran for public office again, but the Democrats were so afraid I might have won an 'open' seat in the next election they took the pen and drew me out of the district.  I didn't like it, but since they were in control they had the right to do it.  
     Apparently not everyone agrees the legislature should control redistricting.  A group calling themselves Citizen’s Independent Redistricting Commission (CIRC) are circulating an initiative petition that will supposedly take the politics out of redistricting.  They want to amend the Oklahoma state constitution, to give a nine member commission authority to redistrict.  Six of the commission members would be appointed by retired judges (this is enough to oppose it) and the remaining three appointed by the commission itself (incestuous process). “This proposal will prevent self-serving politicians from manipulating the system and force them to listen to the people they represent instead of pandering to special interests and their party's extremes,” said Andy Moore, founder and executive director of Let's Fix This, the group carrying the clipboards. Three observations:
     First, redistricting is always going to be partisan.  Whether done by the legislature or a commission, there will always be an agenda.  Elections have consequences and the Party in power should be the one drawing the lines.  Allowing unelected people to draw the lines, whose only accountability is to unelected judges is wrong.    Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall, (R-Atoka) rightly said the petition effort is an unnecessary “solution in search of a problem.” Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, (R-Edmond) describes the petition as “a redistricting coup.”
     Second, this petition is being circulated by liberals.  CIRC is not independent.  It is a front organization for former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder who leads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.  Holder’s group- Restoring our Democracy- is providing the money for CIRC to circulate the petition.  Holder knows the U.S. Constitution grants federal redistricting(Congressional district lines) authority to the state legislature.  In order to win elections, they need favorable lines drawn for liberal candidates.  In order to do that, they need control of state legislatures.  By usurping/eliminating legislative power and gaining control of the redistricting commission, Holder and CIRC aid their liberal cause.
      Third, don’t sign the petition.  If the group gets enough signatures to get it on the ballot in 2020, out of state money will flood Oklahoma with the intent of confusing the average citizen.  If the state legislature is taken out of the redistricting process, there will be more gerrymandering than ever before.  As it stands, if you don’t like what the legislature does in redistricting, vote your legislator out. 
     Democrats only want a ‘fair’ process when they are not in power.  If Ds controlled the Oklahoma state legislature, they would be opposing this petition drive.  This is a nothing short of a power grab by the liberals. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019


Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

     On Thursday, Governor Kevin Stitt held a news conference on the impasse Oklahoma state government and the Indian tribes have in regard to the Indian gaming compact.  Negotiated fifteen years ago by then Governor Brad Henry and State Treasurer Scott Meacham after the passage of SQ 712, the gaming compact offers ‘exclusivity’ to the tribes for Class III gaming.  It is set to expire on January 1, 2020.   The tribes have taken the position the compact automatically renews and will not expire.  Stitt and legislative leaders believe it does expire. 
     As of last year, thirty one tribes are operating 131 gambling facilities across the Sooner state.  They collectively rake in about $2.3 billion annually through those operations.  Last year, Oklahoma state government got $138.6 million from the operation or about 6% of the total.  In 2018, the state legislature approved ‘ball and dice’ gambling with the state getting a 10% cut from those games.  88% of the total goes to education, 12% into the general fund.  Two observations:
     First, Oklahoma’s gaming compact does allow for a lower percentage of the take to go to state coffers.  Stitt gave the example of four states where the percentage of gambling proceeds exceeds Oklahoma’s 4-6%.  In neighboring Arkansas, tribes return 13-20% of their Class III gambling proceeds to the state.  The governor pointed out the Oklahoma based Cherokee tribe operates two casinos within thirty miles of one another(one in Oklahoma- one in Arkansas) and the compact amounts should be comparable.  But Arkansas is not Oklahoma.  In Oklahoma, 7.1% of the population is Native American compared to only .57% in Arkansas.  It’s doubtful the Cherokee tribe spends much money in Arkansas on helping the community.  That is not the case in Oklahoma.  Oklahoma’s Indian tribes run a meridian of social programs for their citizens and most of that is funded through their gambling operations(including from facilities in other states).  If the tribes are forced to pay a higher percentage, likely those programs will be cut or eliminated.  The question boils down to who will really do a better job spending money- the tribes or the state?
     Second, any increase in the percentage the tribes return to the state will be passed on.  An increase cannot/will not be absorbed by the tribes.  The tribes are running a business.  If the tribes agree to an increase, that increase will come from the source of their income- those pulling the slots.  Changing the payout percentage on the new electronic slot machines requires changing the computer chip that was loaded into the machine from the factory.  While time consuming and expensive for the tribes, they will have to do it to keep their gambling operations viable.  Expect the Casper the Friendly Ghost machine to ultimately not pay out as well if the compact percentages are increased.  The ‘players’ would pay the higher amount, not the tribe.  The increase becomes an indirect voluntary tax.     
     The expansion of gambling worldwide in the last twenty years has been dramatic, but even more so in Oklahoma.   Oklahoma has more slot machines per capita than anyplace on the planet.  Gambling losses worldwide are twice what they were 30 years ago.  Gambling addiction is believed to be more difficult to overcome than drug addiction.  Trying to get more money from Oklahoma citizens through gambling will not make Oklahoma a top ten state.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Mass Release of Prisoners is Risky for Governor & for Population!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

     Last week Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt pardoned 462 people serving in Oklahoma prisons.  The commutation was the largest in U.S. history and represented a combined 1,931 remaining years in prison.  The mass release reduced Oklahoma’s prison population by 1.7%.  There are around 300 others still in prison that could be released in the near future.  All those released were being held on non-violent offenses according to the governor’s office.  Drug possession with intent to distribute was the most common reason they were in the pokey.  Up until the jailhouse was opened up, the Sooner state led the nation in percent of population in jail (1% of the population).  The mass pardon is the result of the passage of SQ# 780 and 781 two years ago when voters approved decriminalizing and recategorizing  several felonies.     SQ 780 and 781 have proven to have done exactly the opposite of what they said they wanted to do- lower crime.  Three observations: 
      First, a mass commuting of sentences is not without risks.  It is risky for the Governor politically, but it is also risky for the Oklahoma population at large.  Many of those released last week root issue is substance addiction.  Handing them $50 and telling them to stay clean is not going to work.  The state should have developed a support infrastructure, partnering with faith based agencies, before emptying the slammer.  Thirty one years ago, in the 1988 presidential election, Vice President George HW Bush used Governor Michael Dukakis’ approval of a weekend furlough program that resulted in convicted felon Willie Horton assaulting and raping a young women to paint Dukakis as soft on crime.   When elected leaders fail to keep the populace safe because of insane policies, they usually pay the price at the ballot box.    
     Second, Oklahoma’s crime rate is already on the rise.  In a recent FBI report, Oklahoma ranked as the third least safe state in the county.  As a direct result of the reclassification of some felonies (780 & 781), burglary is up substantially.  Oklahoma’s rate of crimes to ‘property’ are five times the national rate and that is before the ‘I’ll fly away’ of 462 people this week.  If a thief knows they will not be prosecuted for stealing, they will steal.   The felony most often associated with drug addiction is crimes against property- stealing to get money to buy drugs. 
     Third, Oklahoma’s  incarceration rate is deplorable.  That doesn’t mean those in Oklahoma prisons shouldn’t be there.  They are not there unjustly.  They broke the law and were tried and found guilty by a jury of their peers.  It means Oklahoma (government and private sector) has failed to provide help for addicts and those suffering with mental illness, but the answer is not emptying the jails to lower crime.  Educating the overall population may help, but in most case the criminal just becomes smarter.  
     The fact is mankind is in slavery to sin and until God brings about a change of heart in the criminal/addict, no amount of feel good programs will work.  In the meantime, hardworking Oklahomans better start securing personal property.  There is now an average of six formerly jailed felons per county back on the street.  We better pray they were ‘reformed’ in prison and not just taught to play the slide trombone.

Monday, November 4, 2019

In the name of unity, Political Parties often faciliate the SWAMP!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
by Steve Fair

     The U.S. Constitution is silent on the subject of political parties.  Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, who authored the Federalist papers, both warned of the dangers of domestic political factions and partisanship.  That said, Hamilton founded the Federalist Party that advocated for a strong central government and Madison and Thomas Jefferson founded the Democratic-Republicans, who opposed strong central control. The parties' stated purpose was to influence public opinion by educating fellow citizens on issues and policy, but it sometimes got personal.  The famous Alexander Hamilton- Aaron Burr pistol duel was the final skirmish of a long conflict between the Democratic-Republicans and the Federalists. The conflict became personal in 1791 when Burr won a U.S. Senate seat from Philip Schuyler, Hamilton's father-in-law.  Schuyler would have supported Federalist policies. (Hamilton was the Secretary of the Treasury at the time.).  After many years of very public conflict between the two men, on Wednesday July 11, 1804, outside Weehawken, NJ, Aaron Burr, the sitting Vice President of the United States, shot and killed Alexander Hamilton, the U.S. Secretary of Treasury.  Burr, the grandson of the famous preacher Jonathan Edwards, completed his term as Vice President.  He then went west and was accused of trying to undermine the Louisiana Purchase by trying to establish a new country.  Burr was ultimately tried for treason and found not guilty. He lived out his life in Europe and NYC, dying 32 years after the infamous duel(1836).  Three observations:

     First, political conflict in the U.S. is not new.  Thankfully it hasn’t reached the level of pistol dueling yet, but the personal attacks and mischaracterization of political opponents and their positions fuels conflict.  If it continues to escalate, we could see violence. Margaret Thatcher said, “Disciplining yourself to do what you know is right and important, although difficult, is the highroad to pride, self-esteem, and personal satisfaction.” Taking the high road is never a bad idea.  Jesus called it, ‘loving your neighbor.’
     Second, Burr is important because in 1805, he presided over one of the most famous impeachment trials in American history.  Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Samuel Chase was accused of making judicial decisions based on partisan politics and not the Constitution (sound familiar).  Chase was acquitted by the Senate, but Burr is credited with the establishment of guides and rules for that first impeachment trial.  VP Burr set a high bar for behavior and procedures in the Senate chamber, many of which are followed today.
     Third, Political Parties bear little resemblance to those first two.  Parties are primarily used as vehicles to be elected by candidates.  Party unity is stressed over conviction; Numbers in a caucus over uncertainty.   President George Washington, who was not a member of any political party, was right when he said, “However [political parties] may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”
     Those cunning, ambitious and unprincipled men(and women) President Washington spoke of are the ‘swamp’ in politics.  Sadly, too often political party leaders are providing the tracks on which the swamp’s train is running.