Sunday, October 25, 2020


 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair

     "I represent all of you, whether you voted for me or against me. And I'm going to make sure you're represented," former Vice President Biden said when asked during the presidential debate on Thursday what he would say during his inaugural address to Americans who did not vote for him.  That’s the way it should be.  Elected officials should work to represent all their constituents, not just those who voted for them or those who donated to their campaign.  Biden’s answer to the question was statesmanlike, but he clearly didn’t mean it. 

     On Saturday during a drive-in rally in Pennsylvania, the former VP said, “We don’t do things like those ‘chumps’ out there with the microphones, those Trump guys.”  He was referring to a large group of Trump supporters who were in a nearby parking lot flying ‘Trump’ flags and honking their horns to attempt to disrupt Biden’s rally.  Chump is defined as a person who is easily tricked: a stupid or foolish person.  Biden calling Trump supporters, ‘chumps,’ continues a long line of derogatory names Democrats have given their opponent’s backers.  In 2016, Hillary Clinton called Trump supporters ‘a basket of deplorables.’  In 2008, President Obama said voters(conservative Democrats) in old industrial towns decimated by job losses were ‘bitter, and cling to guns and religion.’

     Biden’s statement of representing all Americans when elected was disingenuous.  It was one of several false statements he made at the debate.  Let’s look at three others:

     Falsehood #1: “I never said I oppose fracking,” Biden said.  But he did.  At several of the Democratic primary debates he said that very thing.  “We would make sure it’s(fracking) eliminated and no more subsidies for any fossil fuel,” Biden said.  Fracking is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, etc. so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas.  It has allowed oil and gas companies to dramatically increase production and resulted in the United States becoming energy independent.  Critics claim fracking can destroy drinking water supplies, pollute the air, contribute to the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, and trigger earthquakes.  Biden’s environmental policy statements on his website clearly oppose fracking.  He knows taking a public stand will cost him votes. 

     Falsehood #2: “They did not lose their insurance unless they chose [that] they wanted to go to something else,” Biden said.  But that’s not true.  4.7 million Americans immediately lost their insurance when the Affordable Care Act became law because their carrier discontinued their health plan.  The discontinued plans were not allowed under the ACA because they didn’t meet the minimum coverage.  They had no choice in the matter.  They lost their coverage. 

     Falsehood #3: There is no evidence that when you raise the minimum wage, businesses go out of business. That is simply not true,” Biden said. But it is true.  A Harvard business study examined the impact of a one dollar increase in the federal minimum wage and found it would lead to a 14% increase in the likelihood a local restaurant closing.  The study found it hurt small businesses much more than larger chain operations.  Biden is a career politician and doesn’t understand simple economics.  Any expense incurred by a business is ultimately passed on to the consumer.  Taxes and mandated wage increases result in price increases.  Businesses don’t pay taxes and wages- consumers do. 

     When asked at the debate what he would say during his second inaugural address to Americans who did not vote for him, President Trump said, Success is going to bring us together. We are on the road to success."  Sounds a little like, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’ 

Monday, October 19, 2020

Who was responsible for holding Epic accountable?

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair

     The largest public-school system in Oklahoma is an on-line virtual school model.  Epic Charter Schools is fully accredited by the state of Oklahoma.  According to their website: Epic Charter Schools combines the convenience of online learning with the support of one-on-one instruction from an Oklahoma certified teacher. This blended learning model allows students and families to set their own pace with the guidance and instruction from an Epic Charter Schools teacher who meets with them face-to-face as needed.”  Epic reportedly has over 40,00 students across Oklahoma and a staff of over 2,000.  Epic is a for profit school management company that does business across the nation running charter schools.  Epic receives about $90 million annually from Oklahoma taxpayers to provide education for the students enrolled in the charter school.  It is governed by a five(5) member board of education that conduct monthly meetings. 

     The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation(OSBI) began an investigation after it was reported Epic was using taxpayer’s dollars to pay for students’ extracurricular expenses and reporting them to the state as ‘instructional.’  In July, Governor Kevin Stitt ordered Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd to conduct a forensic audit of Epic.  Byrd found that about 1 in 4 taxpayer dollars Epic received as a public school went to the co-founder’s for-profit company.  She also found Epic exceeded the 5% maximum for administrative fees for school districts and used some Oklahoma taxpayer monies for a school in California.  Byrd estimated Epic owes the state $11 million dollars. 

     Epic Charter Schools Superintendent Bart Banfield said, "It's no secret we dispute some of the findings and have requested through an open records request the Auditor’s work papers to review their calculations so we can go beyond our initial audit response to exercise our due process and debunk these calculations.”  Last Monday, the state board of Education met to discuss the audit and voted unanimously to demand Epic repay $11 million within 60 days. 


    The OSBI affidavit alleges Epic’s co-founders, Ben Harris and David Chaney, illegally pocketed $10 million over five years by enrolling so-called “ghost students.” They alleged recruited private school and home school students so Epic could receive the per-pupil funding each public school receives. Rather than participating in Epic classes, the “ghost students” continued with traditional homeschooling and private education and received little to no instruction from Epic. OSBI also claims teachers allegedly received bonuses for keeping “ghost students” enrolled. The warrant also says parents were incentivized by Epic’s Learning Fund, from which parents would receive between $800 and $1,000 per child to be used for extracurricular activities of their choice.


      Clearly, there should have been more accountability and oversight of Epic?  Board members at Epic- Oklahoma, Oklahoma state education board members, and the State Superintendent of Public Instruction must all shoulder some of the responsibility for Epic’s misconduct.  The largest school district in the state should not be able to misuse 25% of the tax money they receive and it not be detected.  Perhaps the lack of oversight is because the Epic co-owners are politically connected?  In the last eight years, Chaney and Harris have contributed over $250,000 to candidates in Oklahoma, most of them Republican.  Offering parents and students school choice other than their local public school is a good thing, but Epic has been an epic failure.     


Friday, October 9, 2020


 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair

     On November 3rd, state question # 814 is on the ballot.   It was placed there by a Joint Resolution passed by the legislature.  It involves the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET).   In 1996, Oklahoma and 45 other states across the country sued tobacco companies for targeting youth. They ultimately settled with big tobacco for a combined $200 billion over 25 years.      

     In 2000, Oklahoma voters amended the state constitution and created TSET- the first state to protect their tobacco settlement money in a constitutional trust.  The trust is governed by a seven member board, each appointed by an elected official.  Currently 75% of the annual payment from the tobacco companies is deposited into the trust, the legislature gets 18.75% and the AG’s office gets 6.25% to handle enforcement of the agreement.  TSET only spends the annual ‘earnings’ from the trust each year.  In 2019, TSET earned $ $69,766,822, which was distributed as described above.  The trust balance as of June 2019 was $1.3 billion.  SQ#814 would change the percentages of distribution.  If approved, the legislature would receive 75% of the earnings from TSET, the trust 18.75% and the AG’s office’s share wouldn’t change. The legislature wouldn’t have free reign to use the monies, but it would be earmarked for Medicaid expansion.  Three observations:

     First, Oklahoma’s Medicaid expansion will place a heavy budget on the state budget.  After its passage June 30th, SQ 802 expanded Medicaid in the state to cover eligible working age adults who live in poverty.  It mandated the coverage be done by next July.  The only problem is it didn’t provide a funding mechanism.  If SQ#814 passes, it will generate an estimated $60-70 million annually to help cover the costs of Medicaid expansion.  Estimates on how much the expansion will cost the state are estimated at $164 million annually.  Governor Kevin Stitt said, “ In my opinion, (SQ814) needs to pass.  We need to redirect some of those funds to the legislature so we can actually pay for Medicaid expansion.” 

     Second, there is not universal support for SQ#814.  While TSET(a state agency) doesn’t take an official position on the SQ, they released a statement warning that smaller payments into the trust will hurt future efforts to fund their primary mission to curb tobacco use among youth.  Thomas Larson, spokesman for TSET said, “With less money going into the endowment, the endowment is not going to grow as quickly, especially when we have a downturn in the economy. Not only would that affect our ability to stand up new programs or expand existing programs, a sharp economic downturn that lasts for a while could impact current programs."  TSET spends about 1/3 of their share of the earnings each year on advertising to reduce smoking in Oklahoma.  In a 2016 survey commissioned by TSET of six states, results showed substantial reduction of smokers and Oklahoma doing better than the other five.  There are those who fear future legislatures will attempt to circumvent the restrictions and use the money for something other than Medicaid. That would never happen in Oklahoma, right?

     Third, Oklahoma’s health ranking is low.  The United Health Foundation (UHF) rankings are often cited.  They claim the Sooner state dropped from #43 to #47 in 2019 in overall health due to the high number of uninsured citizens.  UHF is a foundation funded by UnitedHealth Group, a health insurance carrier, so take their rankings with a grain of salt.  Determining the overall health of a state is difficult, but TSET’s own internal data shows our state to have high rates of cancer, heart disease and strokes compared to other states.    

     When voters approved SQ#802 expanding Medicaid and put it in the state constitution, the legislature is required to fund that expansion.  While not a perfect solution, SQ#814 does provide that funding mechanism.  Let’s hope future legislatures will also use it as directed.  Vote Yes on SQ #814.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

A criminals past SHOULD be considered in sentencing! What a person has done is an indictation of what they will do!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair

      On November 3rd, Oklahomans will go to the polls and vote on two State Questions.  SQ# 805 is on the ballot due to the efforts of Oklahomans for Sentencing Reform.(OSR).  If SQ# 805 is passed, it would amend the state constitution to prohibit the use of a person’s past non-violent felonies to be used to impose a greater sentence when convicted of a non-violent crime. 

     OSR claims Oklahoma is handing down cruel and unfair sentences for minor crimes and that has resulted in overcrowded prisons.  They cite statistics that claim Oklahomans serve 20% longer sentences for violent crime and 79% longer for drug related crimes.  There is no good reason for Oklahoma lawmakers and prosecutors to treat Oklahoma citizens that much more harshly than other states, especially when research shows it does nothing to lower crime rates,” wrote Ryan Haynie from Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs(OCPA). 

     OCPA’s position on this issue resulted in former Governor Frank Keating’s resigning from the conservative think tank board.  “SQ#805 is the ultimate gift to a career criminal.  SQ #805 is a ‘stay out of jail’ card. It will result in more criminal activity and more victims. We must not add to the girth of our Constitution with this one-size-fits-all experiment. If 805 passes, it cannot be amended by any Legislature at anytime. It is terrible public policy,” Keating said in an editorial urging a ‘No’ vote on 805.   Three observations on State Question #805:

     First, Oklahoma does need sentence reform, but it should be done by the state legislature, not by amending the state constitution.  Amending the founding document to hamstring law enforcement doesn’t keep Oklahomans safe.  It is reckless and careless.  If OSR cares about Oklahoma citizens, they shouldn’t be protecting the criminals, but lobbying the legislature to reform sentencing guidelines.

     Second, decriminalizing or reclassifying crime doesn’t eliminate it or reduce it.   In 2016, Oklahoma voters approved SQ# 780.  Pushed by OSR, it reclassified drug possession, property crimes, and domestic abuse (that’s right- domestic abuse) from felonies to misdemeanors.  Two years after SQ 780, it had accomplished its goal.  Felony charges dropped in the state by -28.4%.  There was no indication those former felony crimes were not being committed- they were just not felonies anymore and didn’t result in jail time.  An estimated 1,500 criminals didn’t have to do the time, even though they did the crime. 

     Third, SQ #805 simply goes too far.  Even if you believe a criminals past behavior or offences shouldn’t be used against them in sentencing, SQ 805 is not the way to do it.  By amending the state constitution, it would take the legislature out of the picture.  The legislature is a representative body whose job it is to handle those issues.

     District Attorney Jason Hicks, (R-Duncan) is President of the Oklahoma DA’s Association.  He and the association oppose 805.  Hicks says, “SQ 805 would take away the ability to enhance sentences for repeat felons on a wide variety of crimes, many of which average Oklahomans would consider violent. SQ 805 would have a significant impact on public safety in Oklahoma as it would take away one of the most important tools law enforcement has to keep someone from escalating their behavior.”

     Vote no on State Question #805 for the following reasons: (1) Emptying Oklahoma jails will not make us safer.  (2) Decriminalizing and reclassifying crimes will not make them go away. (3) A criminals past should/must be considered in sentencing. (4) Amending the state constitution removes the legislature from the process.