Sunday, March 31, 2024

Trading government transparency for efficiency is never a good idea.

Weekly Opinion Editorial 


by Steve Fair

     On March 10th, Oklahoma Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony penned a guest op/ed for The Oklahoman (available online).  In the column, Anthony addressed HB#2367 authored by Rep. Tammy Townley, (R-Ardmore) and Sen. Dave Rader, (R-Tulsa).  The bill is known as the Corporation Commission Efficiency Act.  The bill would exempt the Corporation Commission from adhering to the Open Meetings Act found in Title 25 of the Oklahoma Statutes.  HB#2367 would require the Commission to publish information/documentation on upcoming votes 48 hours prior to that vote.  HB#2367 passed the House 54-32 with 15 members not voting (  The bill now goes to the Senate.

     Anthony, who has served on the Commission since 1989, says the Corporation Commission is already conducting the vast majority of their business (80%) behind closed doors.  He says the Open Meetings are only held at the agency to cast in-bulk, order-approval votes, calling that a ‘nod’ to transparency. 

     Advocates for the HB#2367l say current restrictions on the Commission have resulted in administrative bottlenecks and long delays in rulings. Three observations:

     First, the Commission needs to be more efficient.  The Corporation Commission does more than just regulate utility rates.  It regulates the exploration and production of oil and gas and how it is transported and stored.  It deals with the rates and services of public utilities.  It is involved in Internet coverage at schools and libraries.  The Commission has lots on its plate and delayed rulings/decision cost companies, and eventually consumers, money.

     Conducting public business in the open is slow and inefficient.  Most of those who attend Open Meetings are people with an ‘ax to grind.’  They question the honesty/integrity of those who disagree with them.  They are somehow able to magically discern the heart/motive of their nemesis.  They believe they are the only honest people in a room.  They can be a drag and irritation, but all Oklahomans, even those described, have a right to know what a powerful agency like the Corporation Commission is doing.  Can HB#2367 make the agency more efficient without damaging its transparency to citizens?  That is the question. 

     Second, what is the objective of the bill?  According to Anthony, the bill is being run to ‘bury the truth.’  Anthony claims Oklahoma electric providers were granted a rate increase in 2021 that was excessive.  After the February 2021 ice storm all electric providers in the state applied for a rate hike with the Commission to recoup their losses and only Anthony voted no.  For over two years, Anthony has been at odds with his two counterparts on the Commission, claiming they have stonewalled his attempts to release records and information.  Anthony sees this bill as an attempt to keep the public from knowing about the 2021 rate hike. 

     People can honestly disagree and not be crooks.  Bob Anthony is an honest man.  That is not in question.  Anthony’s cooperation with the FBI in 1994 (he wore a wire), led to the bribery conviction of fellow Commissioner Bob Hopkins.  No one knows the motive of another person, but its hard to connect the dots that Anthony claims exists.  They may be there, but not everyone who disagrees with you is a charlatan.  Authors of the bill say the motive of the bill is to improve the efficiency/effectiveness of the Commission and that is a worthy goal. 

     Third, HB#2367 is ‘sunset’ in two years.  If it doesn’t work, it goes away, unless the legislature votes to extend.  But who determines if it worked?  If the Commissioners, are the jurists, they will be grading their own test.  If HB#2367 proves to make them more efficient, unclogs the bottleneck and streamlines their workload, they will likely give it an ‘A.”  Oklahomans who conduct business before the Commission might agree with the Commissioners if delays are reduced and decisions timelier. 

     The real judge on whether HB#2367 is good legislation must be Oklahoma citizens.  Before it gets implemented, citizens/voters should ask their legislators: will HB#2367 cloud/hide/obscure the business of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission?  Will HB#2367 make it easier or harder to get information from the Commission?

    Exempting a state agency from Open Meetings laws is a slippery slope and should never be done to improve government productivity.  Trading transparency for efficiency is never a good idea.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

A closed primary is logical, rational, and sensible!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair


     There are three types of political primary elections: open, closed and blanket(jungle).  In an open primary, each voter, regardless of Party affiliation, determines which Party’s primary they want to vote in.  Republicans can vote in Democrat primaries and Democrats can vote in Republican primaries.  In a closed primary, only voters registered in the Party can vote in the Party primary.  Republicans vote for Republicans- Democrats vote for Democrats.  In the blanket/jungle primary, all candidates, regardless of Party affiliation, are on the same ballot and all voters, regardless of Party affiliation, vote on the same ballot.

     Oklahoma Republicans have a closed primary system.  Oklahoma Democrats have a semi-open primary.  They allow Independents, but not Republicans, to vote in their primary.  

     An Oklahoma group plans to circulate an initiative petition to let voters decide if they want to go to a blanket or jungle primary.  Oklahoma United claims the current system disenfranchises voters and by changing the primary process elected officials would be accountable to all voters, not just those in their Party. 

Three observations:

     First, open primaries promote deceit.  If GOP voters could vote in the Democratic primary or visa versa, the temptation to use that vote to pick the weakest general election opponent exists.  That is playing with their vote.  They don’t really support the candidate and their stance on the issues.  By voting for the weakest candidate in the other Parties’ primary, they help their Party and candidate.  A person’s vote should be considered sacred and shouldn’t be trifled with.  Political hacks may view voting as a simple numbers game and treat the vote in a causal and frivolous way, but true patriots don’t play with their vote.  We have enough chicanery in politics, without open primaries.

     Second, blanket primaries promote confusion.  The Republican Party dominates voter affiliation in Oklahoma.  Every statewide elected official is Republican.  All federal elected officials are Republican.  Republicans hold super majorities in both chambers of the legislature.  The likely result of a blanket/jungle primary would be two Republicans running against each other in the general election.  The major difference in the jungle and a closed primary is the more liberal, middle of the road Republican would prevail, resulting in a less conservative Oklahoma government.   Because the voting pool would include liberals, the more liberal of the Republicans would win.  The only people not confused by the blanket/jungle primary are the liberals.  Their goal is to wrest control from conservatives in the state and a blanket primary is just a tool to get that done.

     Third, closed primaries are fair.  It’s not unfair to exclude those unwilling to align/join/position with an organization to not have a voice in how the organization makes decisions.  Churches don’t allow non-members to vote on their clergy.  Civic clubs don’t let non-members vote in elections for their officers.  No one considers that unfair, because it isn’t.  If a voter wants to vote in the Republican primary, register Republican.  It’s that simple. 

     Why would a political Party want those who are not outside their Party help select their nominee?  Because they are losing elections!  For decades, Democrats in Oklahoma held closed primaries and it wasn’t an issue, because they dominated elections and Oklahoma government for over a century.  That view changed when Oklahoma voters aligned with their values and changed their Party affiliation and Republicans started winning.

     A closed primary allows each political Party to determine their own nominee, not outsiders, and the nominees meet in the general.  A closed primary is logical, rational, and sensible.  Out of state liberals are expected to pour millions into the initiative petition process to get it on the ballot.  Republicans- don’t sign it!  It wouldn’t unite Oklahoma, it would divide.

Sunday, March 17, 2024


 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair


     On Friday March 22nd, the federal government could initial a partial shutdown of some federal departments.  Legislative negotiators are working around the clock to avoid a shutdown.  60% of civilian federal employees could be affected.      

     This is the fifth time since September 2023 that Congress has faced a funding deadline.  The first four times, including once earlier this month, Congress acted just in the nick of time to avoid a shutdown.

     The U.S. House of Representatives are considering six spending bills, which fund the Defense, Homeland Security, and Health & Human Services (HHS), and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) departments.  If no agreement is reached by the 22nd, furloughs and shutdowns could happen. 

     On Wednesday March 6th the House passed a $450 billion funding package by a vote of 339-85, with 207 Democrats and 132 Republicans voting for the six bills.  Those bills provided funding for Veterans Affairs, Agriculture, Interior, Transportation, Justice, Commerce and Energy.  The six bills being considered now are more difficult to get passed because conservatives (Freedom Caucus) in the House want their demands taken seriously.  They insist border security be addressed and agency funding cuts be done before they will support passage. Three observations:

     First, Americans view a government shutdown as failure.  They blame every elected official, regardless of Party.  Shutting down the government is politically dumb.  Since 1976, the government has ‘shut down’ twenty times.  Just four of the shutdowns were multiday, with the longest being 35 days.  It is difficult to calculate, but contingency plans cost money and private contractors factor the possibility of a shutdown into their pricing, a government shutdown may actually cost, not save taxpayers money.  A 2019 U.S. Senate report found three shutdowns (2013, 2018, 2019) wasted $4 billion of tax dollars.     

   Second, some of the government should be permanently shut down.  Is a government position classified, ‘non-essential,’ needed?  That is a good question.  Essential vs. non-essential, when it comes to government jobs, means does the job involve safeguarding life or property?  Air traffic controllers safeguard life and are designated essential.  The entire Federal Trade Commission (FTC) doesn’t safeguard life and those positions are considered non-essential.  Not every non-essential position should be eliminated, but every government position should justify its value to taxpayers or be cut.  That should be an ongoing process and not something done through government shutdowns.

     Third, House Republicans have to learn to fly in formation. The current breakdown in the House is 219 Republicans and 213 Democrats.  The GOP has a razor thin majority.  42 of those 219 GOP members are members of the Freedom Caucus.  41 others are members of the Republican Governance Group, a moderate Republican caucus.  Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, (R-LA) has to have both groups in order to get anything done, which is why so little gets done.   When 40% of your total caucus are diametrically opposed to each other, Johnson and the House leadership are hard pressed to getting legislation passed.

     In Top Gun, Pete Mitchell (Maverick), while a great pilot, wasn’t a team player.  He was a renegade and mutineer, often rebelling against authority and ignoring rules.  Pete wouldn’t fly in formation and hated the routine and mundane.  Iceman famously told him it wasn’t Maverick’s flying skills that were the issue- it was his attitude.  Because Pete wouldn’t adhere to holding in the pattern, he put the mission at risk.  Ice asked Mav- “whose side are you on?”  House Republicans, on both ends of the political spectrum, should ask themselves the same question.    

Sunday, March 10, 2024

Truth-in-labeling laws should apply to politics!

 Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair


     President Biden delivered his fourth State of the Union (SOTU) address to a joint session of Congress Thursday evening.  The discourse was more appropriate for a campaign rally than a SOTU. Conveyed in a rapid fire, angry, irate manner, the speech lasted 67 minutes.  Biden’s message reassured the Democrat base he is up to the task for a long general election campaign.  In Biden’s oration he never mentioned President Trump, but called him ‘his predecessor’ thirteen times.  Biden was definitive in his support for abortion on demand and gun control.  He blamed the border crisis on Republicans.  Biden stated he wanted to increase taxes on corporations and the rich, stating they don’t pay their fair share.  Three observations:

     First, corporations don’t pay taxes, people do.  Companies consider taxes a cost of doing business and simply pass the tax along to the consumer in the form of a price increase.   Companies are not sponges.  They don’t ‘absorb’ costs.  They pass through increases to stay in business.  It is fundamental economics.  The current tax code benefits some large corporations, but taxing them more will result in higher prices for consumers. 

     Second, shrinkflation is not the fault of manufacturers.   Shrinkflation is the practice of reducing a product’s amount or volume per unit while maintaining the same price.  Biden used potato chip companies downsizing of their products (9.75z to 9.25z) as an illustration in the SOTU.  It’s highly doubtful Biden has seen the inside of a supermarket in years.  His implication was the manufacturer’s motivation behind the downsizing was greed.  He insinuated the consumer was being deceived.  Downsizing is lazy marketing, but it is not dishonest.  With government mandated truth-in-labeling laws, American consumers have more information on size, ingredient and nutrition than ever before.  Consumers have no excuse to not know they are getting less for the same money.

     Americans are paying +21% more for groceries than they were in 2021.  Since 2021, Biden has tried to blame shrinkflation and food processors, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, product downsizing plays only a minor role in food prices.  Increases in ingredients, labor, and freight have created the high shelf prices and placed a strain on food processors.  According to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), publicly traded packaged food companies were among the most notable underperforming stocks of 2023.  The volatility of their costs to produce and the delay in getting those costs passed on have hurt profitability in the industry.   The result has been less processors and a strain on overall capacity.

     Third, the economy is not performing well.  In the SOTU, President Biden touted his economic record (jobs, unemployment), but the fact is Americans are paying higher prices at the grocery shelf (+21%) and gas pump (+38%) than they were four years ago.  Wages have lagged behind inflation, which is at a 40 year high.  Americans have lost money in their retirement accounts since Biden has been in office.  Credit card debt is at an all-time high.  Interest rates are high.  Most Americans don’t agree with Biden.  82% of Americans believe the country is economically headed in the wrong direction.

     It’s too bad the truth-in-labeling laws food processors must abide by doesn’t apply to politics.  If candidates had to disclose the truth like chip manufacturers, Americans could see what was really inside.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

It took 25 years, but Republicans finally fulfilled the promise to eliminate food tax!

Weekly Opinion Editorial


by Steve Fair


     According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average Oklahoma family spends about $240 per week on food.  Oklahoma citizens are paying about $600 in state sales tax each year when they buy groceries.  Last week, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed HB #1955, which will eliminate the 4.5% state sales tax on groceries.  It will not go into effect until August 2024.  The grocery sales tax cut is estimated to reduce state government revenue by $418 million. 

Governor Stitt and Speaker of the House Charles McCall, (R-Atoka), are advocating a ¼% reduction in the state income tax, but Senate President Pro-Tempe Greg Treat, (R-Edmond) says the Senate won’t agree to that proposal this year.  Three observations: 

     First, eliminating the grocery tax makes sense.  Oklahoma is one of only thirteen states still taxing food.    Because people have to eat, taxing food tends to hurt poor people more than the rich.  Poor people spend a larger percentage of their income on food.  Texas, New Mexico and Colorado don’t tax food, Kansas is eliminating their grocery tax, and Arkansas taxes food at 1.25%. This action just gets Oklahoma in line with bordering states.

    Citizens in Oklahoma have been lobbying the legislature for years to stop taxing food.  In the late 1990s, former State Rep. John Sullivan, (R-Tulsa) ran a bill for three straight sessions to eliminate the tax on food.  With tax and spend Democrats in the majority, Sullivan’s bill received little traction.  During the push by Republican in the early 2000s to win legislative races, elimination of the grocery tax in Oklahoma was a mainstay on most candidate push cards and campaign material.  It took just 25 years, but Republicans finally fulfilled the promise.

      Second, Oklahomans will still pay sales tax on food.  HB#1995 eliminated only the state portion of the sales tax (4.5%).  Municipalities, cities and counties will still assess tax on food.  In many cases, that amount is as much as 5.5%.    Those entities are not likely to follow the state’s lead in removing the tax on food, because they depend on the tax revenue to provide basic services. 

     Third, a consumption tax is a fair way to tax.  The grocery tax was a consumption tax. A consumption tax taxes people when they spend money.  The state (and Federal) income tax is assessed when you earn money, or get interest, dividends, or capital gains.  Consumption taxes are paid as retail sales tax, excise tax, use tax and import duties.   It isn’t regressive and has few ‘loopholes’ or codes.  Consumption taxes encourage saving and not spending.  

     Oklahoma government will still get a large percentage of revenue from sales tax.  The state gets a large amount of funding by taxing the oil industry (gross production tax).  Governor Stitt wants to eliminate the state’s 4.25% state income tax.  If that is done, how will Oklahomans fund state government?  Where would state government get money?  Will Oklahomans give up basic services to pay less taxes?  Is Oklahoma state government so bloated that state employees and services can be eliminated and no one notice?  Probably not. 

     No one likes taxes, but they are a necessary evil.  Knowing when you are paying tax is crucial and Oklahoma just eliminated a transparent one.  The grocery tax was the devil you knew. No one liked paying grocery tax, but they understood it- it wasn’t hidden.  Will state government have to make up the loss of $418 million each year, and if so how?  Taxpayers beware! Let the hide the pea game begin!