Early, voluntary departures are taking a toll on Democratic clout in the Legislature at a time when Republican successes at the ballot box have taken a toll on the Democratic head count. Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, resigned from his leadership post and left the state before the term-limit clock ran out. Former House Minority Leader Danny Morgan, D-Prague, says he’ll leave the Legislature before terms limits force him out. Former Senate Democratic leader Charlie Laster, D-Shawnee, is leaving early as well, putting his final three-plus years on ice. We thought term limits would change the makeup of the Legislature; we never thought so many lawmakers wouldn’t stay for the whole 12 years they’re eligible to serve. Laster filled the seat vacated by Brad Henry when he left the Senate to become governor in 2003. Henry, by the way, is technically eligible to serve another couple of years in the Legislature.
- Photo by Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman
When managing a tight budget, cutting unnecessary expenses is a good place to start. House Bill 3111, filed by state Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, would end the state government’s role in collecting dues for labor unions. Currently, state agencies and school boards use automatic payroll deductions for Oklahoma Public Employees Association membership dues and Oklahoma Education Association contributions. While processing the payroll deductions doesn’t cost the state millions, bank drafts and automatic credit card charges are two alternatives with zero cost to the state. “This modernizes state government and takes advantage of the advances in financial technology that will allow unions to continue to collect dues in an efficient manner without the State of Oklahoma paying to be the middle man,” Hickman said. Taxpayers should appreciate the prospect of anything free, and we hope this effort to join the 21st century finds favor with legislators.
A single adult with one child needs a “living wage” of $16.74 an hour in Oklahoma County, where the state’s Democratic Party organization is based. The party touts itself as “a voice for workers’ rights and respectable wages, at both the state and national levels.” So how much does the party pay its own employees? The lowest wage at party headquarters is $11.63 an hour, which is more than the “living wage” for a single adult but considerably less than the rate for a single adult with one child. Also, in a list of 22 occupations, only three are typically compensated at a lower rate than the party pays. The party seeks to offer “competitively-priced options” for employee insurance. Not only is there a disconnect between what the party pays and what it thinks others should pay, but it seems to like competition in the health insurance field — something that its all-out support for Obamacare doesn’t jibe with.
The criticism continues to roll in over President Obama’s decision last week scuttling (for now) construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The 1,700-mile pipeline would move crude oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and would produce thousands of jobs along the way, including here in Oklahoma. In a memo to employees, Bill Klesse, CEO of Valero Energy, shared the statement that the company had issued to media after the decision. The statement called rejection of the plan “absurd” and said the administration’s policies would force companies such as Valero (which has a refinery in Ardmore) to buy more oil from sources outside the United States and Canada. It also said the decision “throws dirt into the face of our closest ally and largest trading partner.” In an aside to his employees, Klesse said the administration’s decision wasn’t about pipelines in potentially sensitive areas of the country. Instead, “This is politics at its worst.” Well said.
Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman
Wendy’s “Old Fashioned Hamburgers” might want to consider a motto change, seeing as how the fast-food chain no longer has plain hamburgers on its menu. If you prefer a burger without cheese, the kitchen will honor your request. But since you have to pay for the cheese either way, most people will probably take it. This menu change might impact not only your pocketbook but your waistline. Annual cheese consumption in America has tripled since 1970, to more than 30 pounds per person. For cheddar cheese, this equates to more than 50,000 calories and about 4,500 fat grams. A century ago, the average cheese intake was less than five pounds per year. Skyrocketing cheese consumption might be among the most dramatic changes in the Western diet in the past 40 years. Behold the power of cheese!
State Rep. Mike Reynolds has the right idea with an attempt to keep lobbyists from buying legislators’ meals at the Capitol. Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, was moved to act after the Oklahoma Ethics Commission voted last week for a proposed rule that would let lobbyists provide lunch or dinner for groups of legislators at the Capitol. The rule also wouldn’t require lobbyists to identify which lawmakers got the meals. Legislators who like the idea argue that a meal here or there won’t sway their decisions on bills. That’s debatable. What isn’t debatable is that lawmakers, many of whom get per diem of $148 per day along with their generous salaries, don’t need free lunches. They can pay for their own, and should.
It’s “Sesame Street” meets the unseemly side of politics. With cameras barred from a high-profile corruption trial, a Cleveland, Ohio, television station has puppets acting out the steamy testimony about hookers, gambling and sexually transmitted diseases. In one scene, a furry hand stuffs cash down the shirt of a puppet prostitute. WOIO news director Dan Salamone brought up the idea of using the puppets to lampoon the trial and give a glimpse of what’s happening in the federal courtroom. Because cameras aren’t allowed, other stations have relied on artist sketches of the proceedings and videos of longtime Democratic power broker Jimmy Dimora walking into court. The puppets are in addition to the station’s regular coverage of Dimora’s trial. Although some people have criticized the station for blurring the lines between news and entertainment, Salamone defended the segments, saying it’s no different from when newscasts end with a lighter, humorous story. Oklahoma has its own share of trials that easily could be lampooned similarly.
The story of bankrupt solar company Solyndra keeps getting worse. Solyndra was an administration darling when the company opened — an example of green technology at its best. That attitude was reflected in a $535 million loan the government provided in 2009, despite indications that things weren’t going well. Solyndra eventually went belly up last year. But the waste continues. KCBS television in San Francisco recently filmed workers tossing new glass tubes used in solar panels into trash bins. The station reports that Solyndra paid at least $2 million for the specialized glass. According to court documents, the bankruptcy trustee said the glass was of “inconsequential value” because the cost of storing them was greater than their value. An employee for the company in charge of selling Solyndra’s assets said they did a thorough search for buyers, with no takers. But KCBS says the tubes weren’t included on the list of assets put up for sale at two auctions last year. The owner of a Las Vegas warehouse, who already was reselling Solyndra solar panels, told the station he would have bid on them. Maddening.
When is the exercise of religion on public property not an invitation to an injunction? When Indian culture is involved. The latest example among many is a Utah tribe’s snow dance to benefit ski resorts in Colorado. Seems the Great Spirit has been a bit stingy with the white stuff this year. Colorado isn’t the only state where snow dances have been held this year. While ski resorts are private property, the rites have also been held at a state park near Lake Tahoe. These are religious exercises. Oklahoma’s car tags carry a depiction of the “Sacred Rain Arrow,” a religious image. In the past few years, groundbreakings for Oklahoma projects involving public funds have included Indian religious rites. While neither Judaism nor Christianity originated on this continent, they have a long history here and are part of the culture. Why is it OK for one culture to be overtly religious in the public square but not another?