The attorney for one of the candidates claiming victory in this month’s contested House District 71 election says time is of the essence in resolving the dispute. Really? The seat has been vacant since December, when former Rep. Dan Sullivan bailed out to become head of the Grand River Dam Authority. Republican Katie Henke and Democrat Dan Arthrell are tussling over who won the April 3 election, which had a razor-thin margin first for Arthrell, then for Henke, and now involves once-missing ballots that could sway the result again. Henke’s attorney told the state Supreme Court that voters in the Tulsa-area district need representation during the final month of the session. That’s “crunch time” in approving a budget and dealing with other important issues, he said. And he’s right. But expecting Henke or Arthrell to be able to get up to speed and really contribute to that process is a stretch.
The House chamber near the end of session, May 2011. Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman
We’ve written recently about the challenges moderate Republicans are facing from the more conservative elements in the party. At the national level, Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar and Utah’s Orrin Hatch are perhaps the two best examples. In our state Legislature, some solid Republicans have drawn challenges from opponents who say they’re not conservative enough. But this isn’t a Republican-only phenomenon. In Pennsylvania, two Blue Dog Democratic incumbents lost their primary races on Super Tuesday to progressive challengers. One of the winners had attacked the incumbent for opposing Obamacare. A fellow Blue Dog is U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, who after four terms chose not to seek re-election. It’s doubtful the centrist Boren would have lost in a primary, but his prospects in November weren’t as rosy.
U.S. Rep. Dan Boren with his wife Andrea, announcing he will not seek re-election. Photo by Stephen Pingry, Tulsa World
We can thank the Sierra Club and the Environmental Protection Agency for cleaning up the air by putting so much pressure on utilities to stop making power with coal that coal-fired plants are being “voluntarily” shuttered. Oh, you can also thank them for the higher bills coming your way due to the lack of diversity in the choice of fuels to make electricity. Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, which serves the Tulsa area, is caving on an EPA crackdown on coal-caused emissions. OG&E, which serves Oklahoma City, remains committed to fighting an EPA mandate related to coal plants. Electric bills are going up no matter how this plays out, but does it make sense to shut out an abundant, domestic source of energy? Price aside, diversity seems prudent in this area. Still, Oklahoma may have a net gain from current trends: It has a lot more natural gas than it does coal.
Above: Public Service Co. of Oklahoma’s Northeastern Station coal-fired power plant in Oologah. Photo provided by Public Service Co. of Oklahoma
“Featherbedding” is a term for a union’s ploy to force the hiring of more workers than are actually needed to accomplish a task. The U.S. Senate seems intent on imposing a form of this practice on the U.S. Postal Service, with rules that restrict the closing of post offices that clearly need to be closed. Built in to the closure criteria are layers of exceptions such as economic impact, access to broadband Internet (one of the things that has devastated first-class mail), proximity to the nearest post office, etc. USPS wants to close 3,700 post offices. Senators apparently want to shrink that number to two or three. Perhaps a dozen or so underused post offices in affluent areas with high-speed DSL and another facility within two miles might be found and actually closed. Stamp the Senate’s micromanagement plan with this watermark: What a joke!
Photo by Jim Beckel, The Oklahoman Archives
State Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, has come in for criticism on this page more than once in recent years due to some of her off-base remarks and actions in the House. This time we come not to criticize but to salute her for House Bill 2521, which was signed recently by the governor. The bill redefines free clinics as charitable clinics and, most importantly, limits liability for the doctors and other health care workers who donate their time at those facilities. “This change in statute will ensure health care volunteers are protected from liability in both free and low-cost clinics,” Kern said. Her bill stands to make a positive impact by helping low-income Oklahomans, and won’t cost the state anything. Well done.
Rep. Sally Kern. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn got nowhere with previous efforts to reduce what government agencies spend on conferences. This time around, Coburn’s colleagues in Congress like the idea. Credit goes to reports about the General Services Administration spending $823,000 on a training conference in Las Vegas in 2010. With that as the backdrop, senators this week approved an amendment by Coburn, R-Muskogee, that would cap spending on conferences and require that such spending be detailed through quarterly updates on the Internet. Coburn says the government spends at least half a billion dollars a year on conferences, and expects his changes will save taxpayers $65 million per year. Coburn has been pushing this idea for at least four years. Better late than never.
Las Vegas (AP File Photo)
The state Senate’s minority leader used a favorite Democratic tactic — class envy — to help defeat a bill that would have opened to free-market competition the contract to run a Capitol snack bar. Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, said during debate on House Bill 2119 that the Legislature had granted hundreds of millions of dollars in tax credits to special-interest groups through the years. The vision impaired who run the snack bar “are not asking for tax credits,” Burrage argued. “They are asking for dignity.” Well. The bill by Rep. Jeff Hickman, R-Fairview, would have exempted the Capitol from a law giving vision-impaired vendors preference in renting space in most state and county buildings. Hickman said the service provided by vendors in the Capitol isn’t up to par. His bill would have had proceeds from renting the space to private vendors directed to the Department of Rehabilitative Services to help fund its programs. And the vision-impaired could have still bid on the Capitol snack bar contract. But let’s not consider those ideas. Better to trot out tiresome straw man arguments.
PikePass users in Oklahoma are running out of time to get their old units replaced by windshield stickers. The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority has been phasing in the new stickers over the past several months, but says about one-fourth of its customers have yet to make the switch. The OTA has mailed three notices letting customers know the old units will soon be obsolete. Those who haven’t responded will be receiving a fourth — and final — notice in the mail, in the form of a yellow postcard. Those receiving the yellow postcards will have 10 days to contact the PikePass office. If they don’t, says the director of PikePass operations, “then we’re going to turn off their PikePass.” It doesn’t get much simpler than that. But why do we expect the next turn of the crank to involve scores of angry PikePass users complaining that their service was ended without sufficient warning?
Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman Archives
Income inequality is one of the favorite canards of the left, an oft-drawn weapon of class warfare. Wall Street Journal columnist Holman W. Jenkins Jr. writes that this is a “strange obsession, at least to the extent the obsessive focus their policy responses on trying to adjust the condition of the top 1 percent rather than improving the opportunities of everyone else.” Perhaps the warfare should shift to the liberal enclaves known as law firms. There, the richest lawyers are getting richer and the rest are struggling. More lawyers are in the $1,000-an-hour club than ever. TyMetrix, a legal software firm, found hourly rate increases for the elite and declines for many other lawyers. This isn’t the glass ceiling. It’s the class-action ceiling. Counselors, who ya gonna sue?
Newt Gingrich encountered an unlikely opponent on the presidential campaign trail in St. Louis last week. Nipped by a Magellanic penguin during a behind-the-scenes zoo tour, Gingrich’s finger required a small bandage. In other penguin news, a recent emperor penguin census, conducted via satellite, found double the expected number of the majestic birds. “We know that this species is threatened by climate change,” said lead author Peter Fretwell of the British Antarctic Survey. “This gives us an accurate method of checking the numbers, year on year, to see if the models that predict that the population is going to decrease are actually true.” With a previous estimate of 300,000 emperor penguins in the world, and a new count of 595,000, climate change appears not to be too serious a predator so far. Perhaps the next erstwhile presidential candidate deserving of a penguin’s wrath is Al Gore.
A flock of penguins in Antarctica (AP Photo/Japan Pool)