Is there something in the water at the Oklahoma Department of Labor? What is it about that office that has made it so overtly political through the years? Republican Commissioner Mark Costello’s trip to Wisconsin to campaign for embattled GOP Gov. Scott Walker was only the latest example. Costello previously angered unions and Democratic leaders when he formed a nonprofit to raise funds to promote changes in labor law. The man Costello defeated two years ago, Democrat Lloyd Fields, was a true partisan. Signs for 2010 Democratic candidates adorned the walls in the lobby of the building where his office was housed. He once stormed into the office of a state employee group and tore up his candidate questionnaire because his opponent had received a campaign donation from the group. Likewise Fields’ predecessor, Brenda Reneau, wore her GOP allegiances on her sleeve. Of all state offices, labor commissioner tops the list of those that should be appointive.
With her signature on the bill this week, Gov. Mary Fallin made Oklahoma the 25th state to allow handgun owners to openly carry their weapon. The bill, Fallin said, “sends a strong message that Oklahoma values the rights of its citizens to defend themselves, their family and their property.” That’s really never been in question. And no sweeping changes are likely to occur once the law takes effect Nov. 1. The law allows those who are registered to carry a concealed weapon to do so openly if they choose. How many will make the switch? Our guess is not many. Fears that open carry will create a “Wild West” atmosphere were always overstated — it hasn’t happened in the 24 other states. But opponents in the Legislature who asked how approving this bill would benefit Oklahoma had a point, too. Open carry won’t drive commerce or industry, but it might produce a few votes for some members in November.
Above: Brigette Blackwell demonstrates the type of holster that could be used to open-carry a pistol at Big Boys Guns and Ammo in Oklahoma City. Photo by Steve Gooch, The Oklahoman
The cold war heated up in Edmond this week with a red scare that was really a red herring. Small but vocal opposition to a plan for Edmond to partner with a city in Russia focused on the city’s past as part of a communist regime rather than the present post-Soviet Union era. Russia has its problems and Russian President Vladimir Putin deserves the title of “strongman.” Nevertheless, the good folks of Edmond, OK and Engles, Russia have no reason to distrust each other or worry about the United Nations Agenda 21, a favorite bogeyman of the right-wing fringe. Edmond city councilors unanimously approved a sister city agreement with Engles, ignoring pleas from the fringe to avoid ties linking a city in this red state with one in the former red nation.
A new law in Turkey is seeking to tame the spirit of the street markets. The wardens on patrol have a mandate to fine traders who “disturb the environment” or commit “verbal or genuine abuse” against prospective customers. The hollering and singing are as much a part of the centuries-old tradition of the covered-market bazaars as are the tomatoes and tea cups for sale. While the rules and fines have prompted some vendors to leave, many are ignoring them. Shoppers have mixed opinions. While toning down crude harassment by stall owners isn’t an unreasonable goal, one recent tomato-seeker described the suppression of shouting as an attack on “the soul of Istanbul.” The Justice and Development Party governing Turkey has proposed additional rules for the merchants that are expected to become law later this year. In this case, government interference in the marketplace is more than figurative.
Oklahoma isn’t the only state where battles are being waged over accountability efforts in public education. In Everett, Wash., some students’ parents chose to have their children opt out of state exams in protest. (We’re sure it took a lot of arm-twisting to persuade Junior to go along with that plan.) We confess to being baffled by the resistance in some quarters to verifying that children have mastered core educational content. In the adult world, everyone from welders to lawyers has to pass a test to get a job. The threat of going without a paycheck seems a lot more “high stakes” than simply repeating a class. In the meantime, we’re waiting to hear if Everett students will conduct similar walkouts to protest the quality of cafeteria food and insufficient recess.
So much for trying to hold commercial pet breeders accountable in Oklahoma. A bill approved this week in a state House committee would do away with the Board of Commercial Pet Breeders, which was formed two years ago to regulate large-scale dog and cat breeders. The idea of creating the board was opposed from the start by many breeders who prefer the way things have always been done — and helped make Oklahoma a haven for unscrupulous puppy and kitten mill operators. Once established, the board struggled with leadership issues. This bill would place the board’s duties with the state Agriculture, Food and Forestry Department. Backers say the agency is best equipped to handle the job. Our guess is that instead, the monitoring of dog and cat breeders will become an afterthought in the large agency.
Above: Dog rescued from puppy mill. (AP Photo/The News Messenger)
A shortage of a drug used in Oklahoma executions has the attention of at least one legislator. Rep. Don Armes, R-Faxon, says lawmakers need to find a way for the Department of Corrections to continue to execute death row inmates. “The people of Oklahoma would be extremely disappointed in their Republican-led Legislature and executive branch if we let the death penalty effectively fall away,” Armes said. The state has only one remaining dose of pentobarbital, which is one of three drugs used in executions here. The DOC is looking to find more, but drug manufacturers won’t sell it to prison systems. Oklahoma has 64 inmates on death row. No executions are scheduled the rest of this year, but that could change if some inmates’ final appeals are denied. Armes said alternatives to lethal injection are possible but would require legislative action. He wants that done sooner rather than later. “Oklahomans believe in the execution of brutal and cold-blooded killers,” he said. “They expect us to carry out their will.”
A view of cells on death row in H Unit at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester.
Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman
Remember Barack Obama’s remark in 2008 about when human rights begin, before or after birth? He said the question was “above my pay grade.” We all know this was a copout and that Obama doesn’t believe human rights begin before birth. Then the man who won the 2008 presidential election said his views on gay marriage were “evolving.” Another copout. Either he was for it or against it. A day after the landslide victory in North Carolina of an amendment banning gay marriage, Obama said he likes gay marriage. This tale of two stances is typical of liberal Democrats who want to appear sympathetic without expressing outright support for an unpopular position. That’s what Bill Clinton did. He was among those campaigning against the North Carolina initiative. Obama was a no-show. At least Obama was consistently consistent in his opposition to the war in Iraq — unlike the previous Democratic nominee, who was for it until he was against it.
(May 8, 2012 AP File Photo)
Oklahoma made national news when President Obama got just 57 percent in our Democratic presidential primary, losing 43 percent to perennial and novelty candidates. This week, West Virginia’s Democrat voters gave 40 percent of their primary votes to Keith Judd, currently serving a prison sentence in Texas. As in Oklahoma, the non-Obama votes appear a protest rather than an endorsement of the alternative candidates. Obama’s showing isn’t shocking since two prominent West Virginia Democrats, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, have publicly indicated they may not support Obama’s re-election. We hope West Virginia’s Democrats will handle the embarrassment better than Oklahoma Democratic Party Chairman Wallace Collins, who attributed the results to racism in his own party. Collins’ apparent message — “Vote for Democrats; we’re racist” — isn’t the greatest marketing slogan.
Above: Keith Judd (AP Photo/ The Beaumont Enterprise courtesy of Keith R. Judd)
A study released this week offers further evidence that graduated licenses for young drivers are a good idea. Researchers with AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety found that the risk of a teenage driver dying in an accident increases significantly when other teens are in the car. Compared with driving with no passengers, a 16- or 17-year-old driver’s risk of death per mile driven jumps by 44 percent when carrying one passenger younger than 21. The risk doubles when carrying two passengers younger than 21. Oklahoma’s graduated license law says teenage drivers can have only one other teen in the vehicle unless someone 21 or older is along for the ride. Given this new study, parents may want to demand that their children keep passengers to a minimum even when the restrictions expire six months after a license is issued.
Photo by John Clanton, The Oklahoman Archives