We’ve previously praised lawmakers who are seeking to remove outmoded, obsolete or even unconstitutional laws from the books. The unenforceable blasphemy law is the most notable example targeted for repeal this year.
So we also like an idea promoted by state Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City. His Senate Bill 310 creates a “Spring Cleaning Commission” that would identify obsolete or duplicative laws so legislators could repeal them. The commission would also identify archaic language that needs to be updated, and would recommend streamlining statutes where possible.
Perhaps most importantly, the group would identify regulations impacting business activity whose original purpose is no longer justifiable.
The nature of our legislative process allows laws to accumulate in an ad-hoc fashion that can have unintended results. It makes sense to conduct a top-to-bottom review to ensure the system is as consistent, cohesive and sensible as possible.
What happens if they hold an election and no one comes? That’s increasingly the case in school elections, which cedes policy control to a tiny fraction of the population.
In Oklahoma City, where an important race for school board chair was on the ballot this week, only 6,583 people voted, roughly 5 percent of those eligible. Turnout in other school districts was also abysmal: Deer Creek (6 percent), Edmond (5 percent), and only 3 percent in both Putnam City and Western Heights. Turnout in February school elections typically ranges from just 8 percent to 15 percent.
Turnout in the Harrah School District reached 20 percent, but it’s a real indictment that such a “good” turnout means just one in five voters showed up. Given that many people don’t register to vote, low turnout means some school board elections and multimillion-dollar bond issues are potentially being decided by as few as one in 50 adults.
That’s a recipe for fringe groups to take over the process, and also illustrates the problems created by holding school elections in February, separate from major elections. The races are so low key, many voters don’t even know they’re occurring.
One solution previously suggested by state Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax is to hold local elections, including school board and city elections, in November of odd-numbered years, and move school districts from annual elections to every other year. That still seems a good idea to us. The benefits of democracy are lost when no one participates.
Patience O’Dowd of Placitas, N.M., and Jerilyn Davis of Norman have filed an ethics complaint against state Rep. Skye McNiel, R-Bristow. They claim McNeil would financially benefit from legislation she filed to legalize horse slaughter because her family owns a livestock auction.
Yet McNiel’s bill does not require horses to go to auction before slaughter, and her family’s business is not favored over any other auction site. Furthermore, there’s not much money in horse slaughter.
In California, news reports revealed such horses sold for as little as $50 at auction. That’s hardly a road to riches, and McNiel says the bill is merely designed to prevent the dumping and starvation of old horses.
If attorneys serving in the Oklahoma Legislature can vote on bills impacting lawsuits or workers’ compensation, can’t McNiel file one loosely related to auctions?
This complaint appears a harassment tactic and should be tossed.
The ongoing drought has generated similar proposals in Oklahoma and Texas.
Locally, legislation creating a $10 million Emergency Drought Relief Fund has gained House committee approval. The fund could pay for cleaning or building ponds, water conservation, water for livestock, rural fire suppression, getting rid of Eastern red cedar trees and other drought-relief activities identified by the governor.
In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry has called for tapping the state’s Rainy Day Fund to pay for water conservation projects. His plan may draw opposition from some tea party elements on the political right while also needing Democratic support on the left to get the two-thirds vote required — no sure thing.
So far, the Oklahoma proposal has received unanimous bipartisan support. Here’s hoping Oklahoma discussions remain centered on policy. This proposal should live or die based on merit and careful analysis, not the political version of inside baseball.
Oklahoma has more than 500 school districts, far more than most states our size. But consolidation is an emotional issue; change never comes easily. Too often, that means students are effectively robbed of educational opportunities in the name of local civic pride.
So it’s encouraging that citizens in two districts voted this week to improve student services by consolidating the Dustin and Graham districts. The plan doesn’t require either community to close its school. Instead, the Dustin site will house prekindergarten through fourth-grade students, and the Graham school will be home to fifth- through 12th-graders.
One of the major resulting changes is that each school will now have just one grade per classroom and per teacher, instead of two, and students will have more electives.
By looking ahead instead of clinging to nostalgia, voters in these districts have truly put students first.
Although his colleagues insist he’s an intelligent legislator, House Democratic Leader Scott Inman’s typical method of operation is to act deliberately dense.
This week Inman, D-Del City, noted Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposed tax cut would reduce annual state revenue by more than $100 million and that only an additional $170 million is available this budget year. When you throw in the spending increases endorsed by the governor, Inman insisted, “We simply don’t see how the math adds up.”
Here’s how: The tax cut affects only half the fiscal — not calendar — year, reducing revenue by $40.7 million for the budget year and leaving $129 million for increases.
House Democrats could make a serious argument against Fallin’s tax cut. Instead, Inman pretends he doesn’t know the difference between the calendar and fiscal years. House Democrats want to regain legislative clout. They won’t get it the way Inman is going about it.
Gov. Mary Fallin’s latest State of the State speech ran 4,750 words and took 50 minutes to deliver, including applause. In comparison, President Barack Obama’s second inaugural speech was 2,095 words.
Obviously, we found far more to like in Fallin’s speech than Obama’s, but would note that brevity and clarity are virtues in public speaking.
President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is around 250 words. The Declaration of Independence is roughly 1,300. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech is about 1,650 words. Even Winston Churchill’s stirring “we shall fight on the beaches” speech in 1940 was shorter than Fallin’s — approximately 3,950 words.
Audience members can hear the best speeches just once and quote specific lines by memory, while other speeches are remembered not for what was said, but for the feeling of audience relief when they finally concluded.
Strunk & White’s famous composition advice also applies to speeches: Omit needless words.
States are considered laboratories of democracy because state policies can become the basis for future federal policies. Thanks to overwhelming one-party rule in many states, Republican and Democrats now have the chance to test-drive very different policy approaches.
Stateline.org notes that 166 million people live in the 25 states where Republicans have full control, while 93 million live in 13 states where Democrats hold sway. In 22 states, including Oklahoma, one party has a veto-proof majority in both chambers. The competition between those states will be instructive.
While states like Oklahoma consider tax cuts, states such as Minnesota are looking at tax increases. Blue states are pushing gun control; red states are seeking to expand gun rights. On these and many other issues, states’ differing policies will offer a stark contrast, and the results will influence the advancement of conservative or liberal governing philosophies at the federal level.
In a “cold day in Hell” moment, the Oklahoma House Democratic caucus is enthusiastically backing Republican state schools Superintendent Janet Barresi. Barresi is seeking nearly $300 million more for public schools this year. Last year she sought a $157 million increase that the Legislature ultimately rejected.
Democrats have made Barresi’s latest budget request part of their 2013 agenda, although they don’t explicitly acknowledge it, choosing to call the item “the State Board of Education’s request.” That’s likely because Democrats have made opposing Barresi and education reform a major emphasis and don’t want their base to realize agreement exists.
Barresi has rightfully shifted education policy to focus on results — student and school performance — not just appropriations, but acknowledges the need for funding.
If most Democrats emulated Barresi by supporting not only additional spending but also school improvement, then Oklahoma students would be better off.