Is Oklahoma a ‘Backwards’ State?
Put it all together with a few other things and it’s apparently enough that some have labeled Oklahoma a ‘backwards’ state. A national laughingstock. An embarrassment. I have probably seen more negative articles and comments about Oklahoma and our legislature this year than any other. Articles such as the one titled “Oklahoma Continues Marching Backwards Into the 1950’s With New Laws.” One column I saw shared frequently was from Ginnie Graham of the Tulsa World, who said, “Oklahoma sure had one embarrassing week.” It was pretty clear from her column that her politics are liberal and her disdain for the legislature reflected that. She railed not only about the budget situation but also an abortion bill, the “Great Bathroom Debate of 2016” as she put it, and other things that aren’t related to the legislature.
“After days like these, there’s a need for contemplation, a bit of anger and a lot of action. If this isn’t the tipping point, it must be near. Oklahoma has to do better than what our elected lawmakers are giving us.”
Oklahoma has to do better. That’s an attitude expressed by many lately. But better in what respect? Better at the budget? Better at not cutting whatever pet issue the complainer cares about? Better at ignoring issues that many do care about, such as abortion and the restroom issue?
There’s no debating the fact that the state budget is in trouble this year. With the budget shortfall being more than $1 billion, cuts are unavoidable. The question is, what gets cut? No matter what gets cut, people will complain. Education gets cut; people complain. Social services get cut; people complain. Staffing gets cut; people lose their jobs, including some of the people with whom I’ve worked for years. I doubt you could find anyone connected to the budget process, from those who create it to those who are affected by it, who are happy with the current situation.
What seems to be riling people the most is that some of the legislators have the temerity to propose legislation dealing with social issues while work on the budget is proceeding. Why, the nerve! I wish I had a dollar for every person who has said that legislators have no right to propose any legislation until the budget is “fixed.” What that really means is they don’t like the legislation being proposed. This year is certainly no different.
Senator Nathan Dahm submitted SB1552, which would have made it a felony for a person to perform or induce an abortion. Any person doing so would have faced between one and three years in the state penitentiary. Of course, this bill was quickly labeled an outrage by those who see nothing wrong with abortion. Senator Dahm said he had hoped the bill would eventually end up at the Supreme Court and result in Roe v. Wade being overturned. That’s not going to happen now since Governor Fallin vetoed the bill, saying some of the language was “too vague.”
Another proposal receiving scorn was Senate Concurrent Resolution 43, which takes on the so-called “bathroom issue.” SCR43 is a direct response to the U.S. Department of Education telling schools that federal law requires them to allow students to use the restrooms and locker rooms “consistent with their gender identity” and that receipt of federal funding for schools would be in jeopardy for noncompliance. SCR43 condemns the action by the DOE, directs the Oklahoma Attorney General to defend Oklahomans against this federal overreach and requests that Oklahoma’s representatives in the U.S. House of Representatives file articles of impeachment against President Obama and the Secretary of Education, among others.
Naturally, SCR43 was met with outrage similar to that levied against Senator Dahm’s abortion bill. Even in a year with no budget woes, these bills would have been met with scorn and derision. In addition to SCR43, SB1619 was proposed and would allow for religious accommodations to be requested by students who don’t wish to share a bathroom or locker room with students of the opposite sex. SB1619 was passed by a joint committee and can now be considered by the full Senate. I was surprised to see Senator David Holt comment on the floor of the Senate that he was “ashamed” that so much time had been spent on the restroom issue, rather than focusing on the budget. Senator Holt is an advocate for budget-only sessions every other year.
The budget, abortion, bathrooms, earned income tax credit, Medicaid, education… The totality of issues and unexpected legislation during this session has served Oklahoma’s detractors well, giving them ample targets for their scorn.
Is any of it justified? Is Oklahoma really a ‘backwards’ state?