Sunday, February 11, 2018

Spiropoulos: Frustrated and fed up

Frustrated and fed up
by Andrew Spiropoulos

Gov. Mary Fallin has had enough. She is frustrated with a legislature that cannot muster sufficient votes to enact even popular policies like taxing tobacco or increasing teacher pay. I know how she feels. I’m frustrated too.

I’m frustrated that, for seven years, the governor never came forward with a comprehensive and detailed plan to reform the size and structure of our dysfunctional state government. For almost two decades, Oklahoma’s conservative political and policy leaders have studied, proposed, and pleaded for reform of our bloated, unmanageable executive branch, our costly excess of poorly managed public school districts and state higher education institutions, and parasitic patchwork of crony-capitalist tax credits and exemptions.

Why didn’t Gov. Fallin dust off an excellent study of the executive branch commissioned by Gov. Frank Keating while she was lieutenant governor? Instead, despite possessing both public attention and the considerable resources of the state administrative apparatus, she passively passed the cup of leadership to a leanly staffed, part-time legislature. And then she was shocked when nothing got done.

I’m frustrated that the governor doesn’t understand or explain how she successfully presided over an era of great prosperity and how conservative efforts to limit and reform government played a critical role in swiftly lifting us out of a recession caused by a deliberate economic attack on our energy industry.

Unlike at the end of the 1980s, when wrong-headed state policymakers compounded our economic suffering by significantly raising taxes during a recession, this time conservative legislative leaders successfully fought off most efforts to raise economically harmful taxes, kept spending down, and afforded private enterprise time and capital to recover. The governor, and business leaders who should know better, consistently confuse the prosperity of state government with that of its people. It’s fine that state tax revenue has finally started to rise, but it’s more important that we’ve regained all the jobs we lost in the recession. Any candidate who can’t comprehend that our good news far outweighs the bad doesn’t deserve your vote.

I’m frustrated that the governor doesn’t understand either that education spending has risen, not fallen, during her term or that there’s no reason to believe that, absent significant reform, increased spending leads to improved achievement. I’m fed up with conservative leaders who sat mute while the education establishment and left-wing propagandists disguised as policy analysts and journalists fed the public a buffet of readily refutable lies about declining budgets while districts chose to spend money on anything other than raising teacher pay. Worse yet, these lies drowned out the news that the few reforms, like the Reading Sufficiency Act, we’ve barely managed to preserve have begun to work. The well of public discourse concerning education is now so poisoned with myth that I’m not sure rational conversation is possible.

I’m frustrated that the governor repeatedly passed on opportunities to lead the charge for bold conservative reform while Wisconsin’s Scott Walker or Indiana’s Mitch Daniels, facing challenging, even vicious, political environments, cut spending, demonstrably improved agency management, expanded school choice, and reformed both the state health care and higher education establishments. Gov. Fallin and her staff had repeated opportunities to consult and learn from these successful leaders, but they never did.

Oklahoma has moved beyond the point where a winning personality, good intentions, and vaguely conservative beliefs are enough to lead. We need our Walker or Daniels.

Andrew Spiropoulos is the Robert S. Kerr, Sr. Professor of Constitutional Law at Oklahoma City University and the Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and should not be attributed to either institution. Originally published in the Journal Record.


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