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Saturday, May 23, 2020

OCPA column: Transparency fuels profanity at Capitol


Transparency fuels profanity at Capitol
By Jonathan Small

As one transitions from a child to adult, perception changes with age. That’s certainly been my experience when it comes to politics.

I first visited the Oklahoma Capitol as a child in the 1980s, going with my parents to advocate on behalf of some of our state’s most vulnerable citizens. Today, I still do the same thing as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, advocating for free-market policies that provide the greatest prosperity to the largest number of people.

The response to my work as an adult, however, is not the same as the response I received as a child.

This year OCPA launched our new Legislative Scorecard and a watch list. One of the first bills to be scored was authored by the chair of an appropriations and budget subcommittee who was also part of the House Republican leadership team.


We had serious concerns about the bill’s unintended consequences. Lawmakers chose not to revise the bill to address those concerns and passed it anyway. The scorecard reflected their votes.

Soon after, while walking the fourth floor of the Capitol, I passed a committee room where the bill’s author was seated among a group. Because his chair faced the doorway, he saw me, and I saw him—including when he flipped me off.

Then it appeared the chairman motioned for me to come into the room to talk. As I did so, he began to cuss at me loudly and profusely. He said I was the “F…” word at least twice, called me a piece of “S…” twice, said I was worthless twice, referred to me as a derogatory word for male genitalia twice, and twice told me to “scat” like I was some sort of animal. Peppered throughout his personal, verbal, and public attack on me was his criticism OCPA for opposing his legislation.

The latter portion represented just a portion of the overall content of his diatribe but was clearly the real source of his anger. As a conservative who is also an African-American, it was sobering to be publicly treated worse than an animal.

I am grateful for the leadership and courage some showed after that event. When Oklahoma Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat and Governor Kevin Stitt both heard the news, they apologized for the way I was treated.

Needless to say, my view of politics and what Oklahoma citizens need to do to hold politicians accountable has changed since I was a child. But my commitment to public policy and the importance of working to benefit hard-working citizens has not.

Now, more than ever, we need transparency at the Oklahoma Legislature. More than ever, we need to hold lawmakers accountable for their votes.

If that causes the occasional legislator to have a public meltdown, so be it. It’s still the right thing to do.

I encourage you to check out the OCPA Scorecard at scorecard.ocpathink.org.

Jonathan Small serves as president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

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