Saturday, December 12, 2020

OCPA column: Washington smear tactics in Oklahoma


Washington smear tactics in Oklahoma
By Jonathan Small

Smear tactics are nothing new in Washington, D.C., but those tactics are now being used in Oklahoma.

During U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings, critics portrayed him as a drunk and a rapist. Fortunately, lawmakers saw through those attacks and confirmed Kavanaugh.

Sadly, similar character assassination, recently carried out in Oklahoma, sidelined a qualified nominee for the State Board of Education.

This sad episode began when Gov. Kevin Stitt recently removed Kurt Bollenbach from the State Board of Education and named Melissa Crabtree of Enid as his replacement.

Bollenbach was clearly out of step with conservatives and the governor who appointed him. His removal was justified, because Bollenbach vocally supported efforts to bar Christian schools from serving children who receive scholarships through a state program. The regulations cited to justify that action were illegally adopted, as an opinion by Attorney General Mike Hunter soon made clear. It was obvious new blood was needed on the board.

In response, school-choice opponents launched a smear campaign against Crabtree. Sadly, they succeeded, and she withdrew from consideration.

As with Kavanaugh, this debate was not over qualifications, but over whether conservatives leadership would advance the conservative policies endorsed by voters.

Crabtree’s qualifications cannot be denied. She taught special education in public schools for four years, meaning she may have more classroom experience than the current state superintendent. Crabtree also taught the parents of children with disabilities and served at-risk families of children with special needs for more than a decade through her church.

What part of “longtime educator with expertise in special education” sounds like a bad fit for the State Board of Education?

Crabtree’s critics objected that she homeschooled her own children. Many other Oklahomans have done the same. (I’m proud to say I was homeschooled as a child, yet here I am today, a licensed CPA.) Polling shows thousands more would homeschool if it were financially feasible. And last spring’s COVID-19 shutdown left many Oklahomans with a new appreciation for those who successfully homeschool.

Crabtree’s critics objected that she opposed mask mandates. That’s not out of line with many Oklahomans, and the science behind mask mandates is not scientifically rigorous.

Critics said Crabtree touted zinc and Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19. A lot of Oklahoma doctors and pharmacists quietly do the same.

Taken as a whole, the attacks on Crabtree—like those lobbed against Kavanaugh—were clearly intended only to prevent conservatives from serving in state government.

Many citizens complain Oklahoma has remained mired in the bottom of education rankings for decades. But we can’t expect results to change if the only government-education officials deemed “acceptable” to serve are those unwilling or unable to think outside the box and do things differently.

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

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