brogdon for district 34

If you’ve never traveled to southeastern Oklahoma, you’re missing out.

I had to head down that way for some non-profit volunteer work last week, and, aside from the sun shining in my eyeballs on both directions of my drive, the impressive “Little Dixie” landscape did not disappoint.

In all, I saw two dead buzzards, hundreds of fuzzy cows, a limestone quarry, the altar under which Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton got married, a national fish hatchery, a Dollar General supermarket, a silica mill, a geodesic dome with about 40 solar panels in front of it, five baseball fields, two strange signs posted above toilets, and the Oklahoma School for the Deaf.

It was quite the day.

A dome connected to dozens of solar panels sits on the side of State Highway 7 in southern Oklahoma. (William W. Savage III)
A dome connected to dozens of solar panels sits on the side of State Highway 7 in southern Oklahoma. (William W. Savage III)

As I have done previously while traveling Oklahoma, I made sure to grab a local newspaper for Journalistic Analysis and General Perusing: the Durant Daily Democrat.

While, the Thursday, Nov. 19, edition seemed to be a slow news day in Bryan County, buried within the paper’s 10 pages were a few tidbits about Durant’s major institutions.

Above the fold, readers were greeted by “Budget decisions announced,” a Staff Reports summary of how Southeastern Oklahoma State University is responding to Gov. Mary Fallin’s Oct. 26 executive order for all state agencies to prepare for a 10 percent budget reduction.

Fifty-four full-time Southeastern employees (a combination of faculty and staff) will be offered the opportunity to apply for the retirement incentive program, the university said, and they will be notified this week of the specifics of the program.

When asked if layoffs were a possibility in the future, Alan Burton, director of university communications, said the university does not know yet.

“At this point, the (news) release stands as it is,” Burton said. “The only thing we have now is the retirement incentive program.

“I think everything is on the table and everybody is looking at everything. You don’t know what the future holds as far as allocations.”

The State of Oklahoma’s budget shortfall is hardly new news, but its impact on universities, schools, health care providers and other state services continues to grow. Southeastern will implement a 5 percent reduction in departmental operating budgets, according to the Democrat’s story, and some administrative duties will be consolidated in an attempt to save money.

Meanwhile, below the fold, reporter Dan Pennington previewed a town-hall meeting by Commercial Metals Company, a Fortune 500 listing that is building a new steel micro-mill on the southeast edge of town.

Pennington’s story from Thursday actually doesn’t explain who Commercial Metals Company is or what they are building, though the reporter covered CMC’s new plant thoroughly in July. He also previewed the same meeting online Nov. 15, noting that CMC is expected to create 300 new jobs, with factory investment topping $250 million.

Thursday’s piece did, however, imply that some residents may have concerns about the new CMC plant, which will sit next to “Mineral Bayou,” a creek that connects to the Blue River and, eventually, the Red River.

“I believe this meeting will be an opportunity to share the facts concerning the TIF,” said Bill Ledbetter, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church and emcee of the town hall. “Hopefully in that environment, people can make decisions and their concerns about the process can be alleviated. It’s time to focus on the facts, not the fog. Hopefully this will dispel people’s concerns. The facts will clear the fog away.”

It’s unclear what concerns citizens may have about tax increment financing or what represents the “fog” in the pastor’s metaphor. The story does note that the citizen group “CRAMM” will be in attendance to ask questions of CMC. CRAMM stands for Concerned Residents Against Misrepresentation and Mismanagement.

Go cram it, you misrepresenters, you.

Inside the paper, Democrat readers were treated to obituaries, a police log, comics, an events calendar, elementary school photos and a Letter to the Editor from Durant resident Phyllis A. Rustin saying Oklahoma underfunds its education systems. (No word on whether she is a CRAMM member.)

Beyond two pages of sports, a Choctaw Nation press release commemorating Veterans Day (featuring the dateline “TVSHKA HOMMA”) and an AP story about Oklahoma’s 81-year-old U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe trying to pass legislation limiting required medical exams for pilots over age 40, the only other major piece of content caught my eye: an Argus Hamilton column!

Hamilton, of course, is a syndicated newspaper comedian (I know, right?) based in Hollywood, but his roots are actually in Oklahoma. From Enid, the man originally named “Jimmy” honed his craft of newspaper humor decades ago at The Oklahoma Daily, OU’s student paper.

A former regular guest on The Tonight Show, Hamilton organizes his columns as a string of one-paragraph set ups and punchlines:

Hillary Clinton was the consensus winner of the Democratic Party candidates debate Saturday night in Milwaukee. They ran out of things to say and the debate ended seven minutes early. The fireworks didn’t start until Hillary surprised Bill by returning to their hotel room seven minutes early.

Yuk yuk yuk.

McDonald’s executives announced in Chicago Tuesday that in order to recapture lost business they are returning to their one-dollar menu. The restaurant chain is offering two menu items for two dollars every day. And what’s even better, one of the dollar items is a share of McDonald’s stock.

While McDonald’s stock price is actually about $114/share, you get the point. And if you have ever worked for a newspaper that runs Hamilton’s shtick, you have gotten the point plenty, hearing Hamilton in your head as he plows through the same nationally topical detritus every week until your eyeballs beg for mercy. He has been pounding out newspaper punchlines roughly five days a week since before Bill Clinton became president.

Therein lies both the nostalgia and the sadness embodied by an Argus Hamilton column being arguably the most interesting thing in a daily newspaper circa 2015. At least to me.

What else are newspapers and aging comedians to do in this day and age?

If your biggest advertiser sends out press releases saying its budget is shrinking, you put it on the front page. You do the same when a Fortune 500 company is coming to town to create 300 jobs.

But the public needs more than numbers, bureaucracy and Chamber of Commerce chatter.

A bathroom in Murray County offers a fair warning. (William W. Savage III)
A bathroom in Murray County offers a fair warning. (William W. Savage III)

They need a bit of the odd or the weird — dead buzzards and decorated toilets — or else they’ll start to think of the police log as entertainment.

They need humor.

And that’s where Argus “Jimmy” Hamilton makes his living.

The Centers for Disease Controls (sic) last week reported on a study on male sexual potency which found that low levels of Vitamin D can cause men to be temporarily impotent. That’s not likely to sell a lot of milk. Men don’t mind Vitamin D deficiency as long as they have access to Vitamin Cialis.

May we all have so many impotence jokes left in the chamber at age 64.