To hear OU political science professor Keith Gaddie tell it, his boss likes him because he can field questions from the press without making himself or the university look like liberal elitists or conservative bumpkins.
Gaddie’s boss, ultimately, is OU president David L. Boren, a former legislator, governor, U.S. senator and now-State Question proponent who, at 75, is still Oklahoma’s most powerful living political figure, as evidenced by his ability to whip out an education funding proposal, lay it on the table and watch Republican state leadership timidly offer nothing bigger, nothing better and, in the end, no alternative at all.
“Oklahoma politics has not been covering itself in glory the last few years,” Gaddie says in the video posted above from Oklahoma Watch. “We seem to be increasingly dedicated to the notion that governing badly somehow proves that government is bad instead of recognizing that people maybe want to have roads and schools and infrastructure; and want to have safe streets and hospitals and prisons that actually reform people.”
Gaddie put on his finest pair of shorts for the interview in his office, and throughout it he offers keen political insight into one of the oddest states in the union. Oklahoma has long had an identity crisis — Southern? Southwestern? Midwestern? — and self-esteem problems. Gov. George Nigh infamously commissioned a study that found Oklahoma to be viewed negatively by only one place in the entire world: You guessed it — Oklahoma.
Gaddie hails from the Deep South — think schoolin’ and teachin’ in Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Louisiana — and in 2003 he explained a very bad joke from yours truly to the OU Police Department in a manner that saved my keister from post-9/11 terrorism-sensitivity prosecution. (Thanks, doc.)
Semesters later, Gaddie’s “southern politics” course turned out to be one of the best classes I ever took at OU, and if you need proof, just ask yourself how Gov. Huey Long got a new LSU football stadium built or read up on the former governor of Florida who walked his state withers to brisket — 1,003 miles in 91 days — on his way to being elected U.S. senator. Maybe ponder how to do a Tasmanian Dodge on election day, if you’re the sort of person who insists voter fraud is rampant.
‘Collapse of voter participation’
In the above video, however, Gaddie examines why Oklahoma’s political climate is the way it is, and he provides several informative statistics and insightful observations.
“We’ve had a collapse of voter participation in this state in the last decade, and we’re not sure why,” the poli-sci department chairman notes. “The biggest falloff in voter participation is south and east.
“A lot of it is just a loss of competition. When you have competitive elections, more people participate, and the bottom has fallen out of two-party competition in most of the state.”
He ends the discussion by highlighting Oklahoma’s aging white electorate against a different-looking millennial population where only 50 percent of Oklahoma citizens under the age of 25 are white.
“America is coming here,” Gaddie surmises. “It’s on the way.”