Joe Dorman is a former state representative and gubernatorial candidate who is completing his first year as CEO of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.
Although he occasionally authors commentary on NonDoc, Dorman’s specific areas of interest, emphasis and expertise beg a few questions about how Oklahoma’s political affairs affect opportunities for kids.
What is the mission of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy, and what is your first memory of the OICA assisting in the state’s policy arena?
The mission of OICA is to create awareness, take action and support policy to improve the health, safety and well-being of Oklahoma’s children. While this is a simple mission statement, we have much to do in educating policymakers, mobilizing advocates and delivering on our work to publish data regarding child welfare statistics with the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Center.
My first memory of OICA was their effort to pass legislation with the Fit Kids Coalition when I was a legislative staffer. Their work helped improve the health of kids through several different law changes. I want to restore this program under our umbrella, along with creating some new missions that will help a variety of kids in our state.
You served 12 years in the Legislature, which surely prepared you for understanding the needs and behaviors of children. What has your legislative experience enabled you to do as OICA director?
The experience I gained from the Capitol helped us work with lawmakers and the governor to see success with passage of several different laws this year. Unfortunately, with the obstacles faced on the criminal justice reform issue, we have more work to tackle over the interim and into next session to see success with those bills which were not considered this year.
I also helped create the educational component for the House page program as a staff member, so that work with those students has helped establish many of my views on which direction to take OICA going forward.
What were the biggest child-related topics at the Capitol this year? What successes did you see, and where did the state come up short?
The most visible was the criminal justice package. OICA engaged in this discussion because we feel it is better to keep families together while parents receive treatment and counseling to overcome drug issues, not incarceration with a felony, which often takes the parent completely out of the lives of their children and subjects the kids to foster care or removal from their home.
One in 10 kids in Oklahoma has either seen a parent or currently has a parent locked up. While we do not support illegal drug use, we want to get families assistance and a see a fair punishment on the law books, not something excessive.
We were successful in helping stop House Bill 1482, which would have rolled back several of the reforms voted upon by the people with State Questions 780 and 781. We now need to work at getting a fair hearing next session on the positive legislation that would help implement many of these reforms.
We were also successful in helping promote DHS reforms for better opportunities for foster children. We also worked to address food insecurity issues with a couple of different bills. Each of those ideas will improve the lives of those impacted and provide assistance to Oklahomans in need.
The budget was a huge issue in regard to providing adequate services to kids under state care. We would have preferred to see a more stable budget passed with no cuts, but we will certainly continue our effort to encourage lawmakers to provide the best services possible through state agencies to meet the needs of these children. Should the current revenue bills not hold up to scrutiny by the Supreme Court, we will be back at the Capitol asking lawmakers to compromise and fund these critical programs that help the youngest of Oklahomans, along with passing long-term reforms that will help avoid shortfalls in the future.
If you were king and could change one law or trend in Oklahoma to benefit children, what would that be?
I would like to see more opportunities for kids in Oklahoma through better funding of early childhood education and adequately funding of assistance to special needs children. If we can provide assistance for better educational opportunities to these youngest Oklahomans, we would experience fewer costly social issues later in life and help many Oklahomans break the negative cycles, which are often generational.
I would also want to make OICA an even more powerful voice for the kids of Oklahoma by encouraging folks to join in our effort. We need strength in numbers and I want people to join in our calls to demand better for the kids of our state. Your readers need to sign up on our website at oica.org for our weekly newsletter so they can stay informed of issues going on in our state and how they can help make a difference.
As someone who ran to be governor of Oklahoma in 2014, what advice would you have for all of the candidates seeking the office in 2018?
Don’t do it! (Just kidding.)
I would encourage them to run clean campaigns and remember who it is they want to represent. We need a restoration of respect in public offices, and I hope each of them will do their part to bring back that respect by running honorable campaigns. I regret nothing from my decision to run, even facing an enormous uphill battle running against a well-funded incumbent.
You’re well known to be a big fan of comic books. If Oklahoma children needed one superhero to help meet their needs in 2017, who would it be and why? (Fingers crossed you say The Punisher.)
Ha! While Frank Castle would have his own methods on encouraging the Legislature about which way to vote, I feel a better role model for who we need right now is Captain America (minus the current story line).
People want a restoration of hope and a belief that a person is in government service for the right reasons. We are all familiar with the story line of Cap not qualifying for military service and his willingness to risk his life in order to have the ability to make a difference in the war effort so as to help our nation. We need elected officials with courage to stand up to wrongdoing and do what is best for folks who need a voice.
We also need people who are willing to go up against the odds in real life, who are unafraid to make personal sacrifices for the common good and champion a positive difference for those they serve. I think someone like Captain America would make the most positive change for what we need right now, both as a state and a nation.