In a state that seems to have many 100-percent Republican or 100-percent Democrat legislative districts (we eventually have to do something about that with an independent redistricting commission), Oklahoma’s political lines are drawn quite starkly.
Most Republicans cannot be seen as “for” tax increases, even when it is apparent the village is on fire and there is no money for water. They kowtow to certain industries, particularly oil and gas. They established low oil and gas taxes when it was completely unnecessary, and they give big companies whatever they want simply because it makes it easier to raise money for their next campaign.
Most Democrats, on the other hand, are not crazy about tax increases either, but they generally care more about properly funding public education, Medicaid, rural hospitals, roads and highways. Of course, most Republicans want those things, too. But when the oligarchs of the oil and gas industry get word to the Republican legislators about how much they hate gross production taxes — and the legislators know that they have to get nominated in a gerrymandered Republican district full of right-wing candidate wannabes — there is little argument. Consequently, the needs of schools, hospitals and nursing homes start looking a bit blurry.
GOP Caucus lacks leadership
NonDoc reported recently that the Republican Caucus, while complaining that the Democratic Caucus is uncooperative, cannot muster more than about 60 percent of their caucus for any tax or revenue increase to save lives and properly educate Oklahoma’s children. The item that has the most members supporting it (and that is reported to be only 47) is a watered-down, sugar-coated GPT incentive-rate change that won’t do much. Any real plan apparently faces greater opposition in the Republican Caucus.
Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) has a 72-vote majority, but all he can muster to try to stop the bleeding is roughly half his caucus? What does he whip them with, noodles? Republican voters go wild about U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell losing two or three votes out of 52 in the U.S. Senate, but McCall can’t deliver 50-plus votes out of his 72-member supermajority?
With seven Republican legislators announcing their resignations this year, I realize that sex scandals, child prostitution, harassment charges, embezzlement and a couple guys just giving up have cut into their numbers. Still, Oklahoma Republicans have a huge supermajority, but their “leader” in the House can’t seem to get anything done.
Democrats must be the adults in the room
Now the Democrats, in their gerrymandered districts, have their base yelling at them and questioning why they are against a gas tax, or a cigarette tax, or why are they so fixated on the gross production tax. The Democrats’ constituents ask how their party’s leaders can stand by as public schools and health care collapse? Simply put, why are Democrats not performing their normal role as the only adults in the room while the Tea Party kids in the other caucus set the place on fire?
I realize that this is all process and politics, but surprise: That is how it works. Put yourself in the Democrats’ shoes. The Republican Caucus can’t deliver 75 percent of their votes for a rational plan to avoid a budget catastrophe, so they functionally need 100 percent of the tiny, 28-member Democrat Caucus to come on board. The Democrats know that every one of their members will be attacked for supporting tax increases while Republicans would give much of their caucus (perhaps as many members as the Democrat Caucus even has) a pass. This is a recipe for the incredibly destructive Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs and its right-wing, government-hating, corporate-interest-preserving enablers to beat more Democrats and reward those who refuse to be adults when addressing glaring problems that fall under the basic responsibilities of state government.
Here’s the deal
So here’s the deal: The adults in the room — the 28-member Democrat Caucus — should publicly set out their requirements. First, the adults should insist (as they have done frequently) upon a real solution that provides adequate recurring revenue to properly fund teachers’ salaries, public schools, hospitals and nursing homes, and do the minimum (at least) on highways, bridges and other infrastructure be put on the table. I am not going to put a number on it, but such a solution would require way more than a measly cigarette tax.
Second, the adults should establish a threshold that the Republican Caucus has to deliver at least 50 votes — about 70 percent of their members — which means 22 Republican members will be able to yell their perverted “hate government” ideology from the fringes and act like they had a better plan. It would be my prayer, then, that the adults in the room would stand and offer up 93 percent of their caucus — 26 members out of 28 — to support a plan. While that would put virtually their entire caucus at political risk in this world of bad information and conservative message dominance, the adults could do the right thing and pass the plan.
This is a bitter pill to swallow, but adults do that sort of thing. The complete and total failure of the Republican leadership ironically requires the Democrats to take disproportionate action — but it cannot be for naught. A Democrat-led solution cannot be a weak plan, and its passage cannot allow the political opportunists who pose as Republican leadership to deliver only a modicum of support.
The Republicans own this disaster. They have had huge majorities and all statewide offices for years. Their chickens have come home to roost. Years of telling voters that government is bad and that GOP candidates can do better and cut taxes (but only on the rich) has now left Oklahomans with only a smoldering heap.
Caution: Heads at risk of exploding
Someday, Oklahomans will understand how these leaders have devastated Oklahoma education, health care and public safety. Chasing away good jobs and creating unnecessary problems in our economy affects all of us. Former Gov. Alfalfa Bill Murray hated FDR so much that he refused aid from the federal government. As a result, Oklahoma plunged to a lower level while the rest of the nation recovered from the Great Depression. It is like a distant echo of today’s hatred of former President Barack Obama, as Oklahoma Republicans refused to do easy and essential things, such as expanding Medicaid for the benefit of 175,000 Oklahomans.
Everyone is so proud of the great boost in Oklahoma City over the last few years: virtually rebuilding downtown, landing professional sports teams, improving infrastructure across the board. What a magical thing … but it wasn’t magic: IT WAS TAX INCREASES! BILLIONS AND BILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF TAX INCREASES! THE THUNDER STILL GET STATE SUBSIDIES! IT WAS TAX INCREASES! WE BUILT IT, AND THEY CAME!
Sorry, the hypocrisy sometimes makes my head explode. Please forgive the shouting.
When I post on social media, I often add #stopvotingformorons. Amazing what an effective solution this could be if we would all take it to heart.
(Editor’s note: NonDoc occupies an office in a building owned by former Gov. David Walters, and a trade for advertising space is part of the rental agreement. Commentaries like this piece, however, are unrelated to that agreement.)