shuffle onward
Oklahoma's State Capitol received a dome in 2002. Now, lawmakers work underneath it to little accomplishment. (Elizabeth Sims)

Oklahomans are good at making do with less than they would like to have. Call it a historical holdover seared into Okie genetics by the sun of the Dust Bowl, or call it the only functional option for a people governed by decades’ worth of corrupt politicians. Combined with the state’s humble beginnings — American Indian tribes being relocated to the Great American Desert and trains full of the country’s poorest running for land — it means Oklahomans have developed an impressive ability to shuffle onward during tough times.

That will be handy, then, as state residents slog through the remaining three months of the Legislature’s annual session and toward a November 2018 election that could finally break some of Oklahoma’s political gridlock — but probably won’t.

Oklahomans will shuffle onward without a teacher pay raise and no solution to the state’s teacher shortage. Oklahomans will shuffle onward with state employees paid less than market average. We will shuffle onward with struggling rural hospitals, no expansion of Medicaid and across-the-board cuts to health agencies, education entities and the entirety of state government. We will shuffle onward with our children in over-packed classrooms, our seniors scared and our nursing homes at constant risk of closure.

And why will Oklahomans be forced to shuffle onward? Because the Legislature can’t kick its dysfunction addiction. Republicans and Democrats may pack their partisan pipes with different blends of corporate hash, but they both prefer puffing on PAC checks instead of passing (something) for progress.

House Caucuses shuffle onward, too

Republicans failed to bring 75 percent of their caucus to the table for Plan A+ in November. Democrats failed to bring 50 percent of their caucus to the table for Step Up Oklahoma last week.

Now, House Democrats are pitching a compromise plan that slashes the proposed cigarette tax in half — favored by tobacco companies but opposed by health organizations — and House Republicans are mulling the unusual development that four of their members have filed paperwork to challenge House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) for his leadership post next year. While an initial — and private — vote between McCall, Rep. Chad Caldwell (R-Enid), Rep. Charles Ortega (R-Altus), Rep. Todd Russ (R-Cordell) and Rep. Tommy Hardin (R-Madill) should be expected soon, the House GOP Caucus could look quite different in January 2019.

Which brings us back to the 2018 election. Despite some criticism from their traditional bases within the state’s teacher and public employee unions, House Democrats opposed Step Up Oklahoma and scored points with certain industries – chiefly wind – while jeopardizing financial relationships with tribes (who seek the allowance of “ball and dice” gambling that, if granted now, would decrease the likelihood Oklahoma could negotiate a more state-favorable gaming compact in 2020).

Meanwhile, a fractured oil and gas industry has more than one reason to view House Republicans skeptically, a situation complicated further by the reported GOP Caucus outburst of House Energy and Natural Resources vice chairman Mark McBride (R-Moore). The oil and gas industry’s most proud legislative supporter, McBride is said to have unloaded on McCall for a lack of “leadership” last week, which begs a question with limited answers: What could McCall have done differently over the past 12 months to yield a teacher pay raise and end the state’s stalemate? Short of strong-arming McBride and four other GOP dissenters into voting for an oil-industry-opposed “Plan A+” package, many people seem unsure.

No choice left

While Republicans and Democrats earnestly believe their side of the past year’s tax-whom-how-much negotiations is noble, their combined results have thus far yielded nothing but more agency cuts for the state. The bold attempt from the business industry to convince all parties to “step up” resulted in even more people saying “step off” than they did for Plan A+.

As a result, Oklahomans have no choice but to shuffle onward toward November 2018, hoping in one hand for a path forward and dejectedly holding the other out to collect whatever piss and vinegar the Legislature might offer in the meantime.