red meat

With the Legislature adjourning May 3 ahead of schedule, more than three-dozen incumbent Republicans have about seven weeks to work their districts and try to earn GOP votes in the June 26 primary election.

After long and tumultuous sessions of the 56th Legislature, some anti-tax Republicans face moderate challengers who have been frustrated by hardline opposition to raising revenue and funding services like education.

Conversely, the majority of Republicans in both the House and Senate voted repeatedly in 2017 and 2018 to raise new revenue for teacher pay improvements and other agency dollars. They, too, have drawn GOP primary challengers, many of whom disapprove of the large tax increase package that passed in late March.

As a result, the next seven weeks will feature anti-revenue incumbents telling constituents that their vote in favor of the teacher pay raise (despite voting against the revenue to pay for them) should qualify them for re-election.

Over the same period of time, Republicans who voted for the revenue package will seek to highlight other conservative bona fides in an effort to dissuade the GOP base from labeling them Republicans In Name Only (aka RINOs).

Red meat: God, guns, gays and hogs

If GOP lawmakers and their campaign consultants were looking for Republican red meat that could shift the public narrative away from revenue-raising measures, the final days of the 2018 regular session featured several pounds of political pandering.

A Legislature that had spent much of the past two years focused on teacher pay ultimately spent much of its final two weeks ensuring votes on:

  • SB 1212 (Constitutional/permit-free carry of firearms)
  • SB 1140 (The ability for faith-based adoption agencies to deny services to homosexual couples)
  • HB 2177 (Classification of the Ten Commandments as a historical document that can be displayed on public grounds)
  • SB 1267 (Prohibits Medicaid reimbursements for any medical provider who is found to violate federal prohibitions against the trafficking of fetal body parts)
  • SB 615 (Allowing license-free night hunting of feral hogs)

While the feral hog bill failed, the remainder were sent to Gov. Mary Fallin for her consideration. Various advocacy groups are pressing her to veto the gun measure and the adoption bill.

Backed into a political corner

Many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle would have preferred not to vote for the bills listed above. In the House, 13 members — four Democrats and nine Republicans — were absent for the SB 1212 vote. On SB 1140, 23 members did not vote.

Regarding those controversial measures in particular, some members believed they were bad policy but voted in favor anyway, recognizing the conservative nature of their districts as well as the religious rigor and firearm fervency of Republican primary voters.

Ahead of tough June 26 primaries, it might make sense for moderate Republicans either to vote against or not vote at all on such red-meat bills. While the actual votes or absence of votes could make logical sense from a political perspective, these dilemmas underscore the ugly and dysfunctional nature of party politics that aggravate common citizens.

Call it a slight variation of the tail wagging the dog, or call it election-year posturing, the metaphor hardly matters. In the end, politicians supporting laws based on the expedience of their own electoral careers is not only red meat.

It’s the pasty, maggot-filled fetal tissue of a pregnant feral hog shot dead by a bump-stock-brandishing far-right challenger who covets his lawmaker’s office while opposing the notion of gay couples adopting children.

Enjoy the next seven weeks.

William W. Savage III (Tres) holds a journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma. He covered two sessions of the Oklahoma Legislature for before working in health care for six years. He is a nationally certified Mental Health First Aid instructor.