Sunday, July 27, 2008

Finding Solutions

No doubt many of the readers of this update will have at some time visited the Oklahoma County Courthouse. Located in downtown Oklahoma City, the courthouse occupies two large, multi-story buildings and it is here that judicial and county government functions take place for Oklahoma County. A visit gives one a sense of how deep the resources of Oklahoma County truly are. But if I were to ask whether Oklahoma or Logan County had the most unincorporated residents who live in the county's jurisdiction without municipal government, would you believe that Logan County has substantially more unincorporated residents?

Because of suburban growth, there are now more than 20,000 residents in unincorporated Logan County. Logan County ranks number 10 in the amount of unincorporated residents when compared to the rest of the state, and more than twice as many residents live in the unincorporated areas than in the largest city in the county!

One neighborhood where I went door to door recently contained about 250 residents. But don't try looking this neighborhood up on Internet services such as Google Maps, because according to their latest satellite photos of the area, this neighborhood is still an almost empty field.

You can only imagine the havoc created on county services from this sudden growth. And because there is no city government to call for services, the majority of the calls for help go to county government. Some of the issues of concern that have been expressed in calls to my office have been storm alerts, water and waste water issues, police and fire services, traffic issues such as stop signs and speed limits, animal control issues, and of course road maintenance. Those who are charged with administering county government have their hands full.

The road issue is probably the most challenging, as Logan County does not have a single east/west county section line road that is paved in its entirety. With the rise in fuel cost (which makes it much more expensive for everything from transporting gravel to purchasing asphalt), the County Commissioners are pressed just to maintain the current road quality, let alone improve it.

You can also imagine how much the property tax revenue base increases when an empty field is suddenly full of new houses. While almost all of this money goes to local schools systems, around 10% of it goes to county government. Because of this influx, Logan County government has increased its budget by about 30% over the past few years. However, none of this money goes to fund road maintenance.

Many people have a hard time believing that their property tax money is not being used to fund roads. I feel it is important for Logan County to dedicate part of its increased revenue back to paving roads. It is only right that if people are paying hundreds of thousands of dollars into the county government, some of this money should be used for paving roads.

It is also vital for the State Legislature to properly fund road maintenance by redirecting the millions of dollars of motor vehicle user fees that are being used for purposes other than road construction.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Welcoming Our New Neighbors

During the past few weeks, one of my obligations as State Representative has been to go door to door visiting with local residents. Since I first started going door to door in 2004, I have tried to place a special emphasis on contact with those who have just moved into the district. I think it is important to provide a welcoming presence to those who have made the choice to invest in our community and I am always excited by the opportunity to make their acquaintance.

I must say, though, that for the first time, meeting the new residents has become a very time consuming task. During the past weeks I have visited hundreds of new houses that are built on what were just open fields in 2004. Even more amazing are the large number of newly platted house lots yet to be built on which will no doubt bring in hundreds of more new residents in the near future.

Next week I will write about some of the challenges this massive growth presents to local infrastructure. However, I feel it is important to address the many beneficial factors, as I believe the positives outweigh the challenges.

I have found that many of the new residents share our traditional conservative values of small government, low taxes and traditional family values. They are hard working people who move out of the city in order to raise their families in the safety of rural north Oklahoma County and Logan County. As such, they have a special appreciation for our small town lifestyle and I believe they want to help preserve it.

With this new growth comes an ever expanding tax base. With more taxpayers, naturally there 'should be' a lower tax burden. For instance, in the past few years the Logan County sales tax burden has been one of the highest and was mostly shared by Guthrie and Crescent as many residents south of Guthrie spent much of their tax dollars in Edmond and Oklahoma City. This was due to the fact that they did not have retail buying opportunities in their own neighborhoods. However, there is now significant retail growth along Waterloo Road that will make it possible for more people to spend their money in Logan County, and the sales tax levels should be able to dramatically shrink as a result.

Another big impact of this growth will be in dictating a higher allotment of road funding dollars. The Census Bureau recently accepted a list of newly built neighborhoods, which means that in the upcoming census, Logan County could report well over 40,000 residents. With this kind of growth, the area should receive more state road revenues, because county roads are partially funded on the basis of population. The growth could also ensure that more areas of the county qualify for urbanized area federal transportation funding that is traditionally used to improve roadways in bigger cities.

And, with these kinds of dramatic gains in the census the area also stands to pick up more seats in the State Legislature.

Although it keeps me busy, it has been an honor to be able to serve as State Representative for such a dynamic district during a time of explosive growth.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Returning Access to the People

This is an especially exciting time to serve the people as an elected Representative. Due to rapid advances in technology, an old adage is disappearing. People used to believe that in order for a leader to stay in office, he must take money from lobbyists and special interest groups.

In the past, legislators have depended on special interest groups for two things. Firstly, they needed lobbyists to explain the special nuances of the industry-specific legislation that they (the lobbyists) were requesting. You can easily imagine how this could lead to abuse as the citizens' legislators are often not familiar with the diverse nature of these various industries. Secondly, legislators needed lobbyists to funnel them money in order to finance campaigns and put the legislators' message in front of the people. This left them incredibly dependant on maintaining a close relationship with the special interest groups.

Now, however, with the expansion of the internet, legislators can keep in contact with the people much easier than before. In my previous updates, I have described how easy it is for bad legislation to be passed by the House with little advance public notice. This has traditionally allowed only the lobbyists and special interest groups to have input, as normal people had little opportunity to make their voices heard. Now, even with little notice, those who have the necessary knowledge of the industry affected by bad legislation can read the bills, e-mail their Representative, and tell them why the legislation should be defeated.

The Internet also allows Legislators to bypass lobbyist financing and enables them to go to the people directly. I have enjoyed using the Internet to maintain contact with those I represent. Since taking office, I have been able to use Google Groups, Facebook, MySpace, WordPress and YouTube, in addition to a traditional web site to issue regular updates to hundreds of contacts who live in my district. Just as importantly, I have been able to receive feedback and help requests from people who would not normally contact their State Representative.

This is why a recent debate in Washington, D.C. has captured my attention. Members of the U.S. House Administration Committee are considering new rules that might take away the ability of our Federal Representatives to use some of the growing number of internet tools to communicate with constituents.

This attempt is being opposed U.S. Rep. John Culberson who uses the Twitter text messaging service to provide updates. Some of Culberson's messages are written on the House floor itself. Culberson said the rule as proposed would require him to submit his proposed messages to a House Committee for approval before he could post them. The rule would also limit the Congressman from being able to use video provision services like YouTube, which especially hits home, since I use the same service to provide updates to those I represent.

I certainly hope that Culberson is able to defeat this proposal. And I strongly suspect that the leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives is becoming increasingly frightened by the access that people have to Congress because of these new services.

Monday, July 7, 2008

GOP "Rising Star" Signs Autism Measure

OKLAHOMA CITY – Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana this week signed a bill requiring health insurance companies in that state to cover diagnosis and treatment of autism.

The measure is similar to an Oklahoma bill known as “Nick’s Law.” That measure passed the Oklahoma Senate four times on bipartisan votes. The bill was repeatedly killed by Republican House Speaker Chris Benge and his leadership team by denying the bill a hearing – either in committee or the full House of Representatives.

Autism is a bio-neurological disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate and develop social relationships. Studies show that one in 150 children will get some form of autism. Left untreated, many autistic children will become wards of the state, supported by taxpayers.

“Another high-profile Republican governor has chosen to do what is right for autistic children in his state,” said Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, author of Nick’s Law.

“Meanwhile, in our state, Speaker Benge – in the interest of partisanship – is apparently content to condemn an entire generation of children to be forever locked behind the walls of autism. It is nothing less than shameful, and denying even a vote on the bill was a blatant act of political and partisan cowardice.”

The Louisiana plan signed by Jindal passed the Louisiana Legislature with unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats. It was authored by Republican state Rep. Franklin Foil of Baton Rouge.

The bill applies group health insurance policies issued in Louisiana with more than 50 members. Beginning Jan. 1, 2009, the policies will cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders in children under age 17. The annual benefit cap is $36,000 annually, with a $144,000 lifetime benefit cap.

Gumm said the Louisiana bill is targeted to the early years of a child’s life during which diagnosis and treatment can do the most good. “Like our bill, this is not a ‘blank check’,” he said. “It makes treatment available to families who pay for health insurance during the years when treatment can lead to significant improvement.”

Jindal is considered one of the national Republican Party’s “rising stars.” Most pundits put him on the short list to be the vice presidential choice by Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

Jindal is not the first high-profile Republican governor to sign autism insurance legislation this year. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, another potential Republican vice presidential pick, signed that state’s autism bill last month – a bill passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature.

Also, in Pennsylvania, Republican House Speaker Dennis O’Brien championed a measure – which passed the House unanimously and a Republican-controlled state Senate 49-1 – that will allow parents of autistic children to pay for behavioral therapy and related services with private health insurance. Pennsylvania’s Gov. Ed Rendell has already said he will sign the bill.

“In state-after-state, bills requiring coverage of autism diagnosis and treatment are crossing the partisan divide, and that was the case in the Oklahoma Senate,” Gumm said.

“Speaker Benge and his team could have been heroes to autistic children; we begged them to do so. Instead they chose the shameful path of putting partisan interests and big insurance ahead of children’s futures. The Speaker’s position is not only out-of-step with Oklahoma values, it is out of step with Republicans nationwide.”

Gumm said he will revive the proposal next February when the Oklahoma Legislature returns for the 2009 session. “This is an issue that is not going away because these kids and their families are not going away,” Gumm said.

“These families need our help; they need to have the kind of health insurance coverage that children in Louisiana and now 20 other states will get because of the bipartisan wisdom and courage of which Speaker Benge and his leadership team are apparently unwilling or incapable.”


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Bringing Down the Veil of Secrecy

Bringing Down the Veil of Secrecy

Have you ever spoken to an elected official and left the encounter with the distinct impression that he/she no longer represented the people but had instead become a status-quo politician? Sometimes you can almost see "government as usual" in their eyes as they make the excuses that indicated they are now part of the problem and not the solution. A few months ago, I was asked to define the tipping point when an elected official makes that leap from representing the people to representing the status-quo (becoming "one of them"). This has inspired me to develop a checklist, a set of clearly definable principles, that I believe differentiates between those who have become defenders of the system and those who are still part of the people living under the system.

One of the most important components on this list is that of enabling more government transparency. Defenders of the government as usual system will make up excuses for why people are not allowed to see what is going on in government. Representatives of the people will work hard to institute new ways of allowing the people to see and understand what is happening.

Because of the tremendous size of government, there are now countless boards and commission spending billions of our taxpayer dollars with little oversight from the people. Today, most people are so tied down with the necessities of life, work, family, church, etc., that they have little time to attend the countless number of meetings where their money is being spent. They are forced through no fault of their own to blindly trust these boards and commissions to do the right thing even though hardly anyone is there to watch them work.

I have felt the answer to this problem is televised government and made it a top issue as Guthrie City Councilman. The Council agreed to televise meetings on Guthrie's public service television channel and, thanks to the work of Lance Crenshaw, the Guthrie telecast is probably one of the best in the state. The Council also approved a policy to allow other government entities to provide recordings of their meetings to the Guthrie public service channel as well.

As State Representative, one of my biggest policy initiatives has been to work on televising state government proceedings. I am optimistic that this effort will meet with success.

In addition to televising state government, I believe it is time to look at requirements for those public entities who have public service television channels, such as school boards and city government. I believe these entities should, at the very least, televise video recording of their meetings. With the minimal cost of a video/digital recorder, there is no longer any valid reason for them to keep the public in the dark.

Several years ago, by a one vote margin, both the Logan County Board of Commissioners and the Logan County Medical Center Public Trust (both of which vote on spending millions of taxpayers dollars) voted not to produce and play videos of their meetings on the Guthrie public service channel. I hope both boards will revisit this unfortunate decision, as I feel those who truly represent the people should never fear public disclosure.

In the meantime, two excellent examples of recorded local government meetings are available online at and