Saturday, August 30, 2008

It Didn't Have to Be This Way

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

Hello again, everybody! The biggest battle in the Legislature last session was our fight to require health insurance to cover autism.

Now that campaign season is fully underway, that fight is being played out in campaigns across the state. Dozens of candidates for the Legislature – of both political parties – are announcing their full-throated support for “Nick’s Law,” while those who oppose it are desperately scrambling for any political cover they can find.

Case in point is the dog-and-pony show being conducted by the leadership in the House of Representatives. Keep in mind this is the same leadership team that killed “Nick’s Law” without so much as a vote.

They have commissioned an interim study to look at health care reform. One of their first witnesses was the executive director of a Washington, D.C. group that exists solely to oppose policies like “Nick’s Law.” The term “special interest group” is a pretty accurate description of this organization. This was hardly an unbiased first step for a supposedly fair and balanced study.

It did not have to be this way. The Republican leadership of the House of Representatives made this a partisan fight – and families with autistic children are their victims.

It was not a partisan issue in the Oklahoma Senate, senators from both political parties voted for “Nick’s Law.” In state-after-state, we are seeing elected officials of both political parties put aside partisanship and work together to do the right thing.

Last month, Louisiana’s Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal signed a bill requiring health insurance companies in that state to cover diagnosis and treatment of autism. That new law was written by a Republican and passed the Louisiana Legislature with unanimous support from both parties. Jindal is one of the national Republican Party’s “rising stars,” and he is not the first high-profile Republican governor to sign autism insurance legislation this year. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed his state’s autism bill, which was passed by a Republican-controlled legislature.

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.

Here in Oklahoma, House leaders could have been heroes to autistic children; we begged them to do so. Some House Republicans publicly say they will vote for the bill – if only given a chance. It is their leadership that is denying them that chance, and denying Oklahoma’s autistic children with a chance to fulfill their potential.

One thing is clear in this battle, which is now being debated in legislative elections across Oklahoma. The position of Republican leaders in the Oklahoma House is not only out-of-step with Oklahoma values, it is out of step with Republicans nationwide, and it is nothing less than shameful.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Open Door Policy - August 26, 2008

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to hold an interim study on tuition and fee increases within our university system in Oklahoma. Due to time constraints, it was broken into two meetings, the second of which will conclude next Tuesday at the Capitol at 11 A.M. should you wish to attend.
It was stated by staff from the State Regents that 236,000 students are currently enrolled in the higher education system in Oklahoma. Numbers given by them show the amount for appropriations for financial aid is roughly $91 million for FY 2009, which comes out of our $7 billion budget. Roughly half the state budget currently goes to educational programs. This was an area the committee certainly felt needed to be addressed. We also saw that veterans and military personnel in combat situations are often affected by income caps placed on Oklahoma's Promise qualifications. Oklahoma's Promise is the program used to fund state assistance to students with income needs and who meet certain academic requirements. This was amended this past legislature to fund these scholarships before any other program can be given state dollars. We will be reviewing this since only tuition can be covered through this and no fees are allowed to be paid from this program.
Another event I had the opportunity to attend was the wrap-up breakfast of the Oklahoma State School Board Association and Cooperative Council of Oklahoma School Administration. Governor George Nigh was the speaker and discussed influences in his life and how important it is for educators to be the positive influence with their students. He also pointed out to not let the struggle for perfection interfere with the achievement of excellence. Too often we miss out on getting students to just reach the highest level of achievement possible with testing and other mandates.
This Monday, we had the opportunity to celebrate the grand opening of the first building associated with the BAE Systems-Fort Sill Industrial Park. This was a great day as Sen. Jim Inhofe and Lt. Governor Jari Askins attended the ceremony. Sen. Inhofe helped secure the funds to purchase the lands from the School Land Commission. Lt. Governor Askins helped us with getting the land up for sale at a negotiated rate for the development park. I spent about 13 months working on the sale of the land and I'm very glad to see this project progressing. The next phase will have a building of about 150,000 square feet used to construct the Non Line of Site (NLOS) Cannon.
I also had the opportunity to attend fundraisers for the Apache Sports Boosters Association, the American Cancer Society, and the Mid-America chapter of the Paralyzed Veterans Association of America. Each event was well-attended, but I have to brag a little on the MAPVA. With their first event, they doubled their expected amount of contributions and the credit goes to a great team effort. The event was organized by Ron Black of Wild Oklahoma radio and TV and it was greatly assisted by Rusty Goodman, a real estate agent out of Northeastern Oklahoma. I saw several constituents present and I appreciate their support and volunteer efforts for this important organization.
It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me and discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My e-mail address is at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Open Door Policy - August 19, 2008

It has been a busy two weeks around the district, as well as the entire state with school starting back up, both at the secondary level and with our colleges. Good luck to all the students, faculty and staff as they prepare for another school year!
The Rush Springs Watermelon Festival went off very well, as did most of the evenings at the Apache Rodeo. I've still been feeling under the weather from my trip to Central America, but should be back up and around very soon thanks to the doctors. Montezuma's Revenge is something not to play around with and they are serious about not drinking the water down there.
The interim studies are going now at the Capitol. Next Tuesday the 26th at 9:30, I have a study at the capitol dealing with fee structures for colleges here in Oklahoma. I have several administrators from the State Regents, OU and OSU all testifying. This was a study that was requested by myself and the late Rep. Terry Hyman, a colleague that passed away earlier this summer. We both were concerned with the discussion of rising tuition, but very little notice of the fees increasing as well. I hope to gather information showing why these fees also continue to climb and expect to hear good information about the different assessments. This is open to the public and should you attend, please notify my office so I can have seating arranged for you.
Much of the work on studies is done by the House staff behind the scenes. I've been there myself on the seven years I served as a staffer and I know how much work these people do to assist the legislators. I've had Valorie Rodgers, the Director for Research and Constituent Relations for the Democratic Caucus, working on this fee structure study with me. Valorie is originally from our area and her sisters were my age in school, so I've heard wonderful things about her before she was hired. I can say they were all true as she has done a wonderful job working for the members at the Capitol. She and the rest of the staff do not get the appreciation they deserve. Thank you to them and to all the rest of the employees out there that keep the system going.
It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me and discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My e-mail address is at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Open Door Policy - August 4, 2008

This past week, we saw the party primary elections in Oklahoma come and go without much interest. I made sure to cast my vote early so as not to get too busy on election day and miss it. Oklahoma is one of the states that makes it easy to vote and ensures your vote will count. In our state, you can vote absentee through the mail, you can vote at the county courthouse on Friday, Saturday and Monday before the election. You, of course, can also vote the old-fashioned way at your polling place (which I can say is run by three wonderful ladies in my hometown). Also, you have the right to cast a vote even if there might might a problem with your registration thanks to the provisionary ballot status that allows for a verification from the state to ensure the registration is accurate (I authored this law several years ago to make sure no voters are disenfranchised).
There were several interesting races around the state, which included many county offices, a few legislative races and the primary race for U.S. Senate. There was a sharp decline in interest by the voters for this election, and depending on who you ask, the hot weather, gas prices, or just disinterest kept voters away from this decision-making.
I had the chance to serve as a commentator on the elections at OETA on election night and saw the returns as they came in. I was surprised to see that we had the lowest recorded statewide vote since 1952, with only about 328,000 voters, or just over 17 percent of the registered voters, taking opportunity of their right to vote.
We have a primary runoff coming up on August 26th, though many areas of the state will not have a race in their area. The general election will be on November 4th, and the State Election Board expects a high turnout due to interest in races at all levels, including the Presidential election. I hope each of you that has the right will take advantage and vote in the upcoming races. After what I saw from my recent trip, the best way people have a voice in their government is to send the best candidates to the elected office. We need more good people elected to do the best job possible of representing the people, whichever office it might be.
It was a busy week outside the elections as Cyril had their rodeo this past weekend and Anadarko has their Indian Exposition going on this week. I also had the chance to attend the arts show for students at the Museum of the Great Plains and also the engagement party on Saturday of Katherine English, the granddaughter of Ada Mae English of Rush Springs. Ada Mae was the first Watermelon Queen of Rush Springs, which leads into my invitation to each of you to attend the Rush Springs Watermelon Festival on Saturday, especially the seed-spitting contest at noon. It will be a great time as always! There is also a tackle show on Friday and Saturday in Duncan with Karl White, an antique tackle appraiser at the Stephens County Fairgrounds that will attract a lot of our local fishermen.
It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me and discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My e-mail address is at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Open Door Policy - July 28, 2008

I have finally concluded my trip to Central America with the American Council of Young Political Leaders. It was an amazing experience, but I am certainly glad to be back in our great state!
As distressing as the conditions were in Nicaragua, I felt much better about the accomplishments of El Salvador. The first meeting we had was with a group designed to help local businesses prosper. The meetings throughout the week dealt with governmental programs to assist business and the citizens, visits with elected officials and candidates, opportunities to tour areas of the nation and two debates held at universities. The goal was to teach the citizens of El Salvador about US policies and also for us to learn from them about their culture.
While the nation is still quite poor, El Salvador does rise above the rest of Latin America with their opportunities. Programs similar to agritourism and enhanced food processing to add value to crops were very much in line with what we see here in Oklahoma. I also had the chance to visit with several elected officials and candidates about tax increment financing districts which could develop much of the areas considered blighted. I hope to apply some of the ideas to legislation to benefit Oklahoma this next session.
The connections I established on this trip will hopefully benefit the United States on improved relations. The knowledge I acquired certainly makes me appreciate our system, even with all the flaws that we occasionally see. The ties and friendships I made will last a lifetime and I hope to use them to benefit the state of Oklahoma through improved trade relations, issue exchanges and possible development of tourism incentives for agriculture much like what I experienced through their development.
The critical point I saw was the need to maintain a stable government. I have now seen what can happen when radicals take too much power from the citizens. I hope each of you voted in our primaries on Tuesday and will continue to pay attention to which candidates are the best for Oklahoma and the United States.
It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me and discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My e-mail address is at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Open Door Policy - July 21, 2008

I have just finished my first week in Central America for the two-week trip I am on with the American Council of Young Political Leaders. This organization is set up to send younger political officials to different countries to learn about the aspects of the nations, the politics that govern them and the societies they live in. The first week was spent in Nicaragua and the second will be in El Salvador. Both of these nations experienced wars in recent years and both are trying to move past that era.
Nicaragua is a nation that suffers from great amounts of poverty. Over 60 percent of the nation lives on average of $2 per day. We also saw that only have of the country has access to electricity and much of the nation does not have clean water.
The Sandinistas, the soldiers from the revolution, took back control of the nation in the last national election after the liberal party did not bring about advancements for the country. During their time in office, not much has changed either. Corruption is charged on all sides and the ruling party, officially called the FSLN, has strong ties to Hugo Chavez, the leader of Venezuela, a country tied heavily to other nations heavily opposed to the United States.
Our delegation, a bipartisan group from across the United States, had the chance to meet with several leaders that will hopefully bring Democratic principles to the people and give them opportunities through growth in agriculture, the textile industry and the other areas of the economy. The most striking leader we met was Eduardo Montealegre, an investment banker that spent time in New York. He ran for President of Nicaragua in the last election, but lost due to three parties splitting the vote, which placed Daniel Ortega back in power. The FSLN charged him with stealing over $600 million dollars, which has no evidence was shown to be prove this accusation. I believe it was simply used by the controlling government to defeat a man who could end their power. Montealegre is currently running for Mayor of Managua, the capitol city.
The time here has made me appreciate our system of government even more. While our races may get nasty at points, it does not compare to this environment and come to the point where candidates have to fear for their lives from the other parties. I hope the region will stabilize after the next election and we have greater opportunities to export our goods to help our own people with sales and improve the conditions of these people. It certainly makes me appreciate the work our founding fathers did to establish our nation as a strong Democracy.
It is an honor to represent your views at the State Capitol. If you wish to contact me and discuss one of these or another issue, I can be reached at my office in Oklahoma City toll-free at 1-800-522-8502, or directly at 1-405-557-7305. My e-mail address is at work. My mailing address is PO Box 559, Rush Springs, OK 73082 and my website is on the Internet. Thank you for taking time to read this column and I look forward to seeing you soon.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Convincing the People to Pay More Money

How can you tell the difference between those politicians who have sold out and bought into the "government as usual" status-quo, and the elected officials who remain representatives of the people? During past columns, I have described two of the criteria that I have formed, based on observing the political process. In my next two columns, I would like to explain the third, and I believe most important, criteria that best defines the difference between these two groups.

In recent years, local, state and federal government has placed a heavy burden of taxation on the people in Oklahoma. You might think that having all of these financial resources would mean that the government would not ever have to ask the people for more funding.

In the free market, the consumer rewards those businesses that do a good job by buying their products. Businesses are thus rewarded for having the best products at the lowest possible prices. And those who work in the business world are forced to work hard and perform well for their consumers. If they stop working hard, the result will be that consumers will stop buying their products and those businesses will cease to exist.

In the government world, those who run the government do not have to react to free market forces. Consumers (we, the people) are forced to use government services no matter what the quality is -- and we are also forced to pay the bill. Even if the government does not perform to our satisfaction, it will still exist; and rarely does the price of government go down.

The burden of doing a good job in government is not based on employees acting under free market principles, but on the ability of government officials to cut prices for taxpayers while providing a quality product.

When the need for more funding faces government officials, all too often, established politicians choose the easier task of launching a massive public relations campaign to convince people to pay more money, rather than fighting the tougher battle of lowering their own budgets.

In my years of observing local, state and federal government, I have never seen a proposed fee or tax increase that I felt was justified. There is usually a way for the government to make ends meet without having to resort to an increase, although it might mean the government has to tighten their own belt and use existing resources in a wiser manner.

I have certainly seen how hard government officials work at trying to convince people that any number of Armageddon-type scenarios will most certainly occur if they do not give in to the government and increase taxes. I have also seen how quickly a cottage industry of businesses profiting from new expenditures can develop in order to convince people to "do the right thing."

As a result, all too often the people give in to the hype and give the politicians what they want: more money.

Next week, I will provide you a recent example of how people may have narrowly avoided having to pay an unnecessary fee increase.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Rep. Murphey Named Oklahoma Rifle Association Legislator of The Year

GUTHRIE - Oklahoma Rifle Association (ORA) President Don Scott presented the award of 2008 Legislator of The Year to State Representative Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, at the ORA's annual convention banquet Saturday night in Oklahoma City. Murphey was cited for his continued support of the 2nd Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms.

ORA Executive Director Charles Smith also credited Murphey for his advocacy of concealed carry laws.

Murphey, who serves as Vice-Chairman of the Oklahoma House Homeland Security subcommittee, believes that concealed carry laws protect victims from the aggressors. "Oklahoma's concealed carry laws are an important component of allowing Oklahomans to exercises their 2nd amendment rights," Murphey said.

In addition to the presentation of awards the well attended convention heard speeches from the President of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, Oklahoma Lt. Governor Jari Askins, Oklahoma Congressman Tom Cole, Congresswoman Mary Fallin and Congressman Dan Boren.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Using the Internet to Hold the Government Responsible

A few weeks ago, I wrote in my column about the inexplicable efforts by some in Congress to crack down on the ability of congressmen to communicate with their constituents through the use of new, Internet based technologies. These technologies allow congressmen to bypass the media and communicate directly with the people.

The importance of this type of communication could not be better illustrated than with the recent efforts of some congressmen to bring attention to the fact that Congress leadership is not allowing an important vote on expanding domestic oil production. As part of a demonstration against this inaction, the congressmen have been holding ongoing protests on the floor of the House of Representatives. This protest has received very little coverage from the media, and leadership has made sure the C-Span cameras do not show the protests. By sending updates on Internet social media outlets, the congressmen have been allowed to bypass traditional media and report the events as they unfold.

Hopefully, any effort to crack down on these new technologies has been suspended for now. But make no mistake, these technologies will give people more insight into and knowledge about how the government works (or does not work), and will allow them to hold government more responsible than ever.

The Internet also plays an important role in allowing people to share information and to work together to understand what is going on in government. One of the interesting developments along this line has been the emergence of an Internet message board right here in Oklahoma known as the McAlester Watercooler.

This web site resides in the heart of "Gene Stipe Territory," an area where locals were likely pressured to refrain from speaking out in the past due to fear that they would be retaliated against by the many individuals in power who were allied with Stipe and his political empire.

With the advent of the Internet, people now have a forum to which they can go and talk about government affairs without fear that their identities will be disclosed or that they will face retaliation by the powerful people of the community.

Those who are acquainted with some of my experiences as a public official know that I have always been a strong opponent of those who spread lies and untruths anonymously. I am a firm believer in the important laws that allow those who are victimized by the dishonest to pursue a civil action in order to hold them responsible.

Last week, however, the actions taken by the district attorney for Pittsburg County were, in my view, an attempt to intimidate those who are using the forum to discuss local affairs. Instead of filing a civil action, the district attorney appears to have filed a criminal complaint of libel based on comments by the users of the message board. And now the owner of the web site is being subpoenaed for the identities of those posting on the board as part of that criminal action. This action appears to be little more than an inappropriate use of power in an attempt to quell dissent in the age-old tradition of southeast Oklahoma power politics.

I remain confident, however, that attempts to discourage Internet use and thereby to hold the government responsible, will be ineffective.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Paying Professional Politicians

A few weeks ago I wrote about a checklist containing the key principles that define an elected official as being one of the people, or as having been co-opted into the system and no longer representative of the people.

In that article I wrote about the importance of opening up access to government affairs using televised public meetings. I think that if we study history we will find that the common theme possessed by most totalitarian governments is secrecy. A closed government has the ability to deceive and trick their own people because there is no way for the people to discover the truth. As such, an important cornerstone of our Republic is openness and ease of access by the people to the affairs of government. Due to the prevalent availability of technology, this openness should be more prevalent than ever. There is a need for our elected officials to allow today's technology to open up government in ways that have not been possible in the past. An important test for those seeking my vote is whether or not they support initiatives to further open up access to the government.

Another item that I believe is important when determining the motives of elected officials is the consideration of how they act regarding their own compensation. I believe that our system of government is designed to run efficiently when members of the citizenry make sacrifices and give up a few years of their life to serve their neighbors by being an elected official. Over the years, however, we have seen the rise of a class of professional politicians. Because salaries for elected officials have become too generous, it encourages people to become politicians as an occupation instead of sacrifice. Those who choose to make it an occupation will often be beholden to special interest groups to keep them in office since they probably view their political careers as a necessity of life, rather than a temporary sacrifice.

I strong disagree with the ability of any officer holder to vote for a raise for him/herself. While I cannot think of one instance where a raise is necessary, if a raise is needed, then at the very least, the raise should not take effect until the next term of office. In addition, any proposal for a raise should be voted on by the people at the same time the official is up for re-election. I think this concept would make an elected official think twice before asking for an unnecessary raise.

I enjoy following government affairs in other states. One of the recent national stories in the news has been the effort of the Louisiana Legislature to greatly increase their own compensation. I was especially excited to see how the people of Louisiana spoke up in opposition to the plan and forced the governor to veto the idea under the threat of recall. This event follows a similar effort conducted by the Pennsylvania Legislature which had to reverse a pay increase. This was, however, not accomplished in time to pacify the outrage of the citizens who proceeded to vote a number of the legislators out of office.

The next time a politician asks for your vote, please be sure to ask him/her how they feel about their compensation. If they are willing to make a sacrifice in order to serve their fellow citizens, their hearts are probably in the right place.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Local Official Speaks At National Press Club

Oklahoma State Representative Jason Murphey (R-Guthrie), accepted a recent invitation to speak at the National Press Club in Washington DC. Murphey's presentation received nationwide television coverage on C-Span and focused on 2nd amendment rights issues in Oklahoma.

Murphey was introduced by the founder of the Second Amendment Foundation Alan Gottlieb. In addition to Murphey, other speakers at the conference included various academic professors from across the country, Attorney Alan Gura who presented the recent successful arguments to the Supreme Court overturning the Washington DC gun ban and national talk show host Gordon Liddy.

Murphey's presentation focused on his experience with 2nd Amendment legislation in Oklahoma and the lessons learned from those experiences. Murphey, who serves as Vice-Chairman of the Oklahoma House Homeland Security subcommittee, encouraged 2nd amendment activists to focus on making both logical and emotional connections with those who are undecided on 2nd amendment issues. According to Murphey concealed carry laws protect the victims from the aggressors and he thinks it is important to illustrate this fact by using stories and real world instances of individuals successfully employing their 2nd amendment rights in the protection of themselves and others.

"It was an honor to be able to speak at the National Press Club," Murphey said. "I am especially appreciative to the sponsors for inviting me and consider it a privilege to speak out in defense of the 2nd amendment."

The National Press Club is located two blocks from the White House and is one of the world's leading professional organizations for journalists.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Listening To The People

This year I was very grateful to all of the people who took the time to return my constituent surveys.

While the results of the returned surveys were immediately tabulated, following the close of this year's session one of my tasks was to review each one of the hundreds of returned surveys and index them to the individual submitter and review the additional individual comments that were submitted. I very much appreciate the time that so many of you invested in insuring that your feedback was received and enjoyed reviewing your comments and suggestions.

One of the things that really stood out to me was the passion conveyed on some of the surveyed issues. Not content to just express their point of view with a vote they felt it important to include additional comments stating how they felt.

Some of the most forceful opposition was to the 60 million dollar tax refund for the National Basketball Association's Seattle Supersonics organization. In a time when the people are paying more for everything from property taxes, college tuition, food, fuel, energy to water there is little appetite for the idea of giving massive subsidies to the targeted organizations who can afford to pay for the high priced lobbyists necessary to secure the subsidy.

Making matters even worse is the manner in which the 60 million dollar subsidy was given. The normally slow moving gears of government were greased beyond belief as the subsidy flew through the legislative process so as to occur just days before the National Basketball Association Board of Governors voted to allow the team to relocate to Oklahoma City. It certainly would have exposed the fallacy of targeted tax subsidies if the subsidy would have been awarded after the team was already moving. Few people honestly believe that the team wouldn't have moved to Oklahoma City had it not been for the subsidy. And, how many other such subsidies are being given away under the guise of attracting business to the state when that business would relocate without the subsidy?

Instead of giving targeted breaks to the few it is important for the leaders of Oklahoma to work for across the board tax reduction for all of the people.

Another issue that the people are not happy about is the failure of the state government to enact property tax reform. Each year many of the people's property tax bills grow by about 5% which is where the ability of the assessors to increase taxes is capped. A bill was proposed that would take a small step forward towards reform by lowering the cap to 3% but was killed in a House Committee after achieving passage in the Senate. Unlike the Sonics subsidy, the machinery of state government acted like it all too often does when a reform proposal comes forward. It managed to find a way to kill the bill.

Again, I am very appreciative to all of the people who took the time to respond to the survey and to send their comments and suggestions.