Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Lobbyist-Induced Bailout

Because of my point of view about the massively inappropriate nature of lobbyist influence over policy makers, I have closely observed the mind set of those who benefit from lobbyist funding. I have come to believe there are a sizable number of elected officials who use a special type of situational ethics logic to excuse their acceptance of this money.

If you have ever attended a political forum where a politician was forced to field questions about the influence of lobbyists, you may have made these same observations. The politicians usually defend the status-quo by talking about the important role the lobbyist play in "educating" policy makers. Rarely will the lawmaker talk about the involvement of the lobbyist's checkbook in funding his/her campaigns for office, and it is especially interesting to observe the lawmaker's defense of the very inappropriate practice of accepting personal gifts from the special interests.

In recent days, the US Congress has been debating taking steps that I believe will inappropriately involve the federal government in matters that should be left to the free market. This recent economic turmoil has reminded me of a recently released book (a fascinating read) by hedge fund manager David Einhorn entitled, Fooling Some of the People All of the Time.

Einhorn described how his fund has focused on in-depth research of the reports of various publicly traded companies. He explains how they discovered the various discrepancies in these reports and strategically timed valuation of assets that seemed to paint a clear picture of ongoing stock price manipulation lasting for years. When he reported these issues to the governing authorities, instead of having the claims seriously investigated, it appears that little action was taken. Einhorn quickly became a target for those wishing to defend the companies making these reports. One such company even went so far as to hire a public relations "spin doctor" who had represented the Clinton Administration in an effort to put the situation in the best light possible.

Einhorn described how these entities would also invest in the elected officials in an obvious attempt to maximize influence over the regulators.

It is my belief that these types of issues have been systematic and ongoing for years. Those who benefited off the high stock prices were more than able to invest in the highly paid lobbyists that appear to hold such a strong influence over the elected officials.

As as result, even when reform-minded legislation was presented to Congress in order to address items such as risky lending practices, there were simply no reforms.

Now it appears as if the taxpayers will be forced to take on the risk that these entities incurred over the years. I suspect this bailout is also heavily influenced by the presence of powerful lobbyists representing entities who will certainly benefit by writing the bad debt off their books.

I believe the solution to this problem is for the people to insist that their legislators divorce themselves from the practice of taking money from special interests.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dorman Calls Energy Forum an Educational Success

Oklahoma House of Representatives
September 22, 2008

Contact: State Rep. Joe Dorman
Capitol: (405) 557-7305

Dorman Calls Energy Forum an Educational Success

OKLAHOMA CITY – A recent forum on alternative energy issues provided legislators a wide array of information that could lay the foundation for policy changes in the 2009 session, state Rep. Joe Dorman said today.
“The forum was a huge success in the fact we had experts testify about the various forms of alternative energy and the potential uses on the horizon,” said Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “We must begin the reduction of our dependence on foreign oil and the only way to do that is a shift in policy starting at the state level.”
The forum included presentation on compressed natural gas, a discussion of alternative energy tax incentives, wind energy and transmission issues, geothermal energy, and bioenergy.
“I was disappointed that we didn’t have more lawmakers present, but those that did attend received an excellent briefing on ways we can move Oklahoma forward,” Dorman said. “I expect the results of this meeting will lead to ideas that could become law over the next few legislative sessions.”
Dorman plans to introduce legislation extending tax credits to individuals and businesses who install fueling ports for alternative fuels to power their vehicles. He will also look at re-filing legislation to provide incentives to homeowners who install alternative energy equipment, such as devices to use solar, geothermal, wind and other resources in their homes. Similar legislation was not heard in committee the past two years.


Oklahoma voters lose their place on the rolls

Tue September 23, 2008
Oklahoma voters lose their place on the rolls
By John Greiner
Capitol Bureau

Oklahomans who haven't bothered to vote in any election during the past six years may be in for a shock Nov. 4 - they won't get to vote for president. State law, written to conform with the National Voters Registration Act of 1995, requires state election officials to purge the names from voter rolls of those who haven't voted or had any other election-related activity in the past six years.
Election-related activities could include changing parties, seeking an absentee ballot or notifying election officials of a change of address.
100,000 names removed Those whose names are purged aren't notified when their names are taken off the list, said Michael Clingman, secretary of the Oklahoma Election Board. But there's an easy fix to this problem, he said.
"Just call your election board and see if you are still on the voter registration rolls," Clingman said. If you aren't registered, get registered, he said. The deadline for registering to vote for president is Oct. 10.
In off election years, thousands of names are purged from the voter rolls, he said."Close to 100,000 were purged last year," he said.
Oklahoma has more than 2 million registered voters. Those on the rolls right now are safe from being purged this year, Clingman said.
Getting back on list Kathryn Page of Oklahoma City is one who just learned that voting lists are purged of people who haven't voted in six years. She lost interest in voting in 2000. "I have not voted since Bush got into office," she said.
Last week someone told her that her name might not be on the voter registration list any more. Page checked with the county election board. Sure enough, she wasn't on the list.
"I was registered today," she said on Friday.
She immediately began working as a volunteer registering people to vote.

Monday, September 22, 2008

School Choice for Students with Special Needs

Let's suppose you are one of the growing number of parents whose child has been affected by autism. Imagine having the sensation that each and every one of your waking moments is dedicated to coping with this tremendous challenge as you provide your child with the necessary support in order to get through the day. And all the while, you hold out hope that through the proper therapy your child will be able to one day lead a normal life.

Now imagine that you are the superintendent of a small school district. As the steward of the taxpayers' resources, you are required to provide an education to all children, but because your school district is small in size and because there is an overwhelming number of state and federal mandates, it is very challenging to provide a quality education to the general population and it is extremely difficult to provide the type of education that children with special needs, such as autism, require.

This was the challenge recently faced by the parents and one of the school districts in Logan County.

Due to the various federal requirements, small school systems have an enormous burden to provide care to special needs students. However, because of the demands placed on the local educational system, it may be nearly impossible for them to have the resources to provide this care in a manner that takes advantage of the latest therapy methods and really helps those students on the road to recovery.

I feel this is unfair to the parents of the special needs children because their tax dollars are being taken by an education system that is challenged to provide a quality product. It can also be unfair to the other students in the school system because the lack of focused resources can take away from their education.

I believe this is a problem that should be solved by school choice. Let's refund the tax dollars of those parents with special needs so they can invest that money in the very specialized treatment that their children need. Instead of forcing them to attend a school system that simply cannot meet their needs, they should be allowed to take advantage of the resources offered by those who are experts in the necessary treatment. Because of the increased efficiency of the private education market, I suspect that the result would be a lower cost to the taxpayers.

Last week I wrote an article explaining how "one size fits all" does not work in the health insurance industry. After writing that article, an individual who is experienced in working with special needs children responded by making the point that neither does "one size fits all" work when it comes time to provide education services. She is exactly right. Children with special needs should be treated by those who understand those needs.

Another constituent contact I have benefited from has been an individual whose family has been affected by autism. Instead of letting that experience discourage them, they are working hard to open a clinic to treat autism using the latest treatment methods. These types of private sector solutions can provide an enormous service to children with special needs, while relieving the public school system of a tremendous challenge.

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities - Economic Good News for OK

Hello again, everybody! The business section of one of the state’s major newspapers this week told “a tale of two cities.”

With a dark background, the words “FINANCIAL MELTDOWN” introduced a report of the crisis on Wall Street. It was ominous, and the challenges our nation is facing are indeed serious. Still, Oklahoma is well-positioned to weather this current crisis.

Evidence of that was found in a report atop the same page. “Incomes in state continue to climb,” read the headline. The story went on to report Oklahoma had the eighth-highest rate of growth in personal income during the second quarter of 2008.

Oklahoma’s 2.5 percent growth in personal income eclipsed the national growth of 1.8 percent – much of which was driven by the economic stimulus checks from the federal government. Oklahomans benefited from that as well, but there is more at work in our economy.

Several economists use Oregon as a benchmark by which to measure Oklahoma’s economy. Our two states are almost the same size.

The difference is that Oregon is on the West Coast; it is a fast-growth state and is generally thought to have more amenities than Oklahoma. Despite having a significantly higher cost of living, Oregonians only have a $117 edge in per capita personal income over Oklahoma.

Oklahoma’s incomes have climbed faster than the cost of living. That means the money we do have is able to go farther than it would elsewhere.

We are indeed fortunate that the energy industry is providing a great deal of immunity to the national financial crisis. It did not happen by accident. A strategic effort to encourage exploration and drilling of natural gas was part of the package enacted to ensure we get the full benefit from the resource God placed beneath our feet.

We have an opportunity to do even more next year. Almost everyone has heard about or seen a commercial about the “Pickens Plan” advocated by Oklahoma oil man T. Boone Pickens.

His plan makes good sense, and is the first comprehensive proposal designed to wean America off expensive foreign oil. It is good for Oklahoma for two reasons.

First, we have more known natural gas reserves under our feet than we have had at any time in our history. New exploration and extraction techniques has discovered and made accessible natural gas that before now was undiscoverable.

Second, his wind generation proposal includes a good part of western Oklahoma. Wind generated electricity is renewable; it will never run out – we simply need improved infrastructure to deliver it.

These are part of Oklahoma’s energy and economic portfolio. In the years ahead, we must continue to make use of the resources we have. More than anything else, that is how we keep moving forward and build a bright future for our children and our children’s children.

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I have to start my column off this week by thanking all those who have wished me a happy birthday. I turn 38 on September 18th and I have to say it's been a great year. I'm going to hopefully spend the evening listening to my cousin, Ryan Dorman, play music at Cottonwood Creek in Chickasha. He starts about 9 PM that night if anyone out there wants to join the fun. Earlier that day, I'm speaking to the Fletcher American Legion, attending the ASCOG annual banquet and participating in a regional discussion on county road funding.
I had the chance to start the week off right by serving as a volunteer at a booth at the State Fair. It was great to see many of the projects displayed by the students from our area. Good luck to all the students competing in the projects and congratulations to those that I saw who have already won. Along those lines, I've seen three different high school football games over the past two weeks as six of my schools played each other. It's great to see the weather finally cooling off and football going strong. My schedules are also finally finished and should be at local stores and at the games if you would like to pick one up.
We are seeing the the interim studies at the Capitol finally being scheduled. I have a study with several other legislators regarding autism coverage for children that will meet this week. This will look at possible solutions for assistance for families that are affected by autism and what can be done to help. We will have speakers discuss successes in other states, along with attempts that failed, and also bring in families who might have suggestions on changes in the law where assistance can be provided efficiently.
On Friday, I have my forum regarding alternative energy policies. I hope those of you interested in alternative energy sources and the possibility of the reduction of dependence on foreign oil will have the opportunity to make it up for this meeting. We have a great variety of guest speakers, ranging for the Oklahoma Secretary of Energy to businesses that have shifted to using CNG vehicles for their fleets. This should provide a great outlook on future trends and possible policies we can implement to help our nation. This will occur in the Senate Chamber in the Capitol from 9 AM to noon.
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, September 15, 2008

"One Size Fits All" Does Not Work

What if you had a pressing need for a new car? And what if, when you went to buy a new car, the only vehicle you were allowed to purchase was a luxury vehicle with all options pre-installed? Can you imagine how many Oklahomans would be unable to afford transportation if this scenario were a reality?

One of the most pressing topics the Legislature deals with each year is health care. The issue is of added importance because Oklahoma has the fourth highest population of uninsured people. The most obvious reason for this lack of coverage is the high price of purchasing insurance in Oklahoma.

The average price of a job-based health insurance policy in Oklahoma is $4,088. The national average is $3,991. Oklahoma's median income is significantly lower than the national average, which means that Oklahomans pay higher health insurance costs with a lower average income.

One of the reasons for high insurance fees in Oklahoma is because the Legislature has driven up the cost over the years by mandating a "one size fits all" approach to coverage.

Policies become even more expensive when the Legislature approves new laws to mandate the coverage of any number of heartbreaking medical situations that have not traditionally been covered by health insurance policies. Over time, the number of mandates adds up to create a very expensive insurance policy. And there is no shortage of medical issues currently not covered that will no doubt be mandated in the coming years.

A State House panel heard testimony recently which indicated that across the nation mandated benefits that will increase the cost of basic health coverage from about 20 percent to more than 50 percent, depending on the state and its mandates.

While elected officials understandably wish to expand coverage to include as many medical conditions as possible, the long-term effect can be detrimental, because fewer people will be able to afford coverage. This is why it is important that Oklahoma allow insurance companies to provide basic insurance coverage without all the attached mandates.

One of the exciting developments of the latest legislative year was the passage of a law in Florida that allows the uninsured to purchase these types of policies. Now, instead of being forced to buy the equivalent of a luxury car, prospective insurance customers can buy a product that better fits their financial needs.

I believe it is important for Oklahoma to follow Florida's lead and enact this common-sense legislation. Further, Oklahoma should enact legislation that will allow the customers of this product to choose additional specific coverages that would fit their needs. For instance, senior citizens would not wish to pay for medical coverage for issues that affect only children or young people, and young people have no need for medical coverage that only senior citizens need.

Simply put, the "one size fits all" approach does not work.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mandate Myths - From "The Daily Oklahoman" Opinion Page - 9/13/08

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

President Kennedy said, “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.”

As we fought for health insurance coverage of children with autism, we fought a “persistent, persuasive and unrealistic” myth. The constant refrain from those who oppose helping these families is their opinion insurance mandates like “Nick’s Law” raise premiums and increase the number of people who are uninsured.

The insurance situation in other states unravels the arguments on which the opponents of “Nick’s Law” depend. First, compare the number of legislative mandates among several states. Then, in those states with more legislative mandates, one should look at the percentage of uninsured. Finally, one should examine premium costs in those states compared to Oklahoma.

We have 36 health insurance mandates in Oklahoma; 20 states have less and 29 states have more. For their myth to be accurate, every state with more health insurance mandates should have both higher premium costs and more uninsured. Here is where their myth begins to unravel.

Four states that have more mandates have lower average premiums: Missouri, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington. Also, the percentage of uninsured is smaller than Oklahoma in each of those states.

Oklahoma has almost 19 percent of our residents without health insurance. In Missouri, the rate of uninsured is12.3 percent; in Washington, 12.5 percent; in Virginia, 13.2 percent of its residents are uninsured; and, in Tennessee, the number is 13.4 percent.

The number of uninsured in individual states has more to do with per capita personal income and the cost of living than legislative requirements that health insurance cover specific illnesses. Even that statement has exceptions.

In California, one of the most expensive states in which to live, health insurance is cheaper than in Oklahoma. On top of that, California has 14 more legislative health insurance mandates than Oklahoma does.

This myth has only one purpose: allow some to turn their backs on autistic children “without the discomfort of thought.” During the 2008 session of the Oklahoma Legislature, the myth allowed a small number of Republican leaders in the House of Representatives to deny a hearing on “Nick’s Law” without the discomfort of a real debate.

The reason is twofold. First, they know their argument will never hold up under real scrutiny, so they put up this smokescreen to provide political cover. Second, they know a majority of House members – Republicans and Democrats alike – will vote to pass “Nick’s Law” if given a chance, just like what happened in the evenly-divided Oklahoma Senate.

The real tragedy of House leaders’ stall tactics is the continued unimaginable financial strain on families with autistic children. “Nick’s Law” will help, if House leaders will only give the measure a hearing. This is a chance for them to do more than talk about “family values”; it is a chance for them to truly value families.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Lake Tourism Boosts Families, Southern Oklahoma Economies

By Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant

Hello again, everybody! As summer begins to fade, a treasure trove of memories about it will remain vivid for years to come in my family.

My son, Jacob – as he will tell you – is two-and-a-half, “the boss” (he gets “time out” for that statement), and he absolutely loves trains. We also have discovered he is a lake-loving little boy.

Jacob absolutely loves Lake Texoma. He loves to fish – even petting the stripers we catch. He loves the sandy beaches, playing in the water, digging his toes in the cool sand, and building sand castles complete with motes.

There is nothing like finding a sandy beach, spreading out a blanket and having a picnic with your family. On holiday weekends like Labor Day, finding a vacant section of beach isn’t always easy.

We got to meet visitors from across the nation, people who never would visit our communities without the lake amenities. The amount of money that comes to our area as a result of lake tourism is almost beyond imagining. Those dollars create thousands of jobs on Lake Texoma that further boost area economies.

Jacob will grow up knowing how incredibly blessed we all are to have this lake literally in our backyards. He, and all the children of his generation, will grow up on a Lake Texoma that has – for the first time – a chance to reach its potential on the Oklahoma side.

The new $750 million Pointe Vista development will remake a portion of the lake around the old Texoma Lodge into a world class resort and conference center. Southern Oklahoma is excited about the possibilities.

Those of us who have lived most of our lives here have hoped for development on the Oklahoma side of Texoma, and the prosperity it brings. We grew up watching development on the Texas side of the lake; we heard plans for our side of the lake, only to see them vanish into thin air.

A new proposal for a billion-dollar resort near Denison, Texas put new urgency on the plans begun with a law I wrote four years ago. Had we done nothing, the lodge would have continued to deteriorate and again we would have watched Texas move ahead of Oklahoma.

With Pointe Vista moving forward, we are years ahead of the proposed Texas development. Finally, after almost three-quarters of a century, the Oklahoma side of Texoma stands to lead in lake development rather than watching helplessly as Texas moved farther ahead.

The key for Oklahoma was a willingness to do things differently, to take a chance on a new idea. New development at Texoma will lead to a brighter future for my constituents, economic expansion for southern Oklahoma, and the creation of one of America’s greatest lake destinations – for our generation and those, like Jacob’s, yet to follow.

We cannot wait to see the finished product.

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

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

There has been quite a bit of discussion around the State Capitol the past couple of months in regards to energy policy. Back in August, I unveiled a bill to incentivize local gas stations to put in fueling ports for CNG and other alternative fuels. Following that release, Speaker Benge held a press conference to discuss this and other policies, such as creating classes in the career tech system to teach students how to build and repair equipment for these ports and also for continued work on wind energy turbines. T. Boone Pickens has also unveiled a plan called "The Pickens Plan" that hopes to break our addiction to foreign oil and develop local alternatives.
I'm hoping this discussion will continue, along with ways to bring down the current gas prices. In order to help this along, I'm holding an energy forum at the State Capitol on Friday, September 19th to discuss the upcoming bills and possible solutions that other states have pursued. I have invited several experts in the various energy and tax fields to present to the legislators in attendance and also those in the public that wish to attend. The meeting will begin at 9:00 A.M. in the State Senate Chamber and if you could, please RSVP to my office to let them know so we can prepare enough seating.
I'm hoping the invited guests will shed light on where we failed in pursuing alternative energy policies in the past and reveal where some of the positive solutions appear on the horizon. I also hope we provide ideas where we can start now on developing sound policies for the upcoming generations. We need to look at CNG, wind, hydrogen, ethanol, switch grass and the other ideas currently out there. This too serious a problem for partisan politics to come into play, so I'm hoping several of my colleagues will be able to attend and we can work on these ideas. This shouldn't be Democrats, Republicans, Independents or other parties trying to take credit; simply we need Oklahomans working together to create a realistic energy policy for our home state and I hope this meeting will start that discussion.
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, September 8, 2008

The Change That The People Really Want

Almost exactly one year ago, I was privileged to visit the US Senate and watch Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn at work. I watched as Coburn worked the Senate floor in an attempt to defeat a pork expenditure for an organization in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania's two senators (one a Republican and one a Democrat) successfully saved their precious pork appropriation, but not before Coburn made his point and rallied a substantial number of senators to his point of view.

Coburn impressed me with his classy manner of exposing the pork, but doing so in a way that did not alienate or engender unnecessary hard feelings. His style of doing the right thing in a nice manner was a strong example to me of how elected officials should conduct themselves.

Shortly after he arrived in Washington, DC, Coburn embarked on what looked like a one-man fight. Being that one man takes an enormous amount of character and many probably believed that Coburn would be ostracized and left on his own. That did not stop Coburn from taking the Senate floor to denounce the "Bridge to Nowhere," making that term a phrase that would define pork politics for years to come. Coburn's effort came at great risk, as it meant opposing a very powerful Republican Committee Chairman, who viewed Coburn's effort in a very negative light.

Now, a few years later, the tables have turned. While Coburn remains a very popular spokesperson for the people, that powerful Chairman is under federal indictment. It is now clear that Coburn's example has encouraged a nationwide movement and paved the way for a new generation of elected officials who are willing to reject the adage that all legislators must support pork politics.

I think Coburn's one-man effort officially became a nationwide movement when Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin announced her opposition to the "Bridge to Nowhere" and that type of federal spending, and when she accepted her selection as a Vice-Presidential candidate.

Since last Saturday, as I have gone door to door visiting with my constituents, I have seen a new excitement in the eyes of the people as they are once again hopeful that maybe, just maybe, with Palin's help, there might actually be a chance for substantive change in our government.

The people are once again excited about voting and the prospect of change. I have not seen this type of excitement since I went door to door in 2004 when Coburn was on the ballot.

Everyone seems to want to talk about Palin and the change that she represents and I believe much of this energy can trace its origin to years ago when Coburn was willing to take to the floor of the Senate and be the one man who started a new national revolution against big spending.

Coburn's example makes it much easier for those of us in elected office to work to follow his example and do the right thing for the people.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

We Can Find Some Common Ground

Hello again, everybody! Few have been as critical as I have of decisions made by House Speaker Chris Benge. He got that criticism the old-fashioned way: he earned it.

His decision to deny even a vote to the autism insurance bill will go down as one of the most ill-advised and unfortunate decisions ever made by any Speaker of the House. That decision hurt families struggling to care for autistic children.

These Oklahoma families deserved better, and I will continue my fight for them. Despite our profound disagreement on the autism issue, it appears the Speaker and I will agree on another issue.

The Speaker has announced part of his energy plan for Oklahoma. Since I serve as the Democratic chair of the Senate’s Energy and Environment Committee, I read with interest what he had to say. His proposal mirrors many of the positions I have held in relation to Oklahoma’s energy future.

His plan is to use Oklahoma’s incredible natural gas reserves to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil by making compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles more affordable for more Oklahomans. The plan is a positive step that I intend to support.

Just last session, I carried the bill that extended the tax credit available to Oklahomans who purchase “qualified clean-burning motor fuel property.” That includes the equipment necessary to fuel a CNG vehicle. This kind of policy is good for three reasons.

First, it uses a fuel that is abundant right here in Oklahoma; we would not have to buy as much oil from countries who want to destroy America. Second, CNG fuel is cheaper that oil-derived gasoline. Finally, CNG is a much cleaner burning fuel than gasoline, emitting far less pollutants into the atmosphere.

The biggest barrier is the scarcity of CNG fueling stations. Some might claim the market will drive this; create the demand, some might say, and the fueling stations will follow. That may be true, but we have the ability to accelerate that by using the state’s ability to provide incentives.

Last year, the Senate Energy Committee conducted a study on Oklahoma’s energy reserves. We learned the new technology used in gas exploration shows we have more known natural gas reserves under our feet today than at any time in history.

It makes sense to use those reserves to help break our dependence on foreign oil. That has been a goal I have worked toward as Energy Committee chair; it is a goal the Speaker apparently shares.

Make no mistake; I will continue taking the Speaker to task for his opposition to helping children with autism. Still, our work at the Capitol must be about policy, not politics.

On the issue of Oklahoma’s energy future, we will work together. We in the Legislature will never agree on every issue, but we can find some common ground.

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

Friday, September 5, 2008

Open Door Policy - Sept. 2, 2008

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day! I had the chance to see some friends from both high school and college. I also took time to appreciate all the efforts that have been put forth over the years by America's workforce. We have some of the safest workplaces in the world and our employees have better opportunities for health care than many other nations where I have had the chance to visit. We still have a ways to go for much of the country, but things like the Insure Oklahoma program have made a great difference here in Oklahoma.
With information provided directly from their website ( ), this describes the Insure Oklahoma program:
"In April 2004, Senate Bill 1546 authorized the Oklahoma Health Care Authority to develop a program assisting adults, 19 to 64 years of age, who do not exceed 185% of the federal poverty level, with either (1) a portion of their private health plan premiums, or (2) the purchase of a state sponsored health plan operated under the state Medicaid program. After conducting a study of the uninsured in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) developed viable, realistic, and effective strategies to cover the uninsured through the Oklahoma State Planning Grant (HRSA grant)."
"In November 2004, the Oklahoma Health Care Initiative, otherwise known as State Question 713, created the funding to make a program like this possible. SQ 713, passed by a vote of Oklahomans, increased the sales tax on tobacco products. A portion of these revenues were designated to be used to fund the new health program."
"The joint effort of Governor Henry, the State Legislature, OHCA, and other committed organizations resulted in the Oklahoma Employer/Employee Partnership for Insurance Coverage (Insure Oklahoma/O-EPIC) program. Insure Oklahoma is designed and intended to assist in the purchase of health coverage."
In order to participate in the Insure Oklahoma program for small employers, the employee must be:
Oklahoma resident
U.S. Citizen or qualified alien
age 19-64
within income guidelines
ineligible for Medicaid or Medicare
contributing up to 15 percent of premium costs
enrolled in an Insure Oklahoma qualified health plan offered by their employer
This program has made a difference for many of my employees in House District 65, but employers out there that are not aware of this need to contact their office or mine for more information. The Insure Oklahoma number is 1-888-3-OK-EPIC (1-888-365-3742).
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.

Oklahoma Rock Song Finalists Named

Oklahoma History Center
2401 N. Laird Avenue
Oklahoma City, OK 73105


Oklahoma Film & Music Office
120 N. Robinson, Suite 600
Oklahoma City, OK 73102

September 2, 2008 – For Immediate Release

Contact: Oklahoma Historical Society: Jeff Moore (405) 522-0798 – Oklahoma Film and Music Office: Jill Simpson (405) 233-8440


The Official Rock Song Advisory Panel, created to select the ten finalists for the Official Rock n Roll Song of Oklahoma, has announced their decision. The final songs represent a wide range of artists from various decades.

The Official Oklahoma Rock Song Advisory Panel, established by resolution during the past legislative session, was appointed by the Governor, Speaker of the House, the Senate Pro Tempore, the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Oklahoma Film & Music Office.

The panel includes Phil Bacharach, Oklahoma City; Ronnie Kaye, Oklahoma City; Lacey Lett, Oklahoma City; Steve Ripley, Tulsa/Pawnee; Ryan LaCroix, Norman; Dr. Hugh Foley, Stillwater; and Angie Devore-Green, Tulsa.

The ten finalist songs are now listed on the web site: Votes for the song to be named the Official Oklahoma Rock Song will be taken through November 15, 2008 on this site.

The winning song will be announced during the next legislative session. Initial voting for the songs began in April with nominations being made on a special internet site. A total of 458 songs received 2,498 nominations on the web site.

The Oklahoma History Center will celebrate the state’s rock and roll heritage with an exhibit entitled “Another Hot Oklahoma Night,” slated to open May 2, 2009.

The History Center is actively collecting stories and artifacts related to rock and roll in Oklahoma. For more information, please contact the museum staff at (405) 522-0798.

Don't forget to check out to find out about Another Hot Oklahoma Night, the upcoming rock & roll exhibit at the Oklahoma History Center.
Nominations are as follows:

All-American Rejects - Move Along
Formed in 2001, the All-American Rejects released "Move Along" in 2006, from their 2005 album of the same name. The song hit number one on the Digital Download Chart. The band is composed of Tyson Ritter and Nick Wheeler from Stillwater and Mike Kennerty and Chris Gaylor from Edmond.

The Call - Oklahoma
In 1986, The Call, which included two Oklahomans, Michael Been and Scott Musick, released the critically acclaimed album, Reconciled. The song "Oklahoma" conjured images of their home state,s tent revivals and turbulent weather. Later, presidential hopeful Al Gore used The Call's "Let the Day Begin" as his campaign anthem.

The Flaming Lips - Do You Realize?
In 2002, the Flaming Lips released "Do You Realize" on their album Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, to overwhelming critical success. The avant-garde band has had more than three decades of musical achievement, providing one of Oklahoma's most successful bands having won three Grammys. The Lips continue to add to their diverse and die-hard fan base.

JJ Cale - After Midnight
In 1965, J. J. Cale recorded "After Midnight," which Eric Clapton rereleased in 1970. In 1971, J. J. Cale released another version on his album, Naturally. Clapton recorded many of Cale's songs, including "Cocaine." Other artists have also tapped into Cale's writing ability. These include Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Band, Deep Purple, and Tom Petty.

John Moreland & the Black Gold Band - Endless Oklahoma Sky
John Moreland and the Black Gold Band represent a popular, Oklahoma indie band that has produced a song that reflects the melodic scenes of the Sooner State. "Endless Oklahoma Sky" captures a positive feeling of Oklahoma's present beauty, culture, and music.

Leon Russell - Home Sweet Oklahoma
In 1971, Leon Russell reigned as one of Rock and Roll's biggest stars. That year he released "Home Sweet Oklahoma'" paying homage to his native state. The song shows Russell,s devotion to Oklahoma, as he made the Tulsa area his base of operations. Leon brought in stars such as George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and Tom Petty to record at his Church Studios.

Elvis Presley - Heartbreak Hotel
In 1956, Oklahoma schoolteacher Mae Boren Axton co-wrote Elvis Presley's hit song "Heartbreak Hotel." An iconic song in Rock and Roll's history, "Heartbreak Hotel" sat atop the pop charts for eight weeks. Axton, sister of U. S. Congressman Lyle Boren, continued to write songs until her death on April 9, 1997.

Three Dog Night - Never Been to Spain
In 1971, Three Dog Night released "Never Been to Spain," written by Oklahoman Hoyt Axton. The song skyrocketed to number five on the charts. Axton, son of songwriter Mae Boren Axton, collaborated several times with this band. Hoyt Axton died on October 26, 1999.

The Ventures - Walk, Don't Run
In 1960, the Ventures' version of "Walk, Don't Run" climbed to number two on the Billboard Hot 100. Oklahoman Bob Bogle suggested the band cover the song. The Ventures also included Oklahoman Nokie Edwards and promoted Oklahoma guitar-maker Semie Mosely's Mosrite guitars.

Wanda Jackson - Let's Have a Party
In 1958, Wanda Jackson recorded "Let's Have a Party" which Capitol Records rereleased in 1960 to chart success. Backed by one of Rock and Roll's first integrated bands, the Poe Cats with fellow Oklahoman Big Al Downing on piano, Jackson became the "Queen of Rockabilly."

Side note: As of 3:00 p.m. on September 4, there were over 4,500 votes!
And more than 8,000 visits to the site. . .

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The People Are Excited

Since last Saturday, as I have gone door to door visiting with my constituents, I have seen a new excitement in the eyes of the people as they are once again hopeful that maybe, just maybe, with Governor Sarah Palin's help there might actually be a chance of substantive changes in our government. The people are once again excited about voting and about the prospects for change. I have not seen this type of excitement since I went door to door in 2004 when Dr. Coburn was on the ballot.

I received this email from a constituent who has historically not been very politically involved but was willing to write me a very well written email about how excited she is at Palin's nomination.

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In a nutshell? If McCain wins, it'll be because of the votes she brings. Even if she isn't all that the hype says she is, she has singlehandedly energized the entire Republican party. That's pretty amazing for a previously lackluster campaign.
As a woman? In spite of the fact that I KNOW they're going after the woman's vote ... she is a woman's woman. Strong. Capable. Intelligent. Attractive. Knowledgeable. Do all these things matter individually? Nope. But they make for an excellent package. She is the embodiment, if you will, of what my ideal American woman should be. The unsung heroes. The moms that make everything happen. And I know that's reverse feminism ... but I don't care. I think it's true anyway. :-)
As a single mom I actually swallowed hard a few times last night.
Me. Unbelievable. Even when I knew I was being courted as a woman, I succumbed anyway (grin)
She has a pregnant daughter. That calls to me. She has a special needs kid ... MY favorite line (total and female emotions, I know) MY favorite line was when she spoke directly to the parents of special needs kids and said, "You will have an advocate in the White House." Her sister owns a small business. Her parents were school teachers. I like the fact that (nothing personal) she didn't take her kids out of school, she went to the school and tried to change the system.
To me, that "advocate in the White House" principle applies to everything. To the common people. To the small business owners. To struggling parents. To people who have no use for politics or empty promises of hope and change. Direct. Practical. She KNOWS about the pipelines. What I don't know, she does. I loved her courage. Her humor. Her very intelligent digs at Obama. Humor mixed with honesty was devastating. I loved that she didn't whine and cry about anything at all. Not about the way the media has gone after her. Not about femi-nazis. Not about her child. Not about her daughter. She just said, "We're a normal family like everyone else." Yowza.
She mildly spanked Obama and sent him to the corner. You just gotta love it. I remember watching Obama in the DNC and waiting and waiting and WAITING for the real substance she presented in the first five minutes. If I weren't already leaning, I would change my vote to Republican immediately.
My respect for McCain grew just because he picked her. Huh. I would get involved in politics if she asked me today (maybe not tomorrow when the hype wears off ... but for today? Yep). She gave back a jet and a limo. She doesn't deal with lobbyists. She balanced the budget and she believes in lower taxes. What's not to like?
No doubt we will discover skeletons in her closet. Fortunately I don't expect politicians or movie stars to be perfect. I think everyone's human. And if I'm going to be absolutely honest? She gets an automatic "pass" for the little stuff just for that speech last night. I know someone else wrote it. But if her history proves to be true ... that tells the story of character. I still don't know Obama's history. That was overwhelmingly demonstrated yesterday by the simple telling of hers.
But I think she's great for the job ... and if she's looking for a future and I had to vote today, I would vote for her as President for two terms. Here's hoping she does well on the debates. Too bad they don't have her lined up for a national speech November 3.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Convincing the People to Pay More (Part II)

Last week, I explained how hard government officials will work to meet their funding needs by trying to convince people to pay higher taxes, instead of working hard to make ends meet without passing on the higher bill. Many times, this is accomplished by claiming that any number of Armageddon-type scenarios will most certainly occur if people do not agree to increase taxes.

I also explained how that in my years of watching local, state and federal government activities, I have never felt that any of the many proposed increase have been needed.

This year, for instance, the Oklahoma Senate passed an amendment to a House bill that would increase your driver's license fee by several dollars. The fee increase was to be used to support the funding of driver examination stations all across Oklahoma. The rumor circulated that if the fee increase did not pass, many rural examinations would be closed and prospective drivers from all across the state would be forced to drive many miles and wait in very long lines in order to receive their driver's licenses.

A television station did a report in which they interviewed a driver who indicated that compared to paying the high price of fuel in order to commute to the examination station, surely it would be better to just pay a few dollars more for his driver's license. With a little media attention, the proponents of higher fees appeared set to convince the public that the fee increase was in fact a good deal for people.

I have observed that this is one of the oldest tricks in the book for politicians who want to tax us more. Instead of focusing the debate on funding necessary government services with existing money, those who want higher fees make voters choose between terminating the necessary service or raising taxes/fees.

But in all their efforts to raise our driver's license fees, the proponents of bigger government made one small mistake. They failed to take into account the identity of the Representative who controlled the bill in the House of Representatives. As author of the House Bill in question, I had the power to remove the bill from consideration. I was happy to keep the bill from being considered until the fee increase was removed. And just days later, appropriations officials "found" another way to finance the drivers examination stations without an increase in taxes or fees.

Going to whatever ends necessary to convince people to pay more money is a trap that too many public officials quickly fall into. In today's world of high taxes and fees at all levels of government, I believe the first test for any public official seeking election should be if that official has met funding needs with existing resources, or if he/she has given in to the pressure to take more of the people's hard earned money.