Monday, April 19, 2010

Common Sense Election Reforms

During last week's update I wrote about the opportunity for individuals to change government by getting involved in local civic affairs. In that update I referenced a recent report by the group Oklahomans for Responsible Government documenting the very low voter turnout in recent local level elections. Some of the respondents to that update referenced the challenge that residents face in having a voice in local affairs.

The foremost challenge involves the large number of possible election dates which occur. Frequently, initiatives which raise taxes on all of the people (such as property tax bond issues) are voted into law by a small fraction of the electorate on a day when many are unaware that an election is even occurring. Those wishing to pass a tax increase can strategize by calling the election for the tax increase on one of these elections days.

This presents a special problem for those who live in rural areas. For instance, residents of one Logan County precinct who live in part of the precinct which is experiencing a significant amount of residential growth must drive about 15 miles to the other end of the precinct in order to vote. This problem will likely be corrected with upcoming redistricting; however, the distance has served as a detriment to those who would otherwise vote.

I know there are times when distance issues, for example, are unavoidable. However, I don't feel that those desiring tax increases should be able to pick an election date where there is little likelihood for a strong turnout.

Last year I served as the primary House author of a Senate Bill authored by Senator Clark Jolly which would consolidate the number of days when an election could be held. Fewer possible election days would mean that more people would have the opportunity to vote on local proposals such as school board elections, city council elections and local tax increases.

If voters knew that elections would only be held on two or three days each year, they could plan on voting on those days and would not have to worry about missing an election because they did not hear about it. In addition, I believe that tax increase proposals should only be allowed to occur on the same day as a general election when the politicians attempting to pass the tax increase are also on the ballot.

I am also a huge proponent for the televised and online display of video content from all governing board meetings. This would allow individuals to stay informed from the convenience of their own homes and on a schedule that works for them.

I believe these are common sense answers to the very large problem of governing boards operating under the radar with little citizen oversight.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Getting Involved and Making a Difference

Writing these weekly updates has allowed me to engage in a productive, ongoing dialog with those I represent. I receive a number of e-mails in response to each update.

One of the most frequent questions I receive is from those who are frustrated with the direction governing policy is taking and they want to get involved and make a difference. I believe the best way to get involved in helping to limit our government is to seek election to local level offices.

Oklahomans for Responsible Government (OFRG) recently published an excellent article about the current lack of interest in local elections. OFRG explained that in a number of recent local elections, very few took the time to vote.

Among others, OFRG pointed to the following examples: in the city of Noble, 30 individuals voted in a City Council election. The City of Wellston voted to continue a city sales tax after 34 people voted -- this from a population of 834. The Oklahoma City school district has an enrollment of 42,570 students, but only 263 voters voted in this month's Oklahoma City school board election.

OFRG quite correctly opined its disappointment about the lack of interest in local civic affairs. In an era when so many wish to get involved, it is disappointing to see that their interest does not translate to local affairs. Let's face facts; effecting change at the federal level is very difficult. However, billions of taxpayer dollars are funnelled through the federal government and spent by state, county, city, school and public trust governing entities. If these governments would be willing to stand up to the federal government even if it means refusing federal funds and the attached mandates, it could make a big difference.

In the past I have written about how state level governments defeated the federal effort at creating a national ID card simply by refusing to participate in the federal program. I believe this example of success could be duplicated time and time again if more state and local government entities would simply refuse to play the federal government's game of taking funding in exchange for giving away local control.

I would strongly encourage all those who want to make a difference to pay attention to local and state civic affairs. There are many opportunities to make a difference for those who are willing to sacrifice their time in order to help restore our country to that important vision of limited government envisioned by our founding fathers. As each level of government (municipal, county and state) is truly returned to governance by the people and for the people, the federal government will be positively impacted as well.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Example of Problem Created by Federal Influence

Recent legislative votes have indicated that a strong and bi-partisan majority of Oklahoma legislators are adamantly opposed to greater efforts by the federal government to inject itself into the lives of Oklahomans, with specific opposition to the efforts of Congress to expand federal influence over the health care industry.

I believe these legislators have seen firsthand how no one wins when federal officials are put in charge of making decisions about how Oklahomans live their lives. The federal government is far removed from the people and all too often governs with a one-size-fits-all approach which all too often creates unintended consequences.

An example of this is the recent repavement of Broadway Road. A few years ago, Logan County officials received funding for repaving Broadway in part because it experiences an extremely heavy traffic count (sometimes nearing 6,000 per day) which has been wearing away the road surface. This road is one of the busiest in Logan County and serves as a major traffic corridor for those traveling back and forth from Oklahoma and Logan Counties. In fact, there is significantly more traffic on Broadway, a county maintained road, than the closest state highway. The road also provides a corridor for heavy construction traffic in this rapidly growing area. All of this traffic has understandably had the effect of wearing away the road surface.

However, as the project was getting underway, state officials discovered that because of federal red tape, the county would not be allowed to use this money to pave the road where the heaviest traffic is located.

A federal rule requires that a road this busy cannot be paved with federal funds unless it is widened and shoulder space is added. However, the amount of funding does not come close to allowing these types of improvements to occur. This means that it was required that the road be repaved farther to the north where the widening is not necessary and the need for repaving is not nearly as strong. Because of this federal rule, the most needy part of the road could not be fixed, while the part of the road that was not so needy received a very nice repaving job. Logan County officials must now find a way to fund the heavily traveled part of the road with other funding sources.

I am sure that the federal officials who implemented the rule that funding could not be used unless the road received significant upgrades did so with the best intentions. However, this across-the-board policy has resulted in an environment where the most used stretch of road still lacks the necessary upgrades, is badly needing to be repaved and has yet to be properly funded. And because it took several years for the government to tell local officials of this requirement, a lot of time has been wasted which could have been used to secure additional funding.

Since the federal government is so far removed from the voice of the people, there is little you or I can do to reverse this policy. I don't believe this the form of government we want interfering in other important issues such as health care.