Saturday, November 27, 2010

Are Traditional Values a Frivolous Distraction?

In last week’s article I commented on the fact that this is the time of year when policy is already starting to be established for the upcoming session of the Oklahoma Legislature.

I noted that the important issue of property tax reform is set to be discussed as Representative David Dank has once again filed the property tax reform proposal. I also pointed to the encouraging sign that perhaps important legislative process reforms will be initiated following the convening of a task force by House Speaker-elect Kris Steele for that purpose.

I view these as positive first signs and I enjoy writing about them because it is has been my intent to use these articles to provide a special emphasis on positive news as a counter to all of the discouraging news we hear about in politics these days.

However, I feel an obligation to communicate all of the facts both good and bad and a Thanksgiving day news article about this year’s upcoming legislation destroyed some of this optimism and started a firestorm within the House Republican caucus. The article indicated that Steele and other Republican leaders want to place an emphasis on economic issues while reducing focus from frivolous distractions such as the defense of traditional values, immigration reform, second amendment issues, and presumably the related states’ rights legislation. Since when have Republicans considered traditional values issues to be frivolous?

Until now, this type of rhetoric has been used by the Democrats to demonize traditional values legislation and the courageous legislators who advanced it. To have this attitude now being seemingly being endorsed by our own Speaker of the House is devastating.

A follow-up article indicated that one of the issues on which Steele does want us to focus is his proposal to allow government entities to regulate smoking within privately owned businesses. Very few voters voted for the Republicans in order to empower Republicans to allow government to get bigger. It was a shock to realize that our leadership would seem to suggest that we should not focus on the issues which have defined our party but instead should consider allowing government regulation to expand.

Republicans were elected to head up both the legislative and executive branches of state government for first time in state history because the people of Oklahoma desperately want state government to stand up to the federal government. Oklahomans want us to assert our rights under the tenth amendment, stop the insanity being propagated in Washington DC, roll back mountains of government waste and inefficiencies which generations of Democrat office holders allowed to become institutions of state government and which are costing Oklahoma taxpayers so much money in waste, shrink the state tax code so that Oklahoma can compete with states who do not have an income tax for economic growth, defend against the assault on the traditional values which have made our nation great, and remove the government regulations which have built up over the years against our important freedoms such as our second amendment rights.

Along with Oklahomans, I maintain that these issues are not frivolous distractions. Rather, they are the core principles which resulted in Republicans being elected to office. It appears these principles are now under an all-out assault and in the next few months it will be our responsibility as officer holders to stand up and defend them despite efforts by our leadership to do otherwise.

This will be a fight to preserve honestly and integrity. Nearly every Republican campaigned for office on these principles (especially those who represent rural areas where traditional values are extremely important). It is shocking to think that once elected, Republican office holders would break their word and abandon the principles espoused in their campaign materials simply because the powerful special interests in Oklahoma City view them as embarrassing frivolous distractions.

Next week I will provide some insights as to why conservative office holders are especially frustrated by this turn of events.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Changes in Oklahoma Government

Last week the new members of the Oklahoma Legislature took their oath of office. This action officially commenced the term of the 53rd Legislature which will last for the next two years.

Unlike Congress, the Oklahoma legislature does not have much opportunity to conduct business as a lame duck legislature. The new legislators are taking office just two weeks after being elected.

This sets in motion a series of legislative deadlines as in the upcoming few weeks legislation will be filed, new leadership teams will be appointed, the committee structure will be reviewed and new committee chairmen and vice-chairman will assume their new roles.

Compounding this level of rapidly occurring change is the fact that not only will new leadership teams take office in both the House and Senate due to the term limits of the House Speaker and Senate Speaker Pro-Temp but almost all statewide officials will leave office and, as of January 10th, a new team of statewide elected officials will start their terms.

These new officials are now seeking to establish their team of employees. This has created a talent vacuum as many of the individuals who will influence the shaping and implementation of policy are are now being retained by the new state officials and legislative leaders.

The newly elected officials are now making some of the most important decisions that they will ever make because the quality of their service will be extremely dependent on the work of the people whom they choose to operate their offices.

This presents opportunities for those who have worked hard over the past few years and have developed a reputation for having conservative values, interacting well with the public and being dependable and efficient. Their services are now in high demand. As an example, one of my former legislative assistants received three invitations to apply for work with a new office holder in just the last few days alone.

The first new policy proposals are also starting to take shape. Last week, House of Representatives Speaker-elect Kris Steele commissioned a committee to consider reforms in the legislative process with a goal of enhancing legislative transparency. Two of these possible reforms will include the requirement for House conference committees to meet in public before approving legislation and eliminating the loophole by which legislation presented to the House in the last two days of the legislative session does not have to be posted to public purview for a certain amount of time prior to consideration by the House.

You may recall my past updates in which I described how a substantial amount of legislation is presented in these last two days which greatly leads to the opportunity for changes to be placed into law without the ability of legislators or the public to know or understand the impact of the change.

These reforms, if enacted, will go a long way in making the legislative process more transparent and would continue a series of recent reforms which is transforming the legislative process to being much more open.

Property tax reform is one of the most demanded reforms by House District 31 constituents. Representative David Dank has already filed HJR 1001 and HJR 1002 which once again seek to implement property tax reform.

This is also the time when new legislative office assignments occur and as an item of note my office will be moving from office number 400B to office number 437 starting as of this week. Please direct all future written correspondence to Office 437, 2300 North Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, 73105.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Defending an Important Principle

The events of the most recent election cycle have reminded me of the importance of what I believe to be one of the important governing principles established by our nation’s and state’s founding fathers.

When I sought election to office in 2006, one of the key components of my message to prospective voters was my opposition to efforts in the Legislature to increase State Representatives’ term of office to four years.

Currently, Oklahoma Representatives serve for two-year terms. I have observed that this makes the House of Representatives very responsive to the values of the people of Oklahoma. Each Representative must treat his constituents’ concerns with respect because the Representative knows he will be subject to a vote within a 24-month time period.

I also believe this is the reason that the House is likely to be the branch of the Legislature to generate new ideas for reform. Being forced to campaign for re-election every two years means the Representatives must talk to their constituents and listen to the latest ideas for change. This means that the House is more likely to sponsor these new ideas sooner rather than later.

The concept that the lower House of the Legislature (in this case, the House of Representatives) should be the closest to the people dates back many years and can be tied to the British governing principle where the lower House is known as the House of Commons and represents the values of regular citizens.

This important principle was copied by our nation’s founding fathers when they designed the lower House of the American Congress to be subject to re-election every two years. The writer of the 55th Federalist Paper (either Alexander Hamilton or James Madison) opined that it would be difficult for a member of the House of Representatives to dare to betray the trust committed to him by the voters within the short span of two years.

This policy was subsequently copied by our state’s founding fathers when they determined that members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives should stand for re-election every two years.

Also, much the same as our federal Congress, the Oklahoma Senate was designed to have longer serving terms because this policy insulates Senators from the sentiment of the moment and provides that they can afford to be a more deliberative legislative body.

The recent election cycle is a fantastic demonstration of the wisdom of our founding fathers. A historic number of Representatives were defeated this year because all the members of the federal House of Representatives were subject to re-election and because there was a significant consensus that Congress was not representing the values of the people. The Senate did not experience this same changeover because only a third of the Senators were eligible for re-election. Should Congress continue to not represent the values of the people, it is very likely that the leadership of the Senate will also change in upcoming years.

This is just one of many important and time tested principles that have been handed down to us through the years. Defending the application of this wise principle to Oklahoma governance became an important part of my desire to seek office in 2006. I am glad to report that after that election, efforts to change the terms of office of Oklahoma Representatives were abandoned. I believe this was in part because of the strong message sent by local voters.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Working with House Speaker Chris Benge

Last week the House of Representatives’ Republican caucus met for the first time since the recent election to elect new officers and prepare for the upcoming legislative session. The 70 person caucus contains members from every part of Oklahoma, including districts which have never before elected Republican representatives.

Since the next Legislature will take office next week, a number of the colleagues with whom I have worked in the past few years will be leaving the Legislature, including House Speaker Chris Benge who is term limited.

I have enjoyed the opportunity to work with Speaker Benge. I have found him to be one of the most honorable legislators. He was not one of the legislators who would play the political games which all too many politicians play. He treated legislators with respect. If he told us that he would support our idea then that is what he would do. If he opposed your idea then he was strong enough to accept responsibility for opposing it. I observed that he was not one of the politicians who would pass the buck by making it appear as if he were for your issue while secretly having it killed.

Benge placed a high priority on fiscal responsibility issues. His desire to guard the taxpayer dollar meant that he was extremely supportive of ideas for cutting government spending. He maintained that support even when our ideas came under heavy attack from those seeking to maintain the status-quo.

Benge’s support was extremely vital at the end of the 2009 legislative session when members of the opposition party launched a very aggressive attack against our effort to save millions of taxpayer dollars through streamlining the State’s IT infrastructure. Under Benge’s leadership the House passed the measure. The savings from this proposal are now set to come online at a time when state policy leaders will be required to cut millions of dollars of state spending.

I enjoy the opportunity to watch governance systems and learn from the mistakes and successes of policy leaders. I very much benefited from observing the system Benge used to develop and implement policy. Using the infrastructure put in place by previous House Speaker Lance Cargill, Benge utilized the talents of a team of energetic and intelligent policy professionals to maintain a communication pipeline with legislators, issue stakeholders, state officials and the office of the Speaker. This provided an efficient method for the dissemination of the enormous amounts of information that must be processed for the development and advancement of policy. It would have been easy for Benge to tear down his predecessor's infrastructure but instead he took advantage of it and used it in what I believe to be an effective manner.

One of Benge’s best long-term legacies will result from his courageous decision to allow the video broadcast of House proceedings. Because these feeds are archived, indexed and linkable they will greatly enable the citizens of Oklahoma to examine legislative actions for many years to come.

I developed the most respect for Speaker Benge in those times that I opposed his policies. It can be considered a risky event for a representative to vote against his own party’s Speaker’s legislation. However, I did this several times and was on more than one occasion one of just a very few representatives to do so. However, I never experienced retaliation for these votes and was never pressured to change my vote.

I am honored to have been able to work under the leadership of Speaker Benge and appreciate being able to learn from his example.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Setting the Record Straight about SQ 754

During the past few days I have received several questions from those who are worried about the possible implications of voting for State Question 754. They are worried because of this statement which has been appended to the question’s ballot title: “Thus, under the measure, once adopted, the measure could not be effectively amended. Nor could it be repealed.”

This is understandably a reason for concern because no one wants to vote for something which cannot be amended. However, the statement that it cannot be amended is completely false. The bill states that provisions of the Constitution cannot force the Legislature to appropriate money by a pre-determined formula such as the one proposed by State Question 744 (the effort to force the Legislature to appropriate common education funds based on the way other states appropriate education funds). However, nothing in the bill prevents the people of Oklahoma from amending this section of the Constitution in the future.

The Attorney General has the power to change the way the ballot title reads before it is submitted to a vote of the people and this ballot title was changed by the Attorney General’s office. This is an extremely important responsibility because very few people ever read the bill and will be completely dependant on the ballot title to give them a proper perspective of the Constitutional change.

Here is the ballot title for SQ 754 as approved by the Legislature. This is the version most people will never see:

“This measure amends the Oklahoma Constitution. It would add a new Section 55A to Article 5. It relates to the state budget. It relates to the ability of the Legislature to spend money each year. It would allow the Legislature to make decisions about the state budget. The Legislature would be able to decide how much money to spend each year. The Legislature would not be required to spend a certain amount of money for any one government service or function. If this amendment is adopted, the Oklahoma Constitution could not require the Legislature to do this. If this amendment is adopted, the Oklahoma Constitution could not require the Legislature to make spending decisions based on how much money any other state spent.”

Here is the title as re-written by the Attorney General:

“This measure adds a new section to the Oklahoma Constitution. It adds Section 55A to Article 5. The Legislature designates amounts of money to be used for certain functions. These designations are called appropriations. The measure deals with the appropriation process. The measure limits how the Constitution could control that process. Under the measure the Constitution could not require the Legislature to fund state functions based on:

1. Predetermined constitutional formulas, 2. How much other states spend on a function, 3. How much any entity spends on a function.

Under the measure, these limits on the Constitution's power to control appropriations would apply even if: 1. A later constitutional amendment changed the Constitution, or 2. A constitutional amendment to the contrary was passed at the same time as this measure.

Thus, under the measure, once adopted, the measure could not be effectively amended. Nor could it be repealed.”

It’s important to reiterate that nothing in the bill prevents the people of Oklahoma from voting to repeal or amending Section 55A of the Constitution. You can see for yourself by reading the actual bill (