Monday, June 27, 2011

A Refreshing Change of Pace

In past updates I have described how Governor Mary Fallin has played an important role in calling for and ensuring the passage of innovative proposals to cut the size of state government and make it more open and transparent.

In addition to getting the word out about the Governor’s hard work for reform, I feel it is also important to mention the work of other newly elected and appointed statewide officials.

This year I worked with several new officials on various modernization proposals and enjoyed observing and (when possible) assisting them in their efforts to institute reforms.

I have observed many times in state bureaucracy that the executive officer of an agency places a heavy emphasis on the fact that funding has been reduced, the subsequent pressing financial needs of the agency, and an ensuing request for more money. This point is so heavily emphasized that the agency director often leaves little opportunity to focus on innovative ways to remove wasteful spending practices or to apply technology to cut costs.

It is rare and almost unheard of for an agency head to actually request a reduction in funding. This is disappointing as I believe the foremost focus of state government leaders should be to provide better service to taxpayers for less cost.

We all know there are a significant amount of wasteful spending practices in state government. This common belief has been confirmed with just about every independent consultant’s report I have seen since taking office. During this same amount of time, however, I have rarely observed state agency heads admit to wasteful practices taking place within their departments. Worse yet, some agencies actually oppose modernization and efficiency efforts that result in savings.

I have looked froward to the day when a state agency official would actually call for a reduction in appropriations as a way of demonstrating their agency’s commitment to providing a more streamlined, efficient service.

That is why it was so encouraging when newly appointed Secretary of State Glenn Coffee requested a complete elimination of all appropriations for the Secretary of State’s office. Coffee made the request early in the session when speaking to a legislative appropriations oversight committee on which I serve. Coffee’s request sent a strong message that the new administration would not only call for fiscal conservatism within state government, but would also immediately apply those principles to their own offices.

The Legislature accepted Coffee’s request and completely removed all appropriations for his office. The Secretary of State’s office will now be funded by existing fees for service, and I did not observe that any of these fees were increased.

Coffee’s request was a refreshing change of pace to a legislative body that has become so accustomed to demands for more money and traditional excuses as to why agencies cannot innovate and reduce the scope of their budgets.

In my next update I will write about working with several of Oklahoma's other executive branch officials to enhance transparency and cut costs.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Year of the Reprimand

The Oklahoma Constitution contains a clause that says that for any speech or debate in the Legislature, legislators shall not be questioned in any other place. In other words, the speech of Representatives while considering legislation is sacrosanct. The clause mirrors a provision in the US Constitution and places a priority on the ability of legislators without fear of retribution to expose any wrong, debate any idea, and express any point of view, regardless of how unpopular or controversial the viewpoint.

For the past five years as I have served in the Legislature, I have observed plenty of political grandstanding, less-than-accurate demonization of the opposition, and significant amounts of hyperbole. I have also witnessed countless dilatory and unnecessary procedure motions which are designed to throw a monkey wrench into the process. This mostly serves to force the other Representatives into a time crunch to such an extent that they have to dispense with normal debate procedures, and thus the dilatory parliamentary process does little more than take away the opportunity for the debate and counteracts the stated end goal of those who engage in those tactics.

But all of that is part of the process. It is the prerogative of any Representative to be an obnoxious jerk if that is what he thinks he must do to make his point. He will be judged by those he represents and unless he is subject to impeachment, it has not been the place of other Representatives to stand in judgement of his actions.

At least not until this year.

This year we have inexplicably been asked not once, not twice, but three times to vote for a “motion to reprimand” our fellow Representatives. Unbelievably, the last of these motions was made to reprimand a Representative specifically for comments made in debating for passage of a bill.

I have voted against the motion to reprimand each and every time. I know it is not my place to judge an elected Representative from another district and I never want my vote to reprimand another Representative to be used as a political tool against them in their next election. The voters of that district should be the ones who stand in judgement of their Representative’s actions.

These demoralizing motions have greatly reduced the dignity of the House and have created an atmosphere where the House floor feels a bit like a grade school playground. This playground is roamed by a few bullies who are natural political grandstanders and have no problem inflicting pain and humiliation to a colleague in order to advance their own warped vision of a successful political career. The newly discovered “motion to reprimand” could be their perfect tool for inflicting this pain to anyone who dares cause them trouble or who does not fit their view of being politically correct. And make no mistake, it will be deployed in the next campaign season to try to defeat the victims of the reprimands.

I believe this alarming and inappropriate new trend will have a stifling effect on the ability of Representatives to debate issues openly, and I think it is contrary to the spirit of the important Constitutional provision I previously referenced. Every comment and debate, both on and off the House floor, must now be carefully couched to ensure that it cannot be used by the opposition to engage in the latest political correctness witch hunt followed by the now dreaded “motion to reprimand."

I believe these unfortunate actions will cause many to think back on this year as the year when politicians played a series of unprecedented petty games which demeaned the reputation of the House. This is unfortunate because there have been a number of significant policy accomplishments this year.

I certainly hope this was a temporary trend, that Oklahoma legislators will stop the foolishness, and that the year of the reprimand will be never again be repeated.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Modernization Efforts Approved

Three weeks ago I wrote an article in which I described how most our 2011 modernization initiatives were still pending in the legislative process. With only one week left in the session, it was our challenge to win approval for all these initiatives.

I am happy to report that during the last week of session, each of these proposals were approved by the Legislature and all the legislation has been signed by Governor Fallin over the last few days.

The proposals aggressively consolidate a significant number of state government processes and several state agencies. These changes are transformative and if implemented correctly, will result in millions of dollars of yearly savings to the taxpayer.

Additionally, there are a myriad of smaller accompanying proposals designed to utilize technology to provide transparency and process efficiencies that will continue to transform Oklahoma state governance structure into a more open and efficient model.

It is my goal to write about a number of these initiatives in the upcoming weeks. In the past, I provided House District 31 constituents with an end-of-the-year update of modernization efforts over the course of a few updates. However, this year the reforms are so comprehensive and wide ranging, I could write a book describing the changes and the impact I believe they will have.

These changes came about because of the dedicated effort of a number of individuals.

Our House Speaker Kris Steele and our House leadership made a 100% commitment to modernizing state government. They stood by that commitment through the entire session and I cannot recall a single modernization proposal that was stopped by leadership. The members of our House Government Modernization Committee stood by, and sponsored or co-sponsored the modernization efforts and helped elevate the importance of the issues with our House colleagues.

The reforms would never have happened without the work and support of Senate President Pro-Temp Brian Bingman, Senators Clark Jolley, Anthony Sykes and Josh Breechen. These four senators sponsored almost all of the legislative modernization proposals and did a great job vetting the issues with and winning the support of the Senate.

Governor Mary Fallin made all the difference by calling for reforms from the very beginning of session. After her call for change, some of these proposals met with significant resistance; however, the Governor never backed down from her proposals but worked through the opposition. In my view this leadership was very much the reason for why we were able to maintain the necessary support for these far-reaching reforms in the face of opposition.

At some point in the future I also intend to write about the support and input regarding modernization and streamlining of services that we have received from nearly all of the other statewide elected officials.

It has been such a privilege to work with those who are committed to reducing the burden of government on Oklahoma taxpayers while taking to heart the taxpayers’ trust to guard their money.