Monday, April 21, 2014

ALEC Report Revealing!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
ALEC REPORT REVEALING!
by Steve Fair

     Last week, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) released their 2014 report on state economies.  The report, entitled Rich States/Poor States, uses fifteen(15) policy areas that have proven, over time, to be the best determinants of economic success in ranking the economies of the fifty states.  Each of these factors is influenced directly by state lawmakers through the legislative process. The report is authored by Art Laffer (of Laffer curve fame), Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal, and Jonathan Moore, an economist with ALEC.  The report, also known as the Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index,  has gained a great deal of creditability in recent years and in its sixth year of publication. 
     So how did the Sooner state do in the report?  In the category of Economic Performance we ranked 12th in the U.S.; in Economic Outlook, we ranked 19th?  Why the difference?  Currently the Sooner state’s economy is doing well, largely because the energy sector is doing well, but according to the report, that monolithic approach is short sighted. Oklahoma needs to be more diversify in our economy.  The report goes on to point out Oklahoma state government has too many employees.  There are 566 state employees per 10,000 population in Oklahoma; only 16 other states have more bureaucrats per capita.  Oklahoma’s property tax burden and inheritance tax is low, which is a positive, but our state income tax is still high for the region.  Oklahoma ranked high in workers comp premiums, even though the legislature passed historical reform last session that should fix that.  The ranking for tort didn’t reflect the changes the Oklahoma legislature made in special session to limit reform tort in the state. So what can we learn from the ALEC report?
     First, Oklahoma still has work to do in reducing taxes.  There have been several proposals to significantly reduce the state income tax, but each year the plans fail to address the spending side of the ledger.  The ALEC report highlighted Kansas calling the tax reform spearheaded by Governor Sam Brownback an ‘uprising.’   Brownback and the State House in the Sunshine state reduced the personal income tax and tax on small businesses substantially in just one year.  “This is all about making Kansas a more competitive place to do business,” Brownback said.  Kansas addressed both sides of the problem.  They cut taxes and cut spending in one legislative session.  While we still are ahead of Kansas in economic performance, they rank higher than Oklahoma in economic outlook. 
     Second, Oklahoma’s economy is still largely dependent on energy.   Oil and gas are vitally important to the Sooner state, but historically that has been an issue when the energy sector slows down.  Oklahoma is a state centrally located, with great human resources and a relatively mild climate.  Oklahoma should be the distribution center capitol of the U.S.  We are at the crossroads of America with two major interstates intersecting in our state.  Every major retailer and wholesaler should have a D.C. in Oklahoma.  We should be very attractive to consumer product goods companies for manufacturing facilities?  Are state leaders and economic development groups pitching companies like M & M Mars?  Mars just built a $270 million dollar plant south of Topeka, Kansas.  The 500,000 square foot plant, the first new plant for the company in 35 years, will employ over 200 people.  Nestle, the largest consumer products goods company in America, has opened six new facilities across America in the past five years, including a large pet food manufacturing plant in Missouri.  Did anyone present Oklahoma to either of those two consumer foods giants?  The consumer goods industry is very stable and while it may not be sexy, they provide good paying jobs.
     Third, the unfunded pension problem is not going away.  Citing a couple of examples of cities in California who declared bankruptcy because of their pension issues, the authors conclude, “ We can expect trends like this to continue if state and local governments refuse to address the public pension problems they are facing.”  Oklahoma has over $11 billion dollars in unfunded pension liability.  Some progress has been made on the issue, but the reforms necessary to fix this looming issue are being skirted.  State legislators can’t just ‘kick the can’ down the road any longer.  They have to deal with pension reform and to really fix it will take some iron rail up the shirt tail. 
     In the preface of the report there are ten(10) Golden Rules of Taxation listed.  Every citizen should read them.  Consistent with Laffer’s supply side economics theory, the first tenet is,  ‘When you tax something more you get less of it, and when you tax something less you get more of it.’  To read the entire report, go to http://alec.org/docs/RSPS-6th-Edition.pdf.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

By Steve Fair


     At 5pm Friday, the filing period for the 2014 election closed.  578 candidates filed at the State Capitol.  In addition to the two U.S. Senate races, five congressional races and ten statewide races, all district judges and associate district judges were up for re-election.  All 27 District Attorneys across Oklahoma are also up for re-election.  So are all 101 members of the State House and 24 members of the State Senate.  Hundreds more filed for county offices across Oklahoma.  Each county in the state has four offices up for election- two county commissioners, the county assessor and the county treasurer.    

     For the first time since 2002, a statewide elected official failed to draw an opponent.  Three Republican statewide elected officials- Gary Jones, State Auditor & Inspector, Scott Pruitt, Attorney General, and Ken Miller, State Treasurer were returned to office without facing an opponent.  That is unprecedented.  One U.S. Congressman, Rep. Jim Bridenstein, (R-Tulsa), a Republican, did not draw an opponent. 

     A seat on the Corporation Commission and the Insurance Commissioner races will be determined in the Republican primary June 24th since no Democrat filed.  This is going to be an interesting election cycle in the state.  Three observations concerning the upcoming elections in Oklahoma;

     First, it is apparent the Democrat Party in Oklahoma is struggling to find viable willing candidates to seek office.  When freshman legislators are returned to office without opposition that says something about the opposing Party.  Normally, a freshman will always face opposition in their first re-election bid.  Either the Democrats have no recruiting mechanism or they have given up the fight and conceded they can’t win in Oklahoma.  During the long days of yesterday, Republican leaders would recruit, equip, and train candidates to at least challenge the Party in power.  Many of those Republican candidates knew going in they were nothing more than a sacrificial lamb, but their willingness to put their name on the ballot blazed a trail for the GOP in Oklahoma.

     Second, it really says a great deal about the job the three statewides are doing if no one in Oklahoma believes they can beat you.  To file unopposed is a conformation of your job performance.  You are more than meeting expectations.  Congratulations! 

      Third, perhaps the Democrat strategy is to keep their powder dry until 2018.  In 2010, Oklahoma voters approved 8 year term limits for statewide elected officials.  Virtually all the statewides will term out in 2018, so perhaps the Ds are telling viable candidates to wait until the seats are open.  Who knows, but one thing is certain- 2014 will be a big Republican year in Oklahoma, in part because the Ds conceded it.

     Fourth, Republicans shouldn’t let this give us the big head.  It has taken over 100 years for Republicans to gain control of Oklahoma government, but we must be aware of what John Dalburg-Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  With power comes responsibility.  May God give Republicans the grace and humility to lead rightly. 

     Filing for office is the easy part of the political process.  Now the fun starts.  Between now and June 24, Republican candidates will be knocking your door, sending you cards and letters, and calling you to attempt to get your vote.  Campaigns cost money- they will be asking you for money.  Campaigns need volunteers- they will be asking you to help them.  Because two statewide offices will be decided in the Republican primary, citizens registered Republican will be solicited more than the Democrats. 
     Every citizen should be involved in the political process.  Whether it is by volunteering in a campaign, donating money or just voting, every citizen should be engaged.  Don’t be a lazy voter who bases their voting decision on likability or a thirty second sound bite.  While it’s desirable elected officials are likable and approachable to their constituents, how they vote and the decisions they make after they are elected is much more important than their likability.   Good citizens should always base their vote and support on substance.  Question the candidates and make a point to know where they stand on the issues.  Let the games begin!

Monday, April 7, 2014

MONEY & POLITICS

Weekly Opinion Editorial

MONEY & POLITICS!

by Steve Fair



     Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that federal campaign laws that limit the total amount of money donors can give to political parties, committees and candidates for federal office (U.S. House, Senate, and President) was unconstitutional.  The ruling will not increase the current $2,600 limit on how much a donor can give to a federal candidate in each primary and general election or the $32,400 limit that can go to a national party committee. Those limits are still in place.  The ruling will instead remove the limit on how many candidates/committees to which a donor can contribute

     "The government has a strong interest, no less critical to our democratic system, in combating corruption and its appearance," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. "We have, however, held that this interest must be limited to a specific kind of corruption — quid pro quo corruption — in order to ensure that the government's efforts do not have the effect of restricting the First Amendment right of citizens to choose who shall govern them."

     Justice Stephen Breyer, writing for the minority, said the decision "understates the importance of protecting the political integrity of our governmental institutions. Today's decision eviscerates our nation's campaign finance laws, leaving a remnant incapable of dealing with the grave problems of democratic legitimacy that those laws were intended to resolve."

     The suit- McCutcheon vs. FEC was supported by the RNC and the ruling was applauded by Chairman Reince Priebus.  "Today's Court decision in McCutcheon v FEC is an important first step toward restoring the voice of candidates and party committees and a vindication for all those who support robust, transparent political discourse," Priebus said.

     Critics like Ruth Marcus, an op/ed writer for The Washington Post said, “The risk posed by the ruling is not as much its immediate impact but the implications of its reasoning in demolishing an already rickety campaign finance structure.”

     Three observations concerning the ruling:

     First, the Supreme Court got it right.  The first amendment trumps federal campaign laws.  Americans have a constitutional right to participate in the political process at whatever level they want- whether it be volunteering for a candidate or contributing money to their campaign.  It’s called free speech and every American should applaud the ruling.  It protects our liberty and freedom.

     Second, it is indisputable that money rules in the political process.  The 2012 presidential campaigns of Obama and Romney spent a combined $2 billion dollars.  Just twenty years ago, Bill Clinton ran his successful 1992 campaign on $92.9 million.  It’s not just running for president that costs so much.  According to the FEC, on average a U.S. House race now cost $1.7 million to win, a U.S. Senate seat $10.5 million.   Candidates at all levels now must raise large sums of money to ‘get their message’ to voters.  State legislative and county candidates must solicit donors for money in order to be competitive in the political arena.  This ruling will likely increase the amount of money in the political process.  Which brings me to point three..

     Third, big donors and political consultants are not to blame for money in politics.  A common misconception is if big donors and political operatives were taken out of the process, big money in politics would dry up.  That is simply not true.  The reason we have so much money in politics is because we have an unengaged & ignorant electorate.’  The average voter is not paying attention.  If voters paid attention to what is going in their government all the time and not just the 90 days before an election, the ‘messaging’ (TV/slick mail pieces) by candidates wouldn’t be nearly as effective.  Currently most people vote based on a candidate’s ‘likeability’ and not on substance.   Ignorant voters believe candidate propaganda and whichever candidate in a race that is the most effective at ‘marketing their message’ wins.  A candidate’s track record, character, values, or stance on the issues has become secondary to image.       

     So how is the amount of money in the American political process reduced?  First, citizens need to pay attention- all the time.  Question your elected officials, research candidates for office and issues.  Don’t just swallow a candidate’s ‘messaging’ propaganda without researching the facts.  Stay engaged in your government- at all levels—24/7/365.  Second, hold elected officials and our government accountable.  Trust, but verify. Once elected, watch what they do and not what they say.    

     America is a country founded on the principle of self governance. If we have poor government, it’s our fault.  If we have too much money in politics, it’s our fault.  It’s time Americans took responsibility for the mess we call our government and quit blaming the system.


Monday, March 31, 2014

COURTS CIRCUMVENT WILL OF PEOPLE!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
COURTS CIRCUMVENT WILL OF PEOPLE!
by Steve Fair

     The second amendment in the U.S. Constitution guarantees a citizen’s right to keep and bear arms.  Article II, Section 26 of the Oklahoma Constitution does much the same thing, but a proposal by two Republican legislators- House Joint Resolution #1026- would add language to make sure an individual Oklahoman’s right to defend themselves is protected.
     State Representative Dan Fisher, (R-Yukon), the author of HJR #1026, believes the added language is needed because of recent wayward rulings by the Oklahoma state Supreme Court.   “Unfortunately, Oklahoma courts have sometimes interpreted the state constitution in ways that go against that intent. Concerned citizens feel it is necessary to place new language into the state constitution to clarify the right, to correct past misinterpretations by Oklahoma courts and to prevent similar misinterpretations from occurring in the future,” Fisher says.  The bill passed the House 87-7 last week and now heads to the state Senate.
     If the JR passes the Senate and makes it to the ballot in November, Oklahoma voters will decide if they want to amend Section 26 to specify, “handguns, rifles, shotguns, knives, nonlethal defensive weapons and other arms in common use, as well as ammunition and the components of arms and ammunition” and add “self-defense” and “lawful hunting and recreation” in order to ensure that courts have less latitude in interpreting the language. The proposed constitutional amendment would also add two subsections to Section 26. The first would clarify that the state could prevent convicted felons and the mentally ill from the possession of arms. The second would prohibit registration or special taxation on arms and ammunition. 
     You wouldn’t think conservative, common sense Oklahoma would need to address something as clear cut and fundamental as the right to defend oneself, but recent rulings by the State Supreme Court have been anything but conservative- or for that matter consistent.  The state’s high court, loaded with liberal Democrat appointees, has ruled against the vote of the people and conservative legislation in several cases.  They threw out the tort reform laws and the tax cut bills because they claimed they violated the single subject provision in the state constitution.  Their inconsistency and judicial activism cost taxpayers money when a special session of the legislature had to be called to deal with tort reform.  Their judicial activism has revealed Oklahoma need for judicial term limits at the appellant and high court level.  Hopefully, that is also something that will be on the ballot in November.
     Critics of HJR #1026 say it is unnecessary and Oklahoma doesn’t need more gun laws, but the recent rulings by the state Supreme Court would refute that claim.   Those same critics say what is happening in other states- tax on ammo/gun registration- could never happen in Oklahoma, but don’t bet on it.  In addition to the two wacko rulings by the state Supreme Court referenced above, two federal judges in Oklahoma have overturned state constitutional amendments that voters overwhelmingly approved.  The ban on gay marriage in Oklahoma and the use of Sharia law in Oklahoma courts were approved 3-1 by the voters, but overturned by the federal courts.  There is no guarantee that once voters approve HJR #1026 that a liberal federal judge will not overturn it.    
     Welcome to the new America- a one where the President says he will advance measures to reduce gun violence "with or without Congress:" An America where the will of the people can be overturned by a liberal judge. If you don’t think your right to defend yourself is under attack, you are living in a dream world.   Please contact your state Senator and ask them to support HJR #1026 when it comes up for a vote.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

GOOD READ!

I ran across this little 97 page book at a thrift store.  I had no idea who Foy Valentine was, so I picked it up and read it on a recent flight.  Valentine was founding editor of Christian Ethics Today and the head of the Southern Baptist Convention's Christian Life Commission from 1960-1987.  He wrote this small book in 1965.  Foy Valentine died in 2006, but the principles in the book are still applicable, even if the pages are faded.  In the final chapter of the book, Valentine offers seven(7) suggestions to Christians concerning their citizenship and involvement in politics.  They are:

  •  MIX RELIGION & POLITICS
  • UNDERSTAND THE ISSUES
  • BE POLITICALLY ACTIVE
  • WORK WITH SPECIAL INTEREST GROUPS
  • RUN FOR OFFICE
  • VOTE INTELLIGENTLY
  • MAINTAIN A HIGHER LOYALTY
I highly recommend interested theologians read this small book.  The chapter on the history of political involvement by members of the Lord's church is very insightful and reveals that abstaining from political involvement by Christians is not rooted in the scripture.  I wasn't able to find the book online for free, however you can buy it on Amazon or download it to your electronic device for a small fee.


Monday, March 24, 2014

STAY OUT OF THE HOG PEN!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
STAY OUT OF THE HOG PEN!

by Steve Fair    



     On Monday, the Oklahoma state Senate Education Committee voted 11-0 to pass HB #3399, which rejects the Common Core standards for Oklahoma public schools.  The bill now heads to the floor of the Senate for a vote, where it is expected to pass.  It remains to be seen if Governor Fallin will sign the bill, but in a statement last week Fallin said, “I have been clear that Oklahoma must take the lead in developing and implementing our own standards and assessments. To protect the principle of local control, and to resist federal overreach from Washington and the Obama administration, I signed last year an executive order outlining Oklahoma's independence in implementing higher standards and student assessments.”  That appears to mean Fallin will sign the bill if it reaches her desk.

      Common Core started off as what seemed like a noble idea- establishing a common nation wide standard for math and reading in public education.  It has become one of the most controversial issues in recent memory.  What exactly is common core?  According to their website, corestandards.org, The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live.”  Sounds pretty good, right?  I mean if you move from Oklahoma to California, you want your child to be reading and siphoning at about the same level as where they were living.   Everyone singing off the same sheet of music so to speak.  And after all it was an initiative by private industry and the NGA right?

     What is not widely known is the NGA was just a ‘front’ for the real proponents of Common Core.  The five ‘authors’ of the Common Core standards were President Obama donors- liberals.  David Axelrod, a liberal senior advisor to President Obama, said during a speech in Chicago last year, that common core was, “an initiative by the Obama administration.”  Rest assured, the goal of Common Core, from the beginning, has been a wholesale takeover by the federal government of common education in America.  That has been the objection since Ike was President- through both D and R Presidents. 

     Some misguided Republicans in the state legislature argue that federal imposed standards for common education are better than no standards.  Oklahoma public schools do have standards for math and reading and while those standards may vary district to district, they do exist

     Some have been puzzled as to why the Home school network has been opposed to Common Core.  The reason is because if CC were implemented, it would impact curriculum, testing and student data gathering for Homeschoolers. 

     The Oklahoma State Republican Party recognizes the threat of Common Core.  Because of that, the platform has a plank opposing implementation of Common Core.  The Republican National Committee, earlier this year, voted unanimously to oppose Common Core.  How is it conservative Red State Oklahoma is fighting this battle within our own ranks?  Why is it legislators with an ‘R’ beside their name are supporting an issue the Republican grassroots oppose?  Why aren’t they listening to their constituents?  Is it duplicity?  Are they misguided? 

     Duplicity is defined as, “contradictory doubleness of thought, speech, or action.”  An Oklahoman would call it being ‘two faced.’  Campaign one way- vote another.  Press release conservative- vote liberal.   I expect the majority of Republican state legislators are honest ethical people who say what they mean and mean what they say.  I don’t think the issue is duplicity.  I believe the real reason we are fighting this battle on Common Core is because lawmakers clearly didn’t do their homework.  State lawmakers accepted a serendipity broad brushed overview that was designed to deceive and mask the liberal overtones and true objectives of Common Core. 

     What is disappointing is hardworking Oklahomans shouldn’t have to hold the hand of our conservative elected officials and educate them when a bill is ‘dirty.’  We shouldn’t have to be telling them what is in our platform.  They should be aware of what the Republican Party stands for.  They should recognize when a liberal organization presents an idea, it is likely liberal.  They should have enough sense to know a pig pen is dirty without crawling into it. 
     Please contact your State Senator today and urge them to vote for HB# 3399 when it reaches the Senate Floor.   Local control of education is at stake.

Monday, March 17, 2014

BILLS MOVE FORWARD!

Weekly Opinion Editorial


   

BILLS MOVE FORWARD! 
by Steve Fair

      
     Thursday March 13th was the deadline for bills and Joint Resolutions to be out of their respective chambers and sent to the other chamber in the Oklahoma legislature.  Here are some of the notable bills that were passed by the legislature:

     House Bill 2508, authored by Rep. Earl Sears, (R-Bartlesville) proposes to cut the personal income-tax rate in Oklahoma from 5.25 to 5 percent beginning in 2016.  This is the same tax cut proposal that was struck down by the Supreme Court because last year’s version supposedly violated the ‘single subject’ rule in the state constitution.  It’s certain Sears’ bill will sail through the Senate and be signed into law. 

     House Bill 2630, authored by Rep. Randy McDaniel, (R-OKC) creates a defined-contribution system for new employees who are part of the Oklahoma Public Employee Retirement System (OPERS).  If signed into law, the system will phase out the state’s ‘defined benefit,’ plans.  This is a good start to fixing the pension crisis in Oklahoma; however this change fails to address the ‘unfunded’ 11 billion dollar deficit in the pension systems.  Pension reform is the number one issue lawmakers face this year. 

     House Bill 3293, authored by Rep. Leslie Osborn, (R-Mustang), would boost state employee salaries to 90 percent of private-sector pay over a four-year period.  The reasoning behind Osborne’s bill is Oklahoma state government is losing employees to the private sector because the state is not competitive in salary.  Oklahoma ranks dead last in the US in what we pay our state employees, but Oklahoma also has more state employees per capita than most states.  What should happen is a reduction in the number of state employees and better pay to those who survive the pruning. 

     House Joint Resolution 1092, by state Reps. Jon Echols, (R-Moore) and Mark McBride, (R- Moore) authorizes local school districts to submit questions to a vote of the people to approve issuing of bonds for the construction or improvement of school safety facilities such as safe rooms or underground storm shelters.  This is a much better solution than floating a statewide bond issue to provide storm shelters for every school in the state.  It gives each local school district the option to handle this locally.     
     Speaker Jeff Hickman, (R-Fairview), authored House Joint Resolution 1033.  The JR asks the people of Oklahoma to approve a $120 million bond to repair and renovate the Capitol building.  There is absolutely no reason to borrow money to fix the Capitol. Currently over $750 million dollars is sitting in Oklahoma state agencies’ ‘reserve accounts.’ If every agency would give back just 20% of their reserve money, no bond would be necessary.   Why is tapping the reserve funds to fix the Capitol not being discussed?  Call your legislator and ask them to use money we already have to fix the people’s house.    

     House Bill 3399, also authored by Hickman, places control over common education standards solely in the hands of Oklahomans. It basically says Oklahoma would opt out of Common Core for a period of two years.  This bill passed the House with a 78-12 margin and now heads to the Senate. 

     The Senate version of HB 3399 is SB 1734, authored by Senators Josh Brecheen, (R-Coalgate) and Anthony Sykes (R-Moore).  SB #1734 would (1) Order the State Board of Education to remove alignment with the K-12 Common Core State Standards, (2) Prohibit Oklahoma from entering into any agreement with any federal agency to establish academic content standards in the public school system, and (3) Establish the Local Curriculum Standards Pilot Program in Oklahoma.  The word is the Senate Education Committee Chairman Ford has stated HB 3399 will receive a hearing in the committee and a Senate floor vote if passed by the committee. 

     “It’s time that Oklahoma’s legislators respond to their constituents and address Common Core’s aim at our children,” said Sykes, R-Moore. “Let's answer the call by Oklahomans and well-studied conservatives across the nation who correctly point out that we have ceded state control to out-of-state interest groups.”  

     Sen. Kyle Loveless, (R-OKC), authored Senate Bill 1651, which would allow $40 million dollars to be taken out of the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund to complete the American Indian Cultural Center Museum.  The AICCM has been a money pit for Oklahoma taxpayers from the beginning.  The museum should solicit private donations and complete without taxpayer funding- period.

     These eight bills and many more now head to the other chamber to be considered.  You can AND SHOULD track their progress through the legislature at oklegislature.gov.
     Remember, conservative Democrats who want to vote in the GOP Senate primary on June 24th must change Party affiliation by March 31st.