Monday, February 23, 2015

It's Your Money!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair

     State Representative Jason Nelson, (R-OKC), and State Senator Clark Jolley, (R-Edmond) have introduced legislation to create Education Saving Accounts in Oklahoma that would allow parents to provide state money to seek alternatives to a public school education for their children even if the children do not have disabilities.  If passed, the state would have to deposit money for a child into the ESA based on family income and on how much money the public schools currently get for the child attending a public school.  Money in the account could be used for accredited on-line education, private schools or home schooling.  The monies could also be used to pay for textbooks, tutoring, and achievement tests. Two states, Florida and Arizona, already have similar programs.
      Rep. Nelson said that parents should be the ones making the decision on how their kids should be educated.  “There are parents all over the state who are just as desperate for their child to have a future but their limit is the school where they live, or the opportunities within that school,” Nelson said.
     The Senate version of the bill-SB #609- passed the Senate Education committee last Monday and now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which Jolley chairs.  The Senate version would give parents a debit card with 80% of the amount that goes to the public schools on it.  Parents could use the money to home school their kids or to pay tuition to a private school.  If monies were left over, they could be applied toward the student’s college education. “It gives parents a choice rather than maintaining a monopoly,” Jolley said. 
     Not surprisingly, the public school community opposes the legislation.  Shawn Hime, Oklahoma State School Boards Association executive director said, “We are 100 percent opposed to it.  We spent a lot of time over the past decade talking about accountability and transparency of taxpayer dollars. This voucher proposal will also significantly decrease per pupil revenue for schools. They will pay for private and home school students that had never been a part of the public school funding system.  Now we want to set up a parallel system where taxpayer dollars can be spent for home school students and private school students that have no accountability.
    Linda Hampton, president of the Oklahoma Education Association, said “The problem is, if you take money away from the public school, even if you take one child out, you still have to pay the teacher, the electric bills, and run buses. You’ve still got all the expenses, but now you have less money. It may be called a savings account or a scholarship, but that’s putting lipstick on a pig,  It’s really just a school voucher program.”
    It’s time to give the people of Oklahoma true school choice.  Here are three reasons why.
    First, it’s their money.  It is not the legislature’s money.  It is not the public school’s money.  It is the taxpayer’s money.  In a poll conducted last July among 600 Republican voters statewide, 64% favored the creation of Education Saving Accounts.  That means that a clear majority of Oklahomans favor letting parents decide where their education dollar is spent.  In response to an inquiry from Capital Beat Oklahoma as to why she opposes Nelson’s bill, State Representative Ann Coody, (R-Lawton), who chairs the House Education Committee said, I believe that tax dollars should fund public schools.  Tax dollars do not belong to legislators but to the citizens of Oklahoma.  We are charged with representing our constituents to the best of our ability and according to the principles in which we believe.” 
     Second, public education is not putting out a good product.  That doesn’t mean we have bad teachers or even bad administrators.  It just means we have an inefficient, antiquated education model  in Oklahoma.  We have too many school districts.  We have too many buses and buildings, and electric bills. No one- educators, legislators, school boards- want to confront the elephant in the room, but at some point, it has to be addressed.  Spending for common education in Oklahoma has steadily increased in the past twenty years with no discernible improvement in student test scores.  That is because Oklahoma spends 52 cents of every common education dollar on non-classroom related activities.      
     Third, neither of the bills would significantly impact the per pupil revenue funding for schools.  Property tax revenue would still go to the local school district.  What would change would be the total amount a district gets from the state.  That would present a hardship to school districts who want to do the same thing they have done since 1950, but giving parents control of where their education dollar is spent will produce a better public school that will have to compete in the education marketplace.  That is how it works in the real world.

Monday, February 16, 2015

JUST A LITTLE NUDGE!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

JUST A LITTLE NUDGE!
by Steve Fair

     The Keystone Pipeline is a project that involves a 875-mile pipeline that would run from Morgan, Montana to Steele City, Nebraska. Building this northern link would allow over 800,000 barrels of oil per day to move from the Canada, to refineries on the Gulf Coast.  The opponents of the pipeline say it will increase greenhouse gas emissions and increase the risk of water pollution from spills.  Supporters say the pipeline is about national security and jobs.  The Obama administration has steadfastly opposed the pipeline since he was elected in 2008. 
      Last week, the U.S. Senate passed the Keystone Pipeline bill 62-36, with two Senators not voting, including Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who was reportedly fundraising in California.  Both Oklahoma Senators voted for the bill.  Nine Democrats joined 53 Republicans to vote for the bill. 
     Oklahoma U.S. Senator James Lankford released this statement about the bill; “The Keystone XL pipeline infrastructure project would infuse billions of dollars into our economy and it would support thousands of good-paying American jobs, all in an environmentally responsible way. The delay of this project has been far too long. Building a pipeline should not take an act of Congress. The Administration has blocked the pipeline for six years saying they are ‘studying’ the route. No other administration in history, of either party, has ever held up a private construction project like this Administration.”
     The U.S. House passed the Senate version on Wednesday, 270 to 152, with 10 members not voting.  All five Oklahoma Congressman voted for the bill. Twenty nine(29) Democrats joined 241 Republicans in the affirmative. 
     Congressman Tom Cole released this statement concerning Keystone: “While the president has stated his intention to veto this bipartisan, bicameral legislation, I hope that he reconsiders and chooses the way of the American people, rather than catering to environmental extremists.”
     President Obama has remained consistent and says he will veto Keystone when it reaches his desk.  It does not appear the GOP have the votes to overturn the veto.  They would need five more votes in the Senate and twenty more in the House.  Here are three reasons Keystone should be built:
     First, it is fundamentally Un-American for the government to block private business in a commercial act. Government regulations are one thing but if a president can stop private business from legally doing business, that is quite another.  No other president- in either party- has even attempted to stop legal commerce from being conducted by legal businesses.  This president has taken overreach to a new level.  If he is effective at stopping Keystone, it will establish a dangerous precedent for future leaders.    
     Second, building the pipeline will reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.  That speaks to America’s national security.  When we buy oil from counties that support terrorism, we are in effect doing business with the enemy. 
     Third, the America people clearly support completing the Pipeline.  In five polls conducted by liberal media organizations, only about 25% of those polls said they opposed construction of the Pipeline.  Yet the President is firm that he opposes.  According to deputy press secretary Eric Schultz,  “The president has announced that he would oppose and veto any legislative maneuvering to circumvent the State Department’s review process, so he will indeed be vetoing it.” In a representative form of government, we expect our leaders to listen to us.  We want our elected officials to support what we support and oppose what we oppose.   
     Oklahoma’s elected representatives are firmly in support of Keystone and lobbying them is not really necessary, but if you have friends and family in other states, tell them to contact their Congressman and U.S. Senators.  If those elected officials believe their political future is in jeopardy if they don’t support Keystone, then a veto override is very possible.  There are certainly enough conservative Democrats in the House and Senate to override.  They just need a little nudge from the people.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

NATIONAL POPULAR VOTE COMPACT IS LOOSE!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

NPV COMPACT IS LOOSE!
By Steve Fair
     Once again the National Popular Vote Compact (NPV) has reared its ugly head in Oklahoma.  State Representative Lee Denney, (R-Cushing) has filed a bill to have Oklahoma join ten(10) states and the District of Columbia in an agreement to cast our presidential electoral votes for the candidate who wins the majority of the popular vote.   Former legislators Rob Johnson and Don Armes, both Republicans, are promoting it.  During their tenure in the legislature, both Armes and Johnson filed several bills promoting the NPV. 
     This week, Johnson released the results of a poll where he claims 79% of Oklahomans favor National Popular Vote.  The poll was supposedly taken January 19th and 20th by Public Policy Polling interviewing 893 people statewide across all party affiliation voters.   Johnson believes Oklahoma’s participation in the compact will result in the Sooner state getting more attention in the presidential race and that the Electoral College hurts turnout and is unfair because in four presidential races in American history the candidate that lost the popular vote won the electoral vote.  But there are more than just a few fishhooks in the NPV Compact.
     First and foremost, if Johnson’s proposal would have been in place in 2008 and 2012, Oklahoma’s electoral votes would have been counted for President Obama.  That’s right- the reddest state in the country would have cast 7 electoral votes for Obama even though the state voted overwhelmingly Republican.  How is that right?  It isn’t right and it doesn’t make any sense. 
     Second, let’s talk about the poll.  Polls are only as good as the pollster and Public Policy Polling is known for leaning Democrat and supporting progressive campaigns.  PPP is a North Carolina company founded by Dean Debham.  They are known for conducting unconventional polls like asking voters if they approve of God, and polling Republican voters asking if President Obama would be allowed to enter heaven if the rapture happened today.  It is a known fact that poll results can be manipulated and how polling questions are worded and presented can definitely skew the results.  There is no way that nearly 80% of Oklahomans approve of NPV, especially if those polled had been told if the system had been in place in 2012 Oklahoma’s electoral voters would have went to Obama.
     Third, why do we once again have to fight a battle over NPV in Oklahoma?  It seems every year some clueless Republican after a nice junket to a fancy resort will drink the NPV Kool aid and file a bill to align Oklahoma with the liberal states.  Opposition to the NPV has been in the OKGOP platform for years.  Why are Republicans promoting this?  Perhaps they are unaware the ten states in the compact are liberal.  California, New York, Washington and Illinois are among the ten- all large liberal states.   The Chairman of the organization behind National Popular invented the lottery scratch card and made a fortune promoting state lotteries.  The NPV crowd has plenty of money and that is why they can afford to hire former legislators to lobby their friends on NPV. 
     Fourth, NPV is a real threat.  It will not go away.  Each year, they make some progress toward that goal of 270 and when they hit it, Republicans will have no chance of winning a presidential election.  The ten states currently on board with the compact comprise 165 electoral votes or 30% of the total.  They need 270 votes for the compact to go into effect.  They are at 60% of their goal.
      America’s founding fathers put into place a system to indirectly elect the president using the Electoral College.  The brilliance of the plan is that it gives a disproportionate amount of influence to ‘small’ states in the union.  Oklahoma is a small state.  NPV would do exactly the opposite of what its advocates claim it would do.  It would dilute Oklahoma’s influence and make us completely irrelevant in the presidential election process.   Contact your state representative and state senator today and tell them to oppose the NPV compact bill.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Article Five Convention is a BAD IDEA!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
ARTICLE FIVE CONVENTION IS A BAD IDEA!
by Steve Fair
     Article Five of the U.S. Constitution describes the process the Constitution may be amended. There are two ways- first, by a supermajority of Congress and second, by two thirds (34) of the states calling for an Article Five convention.  The U.S. Constitution has never been amended by a state called convention.  All seventeen amendments to the founding document were done through the legislative process and then ratified by the states.

     Some well-known conservatives are calling for an Article Five constitutional convention for the purpose of dealing with two issues, a balanced budget amendment and term limits.  Former Oklahoma U.S. Senator Tom Coburn is on board for an Article Five convention.  He recently said, I think [George] Mason was prophetic that we would devolve to where the federal government became too powerful, too big and too unwieldy. That’s why he put Article V in.  I think we ought to have a balanced budget amendment, I think we ought to have term limits. I think we ought to put a chokehold on regulation and re-establish the powers of the Congress,” Other prominent conservatives supporting an Article Five convention are Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity, David Barton, Rick Green and Glenn Beck.   Conservative groups opposing an Article Five include Eagle Forum (Phyllis Schalfly) and the John Birch Society.

     It remains unclear if the 34 state threshold has been reached, but for sure it is close.  On January 6th, very quietly, the U.S. House passed a rule starting an official process for tabulating the state applications for an Article Five convention.  The action wasn’t widely reported by the media, but the counting has begun. 

     Here in Oklahoma, State Representative Gary Banz, (R-Midwest City) has presented bills to have Oklahoma support an Article Five convention the last two sessions.  They have been defeated because of hard work from grassroots activists within the GOP. Here are three reasons to oppose an Article Five convention:

     First, George Soros supports it.  That’s right- all those prominent conservatives and a very prominent liberal support an Article Five.  And he is not the only liberal that supports it.    Soros understands the convention would likely spiral out of control and deal with a lot more issues than just ones conservatives want to deal with.   On their website, WolfPac, a Soros funded organization, writes they would like to have a convention so they can achieve, ‘their ultimate goal,’  which is to pass an amendment ending corporate personhood and ‘publicly’ financing all elections in the U.S.  That is socialism, pure and simple. When liberals like Soros are on board with an idea, conservatives should be especially leery. 

     Secondly and most importantly, how will the delegates to an Article Five be apportioned?  Will each state get one vote like in 1787 in Philadelphia or will it be according to population?  There is no provision in Article Five outlining the process, so if Congress is making the rules, it will likely be done by population.  That means the more populous areas of the US, which are more liberal, will control the convention and that is no good for conservatives.

     Third, there is no guarantee only term limits and the balanced budget amendment would be the only issues considered.  The convention itself would control the agenda, not Congress or the states.  If the apportionment is done by population, then other issues and amendments could be offered.  The result would be a runaway convention. 
     There are solid principled conservatives on both sides of the Article Five issue.  I have many friends who support an Article Five convention and the only places we disagree are where they are wrong!  An Article Five convention is not the answer.  Convening an untried, unproven constitutional convention in today’s modern times is just too risky.  The real answer is for the citizens of the U.S. to take equity in their government and put sufficient pressure on their federal representatives to do the right thing and pass the amendments with a 2/3 majority in Congress and then lobby to have ratified in their state.  If those promoting an Article Five had spent as much time and energy educating the general public on the current state of affairs as they have spent on promoting a never before tired method, perhaps Congress would have already done the right thing.  An Article Five convention is a bad idea!  Contact your Oklahoma state representative and state senator and tell them to oppose any proposal for Oklahoma to call for an Article Five convention.


Monday, January 26, 2015

TERM LIMIT PROPOSALS!

Weekly Opinion Editorial
TERM LIMIT PROPOSALS- ONE GOOD/ONE BAD!
by Steve Fair
     Last week, 1,219 bills and 26 joint resolutions were filed in the Oklahoma House of Representatives.  Over in the Senate 815 bills and 34 joint resolutions were filed.  Thankfully not all the bills will make it out of committee and get to the floor for a vote.  I want to spotlight two of the joint resolutions filed in the House that deal with term limits- one for the legislature and one for county elected officials. 
     State Representative Paul Wesselhoft, (R-Moore), has filed a joint resolution to ask voters if they want to vote on legislative term limits again. “Each time we term out we lose good people with a great deal of knowledge and leadership,” Wesselhoft said. “This empowers the lobbyist and the directors of agencies, which gives them too much influence over government. This bill will not apply to any of the representatives voting on it. This is for future legislators only.”
     State Representative Dennis Johnson, (R-Duncan), has filed a joint resolution that if approved by the voters would limit county elected officials to sixteen years(16) in office- four-4 year terms.  “We have term limits for our statewide elected officials and the legislature.  I believe it is time to let the people decide if they want to extend that to their county elected officials,” Johnson said.
     Here are my thoughts on the two proposals:
     First, Wesselhoft is absolutely correct that lobbyists and state agency bureaucrats have too much influence in what goes on at 23rd and Lincoln.  He is also correct that term limits allow influence peddlers and special interests to simply ‘wait out’ a legislator who is questioning their budget or policies.  But Wesselhoft’s solution to eliminate term limits is not the answer.  The long term answer is to elect individuals that are knowledgeable and informed when they arrive. All too often newly elected legislators are green as grass and special interests and influence peddlers are more than happy to ‘educate’ them. That is the basic fundamental problem and Wesselhoft’s solution won’t change that. 
     It is particularly frustrating when newly elected lawmakers listen to special interest groups more than those that elected them, but it is doubly aggravating when it is a veteran legislator.  In recent sessions, veteran Republican legislators have proposed bills that conflict with the Oklahoma Republican Party platform.  When confronted about the inconsistency, they either pled ignorance or said the platform was wrong on that issue and they were right.  In 2014, National Popular Vote and Common Core were the most glaring reminders that state lawmakers had no idea- or didn’t care- what their constituents thought about an issue.  Instead of listening to lobbyists and special interests, legislators should be talking to those in their district about the issues.  Eliminating term limits won’t fix that problem.
     Second, term limits have been good for Oklahoma.  During the 100 year ‘reign of terror’ by the Democrat Party in Oklahoma, legislators served for decades.  The result was a corrupt, good ole boy system of government that created a business environment that hurt growth and recruitment.  After term limits and ultimately Republican control, substantive issues like tort reform, workers comp reform, infrastructure, and pension reform have been addressed.  Oklahoma’s state legislature has accomplished more in the past 14 years than the first 100 years and that is partially due to term limits. 
     Representative Johnson’s proposal would simply send to a vote of the people a question on whether they want to extend term limits to county elected officials.  Term limits allows for turnover in elective office.  That is a good thing.  Those offices belong to the people, not to the office holder. 
The arrogance of someone believing they are indispensable and term limits shouldn’t be imposed on them slays me.   No one is indispensable or so important they can’t be replaced.  Let someone else function in that position.  When we-the Republicans- were pushing for legislative term limits back in the 1980s, Democrats moaned and said passing term limits would cause the legislature to suffer from a lack of ‘institutional knowledge.’  That lack of ‘institutional knowledge’ has been good for Oklahoma. So will Johnson’s proposal for Oklahoma county government.  Contact your local state legislator and encourage them to support Johnson’s House Joint Resolution on term limits.