February 2018 Editorial Winner

A defining moment
Wayne Trotter, Countywide & Sun

Governance Oklahoma Style has followed a frustrating pattern in the last few years. In the chill of each successive winter, Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, Tecumseh’s favorite daughter, would open a new session of the legislature by reminding its members that the state must pay its bills and its employees and teachers have to pay theirs as well. At that point, Gov. Fallin typically would roll out a smorgasbord of untapped or undertapped revenue sources. In effect, the governor would then say, “Choose some.”
So what happened then? Nothing … or as close to nothing as a legislature can come. The “Frugality Is Everything” majority among the dominant Republicans and the “Just Give Us A Little More Power” group that rules the badly outnumbered Democrats might even have been caught running in tandem for an hour or two. Politics really does make strange bedfellows, doesn’t it?
The upshot last year was that the legislative powers (read that “the Republicans”) waited too long to constitutionally pass a tax so they simply called the whole thing a “fee.” The State Supreme Court (whose members have read the Oklahoma Constitution) would have none of that and quite properly threw it all out in a decision that was about as predictable as the sun rising in the east.
To put that another way, we’ve watched legislative bodies in several states and spent some time on Capitol Hill in Washington, and the Tax-Turned-To-Fee gambit in Oklahoma was the single dumbest thing we have ever seen a legislative body do. Period. The odds of getting that past the state’s highest court were firmly in the “slim and none” category.
When these lawmakers needed to act like adults, they simply didn’t comply. Instead, they hatched a disgrace, something no Oklahoman could possibly take pride in, and the Supreme
Court did its job and killed it. The court was right.
The legislature was wrong.
And who really was harmed? Not the legislators.
Not the governor. It was the people … with special emphasis on the teachers and state employees.
So Gov. Fallin took a different approach this year. This is some of what she told the legislators earlier this week:
“One path would be to continue year after year with an air of uncertainty that consumes our thoughts, drains our hopes — like the old saying of robbing Peter to pay Paul — then Paul runs out of cash. If we are to effect change, we can’t keep doing the same old thing and expect a different result. That path will lead to more chaos at the Capitol.
“This is a defining moment for our state. We have two clear choices — we can continue down a path of sliding backward, or the second path is to say ‘Enough is enough! We can do better!
We deserve better! Our children deserve better! That excerpt, while from the governor’s heart and the governor’s mind, isn’t typical of the way Mary Fallin has led and governed. But they do remind us of her late mother, Mary Jo Copeland, who served two terms as mayor of Tecumseh and rarely hesitated to bluntly tell everyone and anyone exactly the way she felt and how she thought a problem ought to be handled. It was good to see our homegrown governor capture some of Mama’s fire and spirit in her last State of the State address. The governor is right. As Oklahomans, we can do better, much, much better.
Doing that means that the right wing of the Republican Party has to acknowledge that running a state is very much like running a business.
Both require money. And hardline Democrats in the House must recognize that just because they can block something, they don’t have to do it.
Gov. Fallin has also recognized that the best way to make Oklahoma government work better is to follow the blueprint offered by the Step Up Oklahoma Plan drawn by a group of business people. That’s the plan that was explained by
David Rainbolt in a meeting at Gordon Cooper last week. This newspaper also endorsed that plan (well, most of that plan) as well.
Enough is enough. This is a defining moment.

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