State of Oklahoma
House of Representatives
Push Back against Right-Wing Overreach
By State Representative Mike Brown

December 9, 2011

In the last seven years Republicans have consistently won elections on the promise to create a fairer and more business friendly tax policy, to improve vital government services like education, public safety and health care, to prepare students for a competitive marketplace and to protect Oklahoma families.

On the surface, these promises resonate with the average Oklahoman who reacts positively to terms like, “improve”, “protect” and “fair”. But a sober assessment of their agenda reveals that what this has amounted to are attacks on workers, the middle class, and public services and institutions.

Republicans were successful in convincing much of the public that state budget shortfalls were in part a result of teachers and public servants being lavishly overpaid and granted extravagant benefits packages – and were not deterred by the facts that the average pension is $19,000 a year, and teachers pay is ranked 48th in the nation. They purposely distorted the word “union” to justify denying municipal employees their right to negotiate at arm’s length and in good faith with their employer.

In order to make the state more “business friendly” Republicans felt it necessary to drive through an alarming amount of destructive legislation that eroded the rights of workers by overhauling the Workers’ Compensation system to better favor doctors, lawyers and insurance companies. There is now a $350,000 hard cap on noneconomic damages that cannot be lifted by a judge or jury, even in cases where the victim suffered permanent and substantial physical abnormalities or disfigurement.

Republicans have assaulted our public education system as failing in order to further their agenda of supporting charter and private schools, but of the 1,845 school sites in Oklahoma, only 8% are on the “needs improvement” list. Nonetheless, rather than providing adequate funding to improve these schools they instead took dollars from our public coffers to provide vouchers for private schools. The school voucher bill lauded this past year by Republicans to create educational opportunities for “needy” children will award scholarships to eligible “needy” families, which according to them is a family of four that makes as much as $122,000.00 a year.

The “fair” business environment the Republicans have created has led to Chesapeake Energy paying an effective corporate tax rate of -2.1 percent from 2008-2010, Devon Energy paying 0.6 percent, Williams paying 1.0 percent, and OneOK paying 1.1 percent. Don’t look for things to change under the current regime, as the chairman of the Task Force on State Tax Credits supports oil and gas incentives, regardless of the loss of revenue to the state and thus, public services.

Now the talk is centered on the Republicans efforts to reduce and/or eliminate the state income tax, which is the single largest source of support for education, health care, transportation and public safety. There is no talk of backfilling the major budget cuts any of these programs have endured over the last several years. As classroom sizes continue to grow, caseloads increase, fewer nutrition sites open their doors and fewer law enforcement officers patrol our streets and guard our prisons, Republicans continue their right-wing overreach to dismantle democratic institutions and government services.

There is an enormous chasm between the Oklahoma Republican regime and the average Oklahoman. Republicans have waged a successful campaign against policies that form the very foundation of economic opportunity and the middle class, but their mantra of “jobs” along with the political exploitation of religion and Second Amendment rights has been exposed as merely a smokescreen for an anti-worker, anti-public services doctrine.

This next session more efforts will be underway to disenfranchise voters and shortchange vital government services. As the Republican agenda continues to benefit corporations and the wealthy at the expense of the middle class, I promise to be at the front lines of these critical fights.

*Mike Brown represents District 4 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He lives with his family in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.