All articles by David Blatt

New report shares ideas for repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy

by | December 16th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (3)

Electoral participation is a cornerstone of our representative democracy. The vote allows citizens to participate freely and fairly in the political process and ensures that elected officials stay accountable to their constituents.

percentage-voting-OK-and-USYet in Oklahoma we are seeing growing signs of the breakdown of electoral participation. For example:

  • In this year’s midterm elections, less than 30 percent of eligible voters made it to the polls to cast a ballot for Governor and other offices. This was the lowest turnout in at least 50 years and perhaps in state history.
  • In 65 of 101 seats for the state House of Representatives, the winner was decided without voters casting a ballot in the general election.
  • In primary runoff elections this fall, average turnout was 18 percent, and for the two statewide Democratic runoff contests, barely one in ten registered party members cast a ballot.
  • In the 2012 November Presidential election, Oklahoma’s voter turnout was just 52.4 percent, third worst in the nation.
  • Only 66 percent of voting-age citizens in Oklahoma are even registered to vote, the nation’s eighth lowest registration rate.

It hasn’t always been like this. As late as 2004, Oklahoma’s voter registration rate and turnout rate remained on a par with or just above the national average.

Many voices have lamented Oklahoma’s declining electoral participation, but often the only solution offered is to urge our friends, neighbors, and colleagues to be better citizens. But in reality, the electoral rules and practices established by Oklahoma’s state lawmakers and officials are part of the reason why electoral participation is so low. And there are many reforms Oklahoma could adopt that would help repair our broken democracy by boosting voter turnout and electoral competition.

A new OK Policy issue brief reviews the numerous signs of weakening electoral participation in Oklahoma and considers some of the factors that may be hindering Oklahomans from fuller participation. We then lay out a broad range of possible reforms, which include:

continue reading New report shares ideas for repairing Oklahoma’s broken democracy

Upcoming Event: State Budget Summit featuring E.J. Dionne

by | December 15th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, OK Policy, Taxes, Upcoming Events | Comments (0)
Photo by Marcin Wichary.

Photo by Marcin Wichary.

Although Oklahoma is now several years removed from the worst of the fiscal crisis that accompanied the Great Recession, the gap between the cost of providing basic public services and the revenues we collect to pay for them seems to be growing. State agencies continue to be squeezed by budget cuts and funding shortfalls, tax collections are flat or declining, and ever greater challenges are looming on the horizon. What ideas and solutions can we bring to bear to address the fiscal gap?

These questions will be addressed on Thursday, January 29th as part of OK Policy’s 2nd State Budget Summit, titled “Mind the Gap: Sensible Budget Policy in Challenging Times”.  The event will run from 9:00 am – 3:00 pm at the Will Rogers Theater, 4322 N. Western Ave, Oklahoma City, OK 73118. Click here to buy tickets. The cost is $60, which includes morning refreshments and lunch; scholarships are available for students and those for whom cost would be an obstacle (to request a scholarship, send a brief email to

continue reading Upcoming Event: State Budget Summit featuring E.J. Dionne

Legislature’s wandering budget hands get slapped again

by | November 25th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Healthcare | Comments (0)

pickpocketFor the second time, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has struck down a provision of this year’s state budget, ruling that the legislature acted unconstitutionally when it pulled $5 million out of the State Health Department’s Trauma Care Assistance Fund to fund other government services.

In June, the A.G. ruled that the legislature had acted improperly when it diverted $7.9 million intended for the Oklahoma Higher Access Learning Program (OHLAP), also known as Oklahoma’s Promise, for other purposes. The college scholarship money was part of $191 million that the legislature redirected from nearly 30 different agency revolving funds and other state funds in an effort to balance the FY 2015 budget and avert even deeper cuts to services.  With the OHLAP money no longer available, officials decided to apply an across-the-board cut to all agencies in proportion to their funding from the FY 2015 General Revenue fund.

Back in June, we called attention to several other funding grabs by the Legislature to balance their budget. In the case of the Health Department’s Trauma Care Assistance Fund, we noted that this would result in a $3 million shortfall in payments to hospitals and other trauma care providers in FY 2015, and had also led the agency to further slash critical funding for community health centers and cut support for the cord blood bank.

continue reading Legislature’s wandering budget hands get slapped again

Now what?

by | November 12th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (2)

Governor Mary FallinThis is an expanded and edited version of a column that appeared in the Journal Record

As expected, Oklahoma voters have re-elected Governor Mary Fallin to a second term. Backed by a strong Republican majority in the legislature, the Governor will have another four years to put her policies in place.

Yet even those voters who were paying attention during the campaign can be forgiven for lacking a clear sense of the Governor’s second-term agenda.

Last month, the Tulsa World provided Governor Fallin space for 600 words to make the case for her re-election. She wrote at length in praise of her accomplishments in her first term and against the policies of her opponent, Rep. Joe Dorman. But in 29 sentences, exactly one spoke to the future:

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Oklahoma fails to make gains electing women and people of color

by | November 10th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (2)
Oklahoma Legislature dedicates portrait of the state's first female legislator, Bessie McColgin, in 1920. Pictured L-R: Congressman Frank Lucas, Senator Charles Ford, President of the Oklahoma State Senate Historical Preservation Fund, Inc., Artist Mike Wimmer, Octavia DeBerry, daughter of Bessie McColgin, Senate Republican Leader Glenn Coffee, Lisa Coffee, great granddaughter of Bessie McColgin.

Oklahoma Legislature dedicates portrait of the state’s first female legislator, Bessie McColgin, elected in 1920.

Last week’s election raised the number of female members of Congress to 100 for the first time in history, according to a post-election article in Vox. Women now make up 19 percent of the Representatives and Senators serving in Congress.

Even such modest progress is elusive in Oklahoma. Prior to this year’s elections, just 20 legislators – 4 of 48 Senators and 16 of 101 House members –  were women. This ranked Oklahoma 3rd last, behind only South Carolina and Louisiana, in female representation. But of the 28 newly-elected members of the Legislature, just two – Democratic House member Claudia Griffith and Republican Senator Stephanie Bice – are women. With the retirement of three sitting female legislators – Skye McNeill, Rebecca Hamilton and Connie Johnson – the number of female legislators will decline from 20 to 19.

continue reading Oklahoma fails to make gains electing women and people of color

Why we don’t vote

by | November 4th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (5)
Photo by Vox Efx.

Photo by Vox Efx.

Sunday’s Tulsa Word featured a series of short articles by nine Tulsans explaining why they vote. These citizens spoke eloquently of their sense of civic obligation and responsibility. They spoke of the hard struggles that prior generations had fought to earn the right to vote for women and African-Americans, and of the journeys from distant lands their ancestors had traveled to gain the privileges of a free and democratic society.  They spoke of the importance of elections to ensure that they have a voice and that their representatives are held accountable.

And yet the World may have been asking the wrong question of the wrong people. In 2010, the last Gubernatorial election, less than half of Oklahoma’s eligible voters – 40.4 percent – cast a ballot. In 2014, turnout is likely to be even lower. When a majority of citizens don’t turn out to select their Governors, Congressmen, and other top state and federal elected officials, the question that most urgently needs to be asked may not be “Why I vote” but rather “Why I don’t vote.”

continue reading Why we don’t vote

The Weekly Wonk November 2, 2014

by | November 2nd, 2014 | Posted in Blog | Comments (0)

the_weekly_wonkThe Weekly Wonk is a summary of Oklahoma Policy Institute’s events, publications, blog posts, and coverage. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The KnowClick here to subscribe to In The Know.

As Oklahoma voters get ready to go to the polls on Tuesday, our 2014 Elections page provides you all the information you need on voting times, state questions, judicial elections, and more.

This week on the OK Policy blog, we ran a series of guest posts as part of our “Broken Democracy” project. Dr. Randal Buriss offered several ideas for improving representative democracy in Oklahoma; University of Tulsa student Nikki Hager looked at what could be done to boost voter turnout among the millennial generation, and Ryan Kiesel made the case for multi-member electoral districts as a way to give Oklahoma voters more and better electoral choices.  Meanwhile, David Blatt’s Journal Record column discussed what’s behind the decline in voting among Oklahomans. You can find more discussion of Oklahoma’s broken democracy here.

Also on our blog, Steve Lewis’ weekly Capitol Update discusses a recent legislative study on how to cover Oklahoma’s uninsured. An article in the Daily Ardmorite about the legislative study cites OK Policy’s recent issue brief shows how the track record of Medicaid expansion in other states shows why it would be a good deal for Oklahoma. Our health care data is also cited in a Muskoee Pheoeix article about the candidates for Senate District 8. In our Editorial of the Week, The Oklahoman Editorial Board argued that lawmakers can’t be ‘tough on crime’ if they aren’t fully funding corrections.

Next Monday, November 10th, OK Policy will host Dr. Lawrence R. Jacobs, a leading national expert on health care policy, for his lunchtime talk, “The 2014 Elections and the Future of Health Reform,” at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. There are just a few days left to purchase tickets, which are $15 and include a full meal.

Quote of the Week

“In the last 16 years, only three initiative petitions qualified for the statewide ballot. Every other state question reached the ballot via action by the state’s elected powers that be – the Legislature. This begs the question: Is it too difficult – nigh on impossible, really – for rank-and-file Oklahomans to take matters into their own hands when they can’t get lawmakers to act?”

-Journal Record columnist Arnold Hamilton (Source:

See prior Quotes of the Day here

Numbers of the Day

  • 22% – Graduation success rate of Oklahoma State University men’s basketball players who enrolled in 2007, the lowest in the Big 12

  • 260 – The number of Atmospheric and Space Scientists who worked in Oklahoma in 2013.

  • 1,900 -The number of Oklahomans with physical or mental disabilities who obtained gainful employment through services provided by the Department of Rehabilitation Services in 2013.

  • 87 percent – The percentage of Oklahomans who acknowledge that the climate is changing; 72 percent believe past warming has been caused by humans.

See prior Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading



State workforce still at critically low levels

by | October 20th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (1)

workforce-300x180Despite four years of solid economic growth, Oklahoma’s state budget has never recovered fully from the last recession. While total state appropriations are slightly above pre-downturn levels, the FY 2015 budget is $680 million, or 7.9 percent, below FY 2009 when adjusted for inflation. Most agencies are still 15-30 percent below pre-recession funding levels.

The deep recession and continued tight funding has had an especially heavy impact on agency workforces. Most agencies were forced to cut staff during the downturn by implementing Reductions-in-Force and buyouts, or by leaving a significant number of vacant positions unfilled.  Even with slight overall budget increases the past several years, the state’s public sector workforce remains far below pre-recession levels, according to data supplied by the Office of Management and Enterprise Services.  In FY 2014, state government employed 36,470 FTE (full-time equivalent) employees. This is an increase of 628 workers, or 1.8 percent, from FY 2012, but 2,880 workers, or 7.3 percent fewer than before the state fiscal crunch hit following FY 2009. Compared to 2001, the state workforce is 1,158 employees smaller, even as Oklahoma’s population has grown by some 350,000 residents.

continue reading State workforce still at critically low levels

SQ 770 & 771 would expand property tax breaks for some veterans and their families

by | October 14th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Taxes | Comments (0)

pennsylvania national guardAfter Oklahoma voters decided twenty state questions in 2010 and 2012, including several broad and contentious issues, this November’s ballot may seem anticlimactic. Oklahoma voters will have just three state questions to decide, none of which are especially momentous. Two of these, SQ 770 & SQ 771, involve homestead exemptions for certain military personnel and their families.

In Oklahoma, most homeowners get the first $1,000 of the assessed value of their primary residence, also known as their homestead, exempted from property tax.  Some categories of homeowners, including low-income families and seniors, are provided a larger exemption.

In 2004, Oklahoma voters overwhelmingly approved SQ 715. The measure amended the state Constitution (Article X, Section 8E) to fully exempt veterans with a 100 percent permanent disability from paying any property tax on their homestead property. The exemption also applied to the disabled veteran’s surviving spouse.

continue reading SQ 770 & 771 would expand property tax breaks for some veterans and their families

Misguided ruling could rob health care from 55,000 Oklahomans

by | October 8th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Healthcare | Comments (0)

ACA_SupremeCourtThe ruling by Oklahoma federal District Court Judge Ronald A. White that Oklahomans buying health insurance on are ineligible for tax credits may have been a victory for Attorney General Scott Pruitt. But if upheld by higher courts, it would be a huge defeat for tens of thousands of previously-uninsured Oklahomans who are using these credits to purchase affordable health coverage. The good news is that the ruling rests on a misguided interpretation of the Affordable Care Act that may still be overturned.

Premium tax credits are a central mechanism of the Affordable Care Act’s goal of extending health insurance coverage to tens of millions of  uninsured Americans. Individuals and families with incomes between 100 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level are eligible for the tax credits on a sliding-scale basis. The credits can only be used to buy certain health plans on the new health insurance marketplaces, known also as Exchanges. Under the ACA, states were given the opportunity to operate their own exchange; where they chose not to do so, as in Oklahoma and a majority of states, the exchange is operated by the federal government at

continue reading Misguided ruling could rob health care from 55,000 Oklahomans

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