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Multi-member districts: More choices, more voices (Guest Blog Post: Ryan Kiesel)

by | October 29th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (3)

kiesel-updated-300x200Ryan Kiesel is Executive Director of the ACLU of Oklahoma, as well as a former member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, alt-music aficionado and fierce truth-to-power speaker. Ryan‘s comments do not necessarily reflect the views of the ACLU of Oklahoma. This is one of a series of responses to OK Policy’s blog posts on Oklahoma’s “broken democracy”.

At a recent forum on the upcoming elections in Oklahoma, an audience member posed a question asking why substantive issues are non-existent in campaigns. In response, a member of the panel, a well-known and respected political consultant, blamed the voters. If the voters wanted to hear robust debates on the issues of the day, he claimed, then they would reject campaigns that are essentially copy-and-paste jobs.

That’s like owning an ice cream shop that only serves vanilla, and then being surprised to learn vanilla is your best seller.

The truth is voters make the choices they make because they have very few options at the ballot box. The current single-member district system of electing legislators creates a very strong disincentive to increasing those choices. It is time we reverse this incentive system, and that process begins with understanding the single-member majority system, killing it, and replacing it with a plan that encourages more voices and more choices for voters.

continue reading Multi-member districts: More choices, more voices (Guest Blog Post: Ryan Kiesel)

Oklahoma’s broken democracy hurts millennials (Guest Post: Nikki Hager)

by | October 28th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (2)
Nikki Hager

Nikki Hager

Nikki Hager, a senior Political Science and Economics major at the University of Tulsa,  is the Co-founder and President of the TU chapter of Common Sense Action. This is one of a series of responses to OK Policy’s blog posts on Oklahoma’s “broken democracy”.

Oklahoma democracy is indeed broken. Voter turnout remains abysmally low. Young people especially are largely left out of the political process. Politics are dominated not by innovation and compromise but by partisan gridlock and stagnation.

Not only did Oklahoma have the third lowest overall voter turnout in 2012, but at 27 percent, it also had the second lowest youth turnout. In contrast, Mississippi—the only state to perform worse than Oklahoma in general turnout—had the highest relative turnout of young voters at just over 68 percent.

Turnout in party primary elections is especially low in Oklahoma – in this year’s primary elections, less than 1 in 3 registered voters cast ballots in the first round of primaries, and in the run-offs, turnout was under 20 percent. In districts where one political party dominates, primaries are particularly important, as the winner of the primary often determines the winner of the general election. When voter turnout falls to extremely low levels, it makes it easy for small groups of committed groups to mobilize their members, often over-representing extremist and single-interest groups. Extremist voters lead to extremist politicians, leading to extremist policies, and threatening the viability of a government that relies on compromise.

continue reading Oklahoma’s broken democracy hurts millennials (Guest Post: Nikki Hager)

Ideas for improving representative democracy in Oklahoma (Guest Blog: Dr. Randal Burris)

by | October 27th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections | Comments (3)
randal burris

Dr. Randal Burris

Dr. Randal Burris is a life-long Oklahoman, a graduate of Oklahoma State University, and a practicing veterinarian from Broken Arrow. This is one of a series of responses to OK Policy’s blog posts on Oklahoma’s “broken democracy”.

Thank you for this opportunity to voice my concerns about the issues raised by OK Policy.
 
In my opinion, a number of factors impact the declining participation of voters in the political process. Among these are:
  1.  Large monetary contributions from a small number of very wealthy individuals leaves the average person with a sense that his or her voice matters very little, and that elections are bought and sold by narrow special interests with little regard to the needs and wants of the electorate. Additionally, people such as myself, who have considered running for public office at either the State legislative or Congressional level, feel excluded from the process because we lack the “deep pockets” to adequately finance a campaign in today’s market.
  2.  The closed party primary system allows no voice for independents and for those whose party is not represented in an election. This results in large segments of the electorate becoming effectively disenfranchised, and a small percentage of party hard-liners determining the outcome of an election.
  3.  The rancorous, hyper-partisan tone of political discourse, that portrays opponents as not just wrong, but evil or less patriotic or “American” than oneself, results in the inability of people to work with those of the other party, or to even socialize with those of different political persuasions. The resultant fossilization of skewed perspectives regarding persons of different parties has led to refusals to cooperate in necessary legislation that both sides may agree is needed, but that neither will support simply because it was proposed by a member of the other party, or may “give that party a victory at the polls.”
  4.  Finally, the homogenization within each party has led to an intolerance of persons within one’s own party who might differ from the “party line” on one or more issues. We have seen Republicans referred to as “RINOs” (Republican In Name Only) by primary opponents and talk radio hosts. In my own case, I am a staunch Democrat, while also being Pro-Life. I would like to run for office, because I believe the Democratic Party better represents the education and economic needs of the majority of Oklahomans, but I don’t want to be attacked for my Pro-Life advocacy, and I am worried about where to secure the funding for a campaign, since I don’t fit the “standard Democrat Profile”.

continue reading Ideas for improving representative democracy in Oklahoma (Guest Blog: Dr. Randal Burris)

Exonerating the wrongly-convicted should be a shared priority (Guest Post: Lawrence Hellman)

by | October 23rd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Criminal Justice | Comments (0)

Lawrence K. Hellman is Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law at Oklahoma City University School of Law. He serves as executive director of The Oklahoma Innocence Project.

innocence projectIt is no longer contestable: innocent people sometimes get convicted of serious crimes. How often? No one knows. But this we do know: since 1989, more than 1,400 people have been released from prisons in America based on evidence of innocence. Twenty-eight of these exonerations occurred in Oklahoma, including 7 people who had been sentenced to death.

A peer-reviewed, statistically-validated study published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes that at least 4.1 percent of defendants sentenced to death in the United States are innocent. The percentage of wrongful convictions for non-capital offenses may be even higher.

More than 26,000 people are currently incarcerated in Oklahoma. If “only” 2 percent of them are innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted, more than 500 inmates deserve to be exonerated and returned to freedom.

continue reading Exonerating the wrongly-convicted should be a shared priority (Guest Post: Lawrence Hellman)

State Question 769: Allowing military guard and reserve members to hold elected office (Guest Post: David Dickerson)

by | October 13th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Elections, State Questions | Comments (4)
Oklahoma Air National Guard soldiers prepare to conduct search and rescue operations in Moore after the May 2013 tornado. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James.

Oklahoma Air National Guard conduct search and rescue operations after the Moore May 2013 tornado. Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kendall James.

David Dickerson is a retired military officer who served in the active component, Reserve, and National Guard. He now works as an advocate for veterans at the local, state, and national level.

During the last thirteen years of sustained war in Afghanistan and Iraq, National Guard and Reserve units and personnel have been deployed with unprecedented frequency to augment the active component forces. Thousands of Oklahoma’s National Guard and Reserve service members have served with distinction while having their “normal” lives disrupted. Some of those mobilized and deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom also held elected and appointed offices in state and local governments.

continue reading State Question 769: Allowing military guard and reserve members to hold elected office (Guest Post: David Dickerson)

The public education crunch goes from bad to worse (Guest Post: John Waldron)

by | October 10th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Education | Comments (9)

john waldronJohn Waldron is a high school history teacher at Booker T. Washington High School

There is a crisis in Oklahoma education. Here’s the view from the ground.

I teach at one of the finest high schools in Oklahoma – Booker T. Washington in Tulsa – and I have long been concerned about the effects of budget cuts on our programs. Since 2008 we have cut our staff approximately 20 percent, while adding 6-7 percent to the student population.

For me, this has meant larger class sizes. Prior to 2008, class loads were capped at 140 students per teacher. Typically, I had about 110 in my classes, which are generally upper-level history courses. Today, after six years of cuts, I have 147 students. To give you a sense of what that means, consider this: if I give an essay question to each student (something I believe is a critical part of an upper-level course) and spend five minutes on each essay, it takes over 13 hours to grade them. That’s about how much planning time I have in three weeks of school. It has also meant eliminating my elective classes to teach more survey courses. And, of course, 147 students means 147 names to memorize, and 147 sets of individual circumstances to respond to. You see the dilemma. How can we deliver quality instruction to every student, under increasingly stressed conditions? How can we make bricks without straw?

continue reading The public education crunch goes from bad to worse (Guest Post: John Waldron)

How to strengthen nutrition and health for Women, Infants & Children (Guest Post: Monica Barczak)

by | October 3rd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Poverty & Opportunity | Comments (0)
Photo by Bev Sykes

Photo by Bev Sykes

Monica Barczak is Director of Innovation Lab at CAP Tulsa, where she leads a small team responsible for a variety of research and program design and improvement efforts.

A child’s successful growth and development depends on many factors, including good nutrition and health from the pre-natal period through the earliest months and years of life. Unfortunately, too many Oklahoma children lack sufficient nutrition, hampering their readiness for school and learning and triggering other health issues ranging from obesity to infections to increased risk of social-emotional problems.

While the private sector and faith-based community play a significant role in alleviating hunger in Oklahoma, such services tend to limit the number of times families can access help. But pregnant women and young children in particular need a consistent source of adequate nutrition to ensure healthy development. Federal nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) are invaluable in filling the gap. So it is critical that such programs are designed to make the most impact for clients while operating in the most effective and efficient way. While WIC generally receives high marks among users, improvements could be made to help clients take full advantage of the program benefits.

continue reading How to strengthen nutrition and health for Women, Infants & Children (Guest Post: Monica Barczak)

Budget cuts not horsing around (Guest post by Steve Lewis)

by | September 2nd, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget | Comments (2)

Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1989-1991. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

Photo by Filip Knežić.

Photo by Filip Knežić.

A recent article by Journal Record columnist Marie Price reported on a meeting of the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission.  The OHRC was created when the people voted in pari-mutuel horse racing in 1982.  The story caught my attention because it seems to describe the condition of many state agencies.  OHRC officials were quoted as saying the agency’s funding has been slashed so much over the past several years that it is in danger of becoming unable to perform its mandated functions.  In FY 2008, the OHRC received an appropriation of almost $2.7 million.  The FY 2015 appropriation is about $1.97 million, a cut of over 25 percent. 

In addition the OHRC was among those agencies whose law enforcement personnel were given a 6.25 percent salary increase by the legislature without funding to pay for it, according to its Executive Director.  According to the article, pay hikes were covered by reducing overtime at race tracks, not filling two positions, canceling contracts and other steps.

continue reading Budget cuts not horsing around (Guest post by Steve Lewis)

A deserved downgrade of Kansas’ bonds (Guest Post: Michael Leachman)

by | August 14th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Budget, Taxes | Comments (0)
Michael Leachman

Michael Leachman

Michael Leachman is the Director of State Fiscal Research with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. This post previously appeared on the Center’s Off the Charts blog.

The meaning of Standard & Poor’s recent downgrade of Kansas’ credit rating, in which it cited Kansas’ “structurally unbalanced budget,” is clear: Kansas’ budget is a train heading off a cliff.

Here are the details:

continue reading A deserved downgrade of Kansas’ bonds (Guest Post: Michael Leachman)

Beware the influence of ALEC in Oklahoma (Guest Post: J.C. Moore)

by | July 17th, 2014 | Posted in Blog, Capitol Matters | Comments (3)

business_moneyJ.C. Moore is a retired science teacher, a member of the the American Geophysical Union, and co-founder of OKcitizensfirst.org.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has a great influence on our state politics, but many Oklahomans have heard little about the organization. On the surface,  ALEC is an organization made up of corporations and state-level elected officials which meets three times a year to write “model legislation” for states. Officials can then take the model legislation back to their state for consideration. That sounds like a good process, except that what goes on under the surface of ALEC is kept secret.

In May of 2013, ALEC met in Oklahoma City. While corporate representatives from ALEC met with our legislators, a group of citizens protested across the street. The protesters, as well as members of the press, had been barred from attending by security guards. The agenda of the meeting was secret and an elaborate drop box system was created to avoid FOIA requests. Now, over a year later, there is still little known about the meeting or its influence on our legislators.

continue reading Beware the influence of ALEC in Oklahoma (Guest Post: J.C. Moore)

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