Ginnie Graham: Listen in on your lawmakers; you might be surprised

By Ginnie Graham

It’s not fair to say, “Laws are like sausages — it’s better not to see them being made.” That’s a libel against pork.

German leader Otto von Bismarck and poet John Godfrey Saxe have had this quote attributed to them. But the original author doesn’t matter. It’s time to ignore it anyway.

Oklahoma has always had bills introduced from the fringe and lawmakers who throw out incendiary comments. Only now, those bills are making it to a full vote and those comments are treated as facts.

With the state expected to have a $650 million shortfall next fiscal year, why is so much time being spent on things like getting rid of hoodies, banning Advanced Placement history and preserving homosexual conversion therapy?

Listen to the words: To figure it out, I listened to the audio recordings of legislative House committee meetings. Everyone needs to do this. Sometimes it helps more to hear how words are delivered.

The Senate only offers live streaming during its session. It’s too bad it doesn’t archive recordings, which is easy and routinely done. This makes transparency more difficult for voters.

After listening to House discussions, it became obvious that I didn’t really get how bills become laws. It’s nothing close to Schoolhouse Rock.

Getting started can be overwhelming. This session, 1,219 bills and 26 joint resolutions were filed in the House. It’s hard to know where to begin — or where to stop.

I chose four based on my interest — from common education, judiciary and children, youth and families. It totaled about seven hours of discussion.

Most of the dialogue is procedural. Then there’ll be a statement that goes unchecked.

Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, said 49 percent of homosexuals were sexually abused as children. No source given. No challenge made.

I later found the statistic referenced online by a single organization, and the assertion has been discredited by numerous reports. Two people Kern introduced as experts were not questioned about credentials, and no opposing voices were heard.

In education committee meetings, several lawmakers said private schools and home schools were equal to or better than public schools. Again, no source given.

In the discussion about replacing AP history, experts presented were a county assessor who is a former school teacher and a New York resident formerly employed by the College Board.

A debate about allowing the denial of services for same-sex weddings, a lawmaker called marriage “a biological union for raising children between people of opposite sexes.” That’s news for couples marrying in older age or choosing or unable to have children.

I found myself shouting at the computer screen, “According to who?” “Are you kidding?” and “What?”

Huh?: Oklahoma PTA President Jeffrey Corbett laughed at my reaction.

“I’ve heard that story before,” he said. “I’ve been that story. We need more people and more of the average citizen listening to the committees and going ‘Huh?’”

Corbett said his group supplies representatives with questions to ask about certain bills. But most lawmakers will respond to their communities more than a state advocacy group.

“Most of our legislators host events in their communities,” Corbett said. “People need to attend these, ask questions and make their opinions and beliefs known.

“We elect them, then we complain about what they do. Call, email, send letters, attend the events. If they are there to represent us, they need to know what we think. They can’t do that if you don’t contact them.”

Status quo: For the professionals entrenched in the inner workings of Oklahoma politics for years, this is how things are done.

More fringe bills may be getting out of committee, but it’s not a “wholesale change,” according to David Blatt, director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute.

There are some obvious shifts. Term limits have resulted in less experienced lawmakers, more power to lobbyists and regular changes in leadership. Less time in office means bold leaps instead of baby steps.

Also, there is the rise of national media through social media.

It took less than 30 minutes for the possibility of replacing AP history to go viral, and even less time for the bill that would have banned hoodies.

Blatt traces this type of celebrity to former Rep. Randy Terrill, who pushed through House Bill 1017, a measure that sought a crackdown on immigration. Terrill, since convicted of bribery, was interviewed by countless journalists from talk shows to international publications.

“In this period of national political entertainment that we’re in, both parties are very attuned to the latest outrage of the other party,” Blatt said.

After I spent a little time peaking into the gears of government, my frustration and inspiration went up equally.

It’s disheartening to hear the tone and misinformation from some elected leaders, but voices of reason and diplomacy are there, too. They deserve credit for upholding civility and fact-based evidence.

Prince Bismarck may be right in saying politics is not an exact science. But I’m an Oklahoman, so Will Rogers is more of my DNA. “If you ever injected truth into politics,” he said, “you have no politics.”


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