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

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”.

Among the repairs that I believe would address these issues are:
  1. Public financing of campaigns sufficient to at least mount a credible campaign.
  2.  Requiring broadcast entities, which are publicly licensed, to air a certain number of  political campaign ads during prime time at no cost, without regard to party.
  3.  Open primaries. This may take one of several forms:
    •  Completely open primary: every candidate for a particular office runs in one primary election, and all registered voters vote. The top two vote-getters, regardless of party, then run in the general election;
    •  Primaries open to voters regardless of party, with the proviso that one cannot vote in multiple primaries at the same time, i.e. one could not vote in both the Democrat and Republican primaries during the same election; 
    •  Primaries open to independent voters and to voters whose own party does not have a candidate on the ballot.
  4.  Overturning of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, by either Supreme Court reversal or a Constitutional Amendment limiting campaign contributions.
  5.  Tax credits for being a registered voter, and for voting. This could be tracked by the County Election Boards and certificates sent to voters, which could then be applied to their State Income Tax Returns.
  6.  Ease the requirements for 3rd, 4th, or more political parties to become registered and to appear on the ballot. Frankly, if a modest fee is paid and members want to form a particular party, they should be allowed to do so.

The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.


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The opinions stated in guest articles are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

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

  1. If we weant real change in Oklahoma, we need open primaries so independents can vote along with no more straight party voting on the ballots — make people mark the ballot for each individual they support for each office. Why can’t we have truth in political ads like we have truth in advertising? Why did the legislature change the law that you cannot file an Ethics Complaint during the election cycle? Legislature passes laws for the Ethics Commission that protects incumbents — why is that allowed? Why isn’t the Ethics Commission a non-partisan separate entity located out of the State Capitol with teeth not slaps on the wrist?

    Went to a Meet and Greet for Joe Doman in Norman last week and for the first time since I have been in Oklahoma, everyone was friendly and didn’t hear any off the wall questions like permeate the GOP. So happy I switched.

    We have to get the big money out of compaigns when a few wealthy donors can drop $1-2M in a race at the last minute. How can a PAC be non-profit and be able to hide their donors? That’s Un-American just like the GOP as a whole today.

    We held a Republican Governor’s candidate forum in Norman in 2006. Then Cong Istook one of the candidates felt free to say – asked someone else first when he was given a question. The arrogance of the OK delegation to Congress knows no bounds and so hard to unseat because of money from out-of-state not to mention oil/gas. Our GOP Legislature and Governor are owned by ALEC. Should be a requirement that a member of the legislature has to write his own bills, send them through legal, and then present them and stop this insanity of submitting over 2,000 bills a session with a lot of them just garbage.

    Have heard people in my own neighborhood ask why they should vote and tell them the only way to get real change is to vote and if enough of us vote we will make that change.

    My more than two cents!

    1. Thanks, Sharon. Lots of good ideas here – although the idea of having legislators write their own bills gives me shivers! We’re working on a full-scale brief presenting various reform ideas, and open primaries will definitely be among them.

    2. After watching an interview with Mickey Edwards, I would add as a possible corrective measure removing the process of redrawing Congressional and legislative district boundaries from the control of partisan legislatures. Gerrymandering is out of control. We need nonpartisan commissions drawing the boundaries in order to represent each community’s interests in legislatures. It’s time to make our republic truly representative again.

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