In The Know: Five Things You Should Know About Tuesday’s Election

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

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Five Things You Should Know About Tuesday’s Election: The lineup for November’s general election ballot will be settled after candidates in one congressional and 13 legislative races face off Tuesday. The run-off elections will feature the top two vote earners from the June primaries in races where no candidate received at least 50 percent of the votes. Districts in much of the state won’t vote because their legislative and congressional match-ups for the general election have already been set. Here are five key points about Tuesday’s elections [Oklahoma Watch].

Fed Up With State’s K-12 Stance, Okla. Teachers Run for Office: Fueled by their fury over cuts to K-12 budgets, low pay, and an array of other grievances, a scrappy group of teachers is attempting to upend Oklahoma’s political establishment this election season. After ousting the state’s superintendent in a 2014 primary, the loosely organized group of educators from around the state successfully campaigned to scrap the state’s teacher-evaluation system that was tied to students’ test scores. They notched another victory when they lobbied to defeat a bill backed by Republican Gov. Mary Fallin that would’ve expanded the use of vouchers. So last spring, when someone suggested to their Facebook group that they start legislating themselves, more than 40 teachers filed to run for one of the 126 open seats in the state’s Senate and House of Representatives [Education Week].

Funding tightens for Oklahoma trooper raises as teachers step up in line: Two years after troopers got hefty raises, the state can no longer afford them and is considering furloughs and other cuts to make ends meet in the Department of Public Safety. The plight of troopers now concerned about whether their raises will stand up is feeding doubts about plans to give an even more expensive boost to the state’s 44,000 public school teachers. Some local school leaders cringe at the thought of scrambling to pay for those increases [Norman Transcript].

Gov. Mary Fallin has 140.8 million solutions, but not nearly enough: Every day that we get closer to Nov. 8, the pressure builds on Gov. Mary Fallin and the Oklahoma Republican leadership. Right now they have two problems and 140.8 million possible solutions, but that’s not nearly enough. Here are the governor’s Nov. 8 problems: 1. State Question 779 — University of Oklahoma President David Boren’s plan to raise the state sales tax 1 percent and use the money to fix the funding problems of education — goes before voters. 2. Statewide, Republican incumbent legislators will face Democratic teachers, retired teachers, school superintendents, school board members and other pro-education candidates in a year when voters — from one end of the country to the other — have been opting for “change” in any way it’s offered [Wayne Greene / Tulsa World].

Oklahoma state regent: Cuts to higher education are being felt across Oklahoma: After reading comments on our state’s higher education system made by a couple of elected officials, I think the citizens of Oklahoma realize a $153 million cut in higher education funding will be felt around the state. The facts are clear: Oklahomans will pay more this year to send their children to college. On average, they will pay 8.4 percent more. Why? In the past 10 years, the Legislature has cut funding to higher education by $240 million. In 1988, state appropriations represented approximately 75 percent of the total budget for Oklahoma’s state system of higher education. Today, state support represents only 30 percent of the total higher education budget [Toney Stricklin / NewsOK].

OU to open with record number of freshmen in diverse class: The University of Oklahoma will begin a new academic year Monday with the largest and highest-ranked freshman class in its history. The class of 2020 has the highest average ACT score, 26.5, and includes 486 students who had perfect 4.0 academic averages in high school, OU President David Boren said as he welcomed the incoming freshmen Thursday at New Sooner Convocation. The new class is also the most ethnically diverse class in school history with a record number of minority students and students from 120 countries, Boren said [Tulsa World].

Pastor: Educating Oklahoma’s children is a moral responsibility: I could have been just another statistic. I spent time in prison many years ago for a decision I made when I was young and running with the wrong crowd. But since then I’ve found not only redemption, but help along the way from members of my community who believed in me and my potential. Now, as an education pastor in Oklahoma City, a husband and father, I wouldn’t trade my life for anything. Many of the children in the neighborhoods around our church come from low-income households, and my faith won’t allow me to stand by while their schools lack sufficient funding to offer them the best education possible [Rev. Tre Clark / NewsOK].

New report looks into why state education systems are falling behind the world: There’s a published story last week by eCapitol reporter Christie Southern about an education study released by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The 2-year study of education in various countries by a bipartisan panel of legislators and staff from 28 states alarmingly finds that “according to the latest data, out of the 65 countries, the U.S. placed 24th in reading, 36th in math and 28th in science. Another report, which looked at millennials in the workplace, placed the U.S. last in problem solving, according to NCSL” [OK Policy].

OKC district tries new methods to reduce out-of-school suspensions: At Shidler and dozens of other schools in the Oklahoma City district, principals and teachers are modeling behavior that is foreign to many students — empathy, compassion, direction and structure. “This is a different social setting then what they’re used to at home. We’re setting the tone and the stage (for their futures),” Ayala continued. “Once they know what the expectations are it’s a lot easier for them to live up to them.” Through a more measured approach to discipline, Oklahoma City Public Schools is working to correct a problem that landed the district in hot water last year for suspending too many black and Hispanic students. The district suspended 500 fewer students in 2015-16, resulting in 5,000 more days of classroom instruction, according to Chuck Tompkins, director of student climate and student discipline [Oklahoman]. School districts across the state have been disproportionately suspending black and Hispanic students, which can seriously harm kids’ educational futures [OK Policy].

Fallin will get her first opportunity to appoint Supreme Court justice: Next year, Republican Gov. Mary Fallin will have her first chance to appoint an Oklahoma Supreme Court justice, selecting from nominees appointed by a commission that has drawn criticism as highly politicized and heavily weighted with trial lawyers. Justice Steven Taylor, who will retire at the end of this year, was appointed by Democratic Gov. Brad Henry. Fallin will select his successor from one of three nominees put forward by the Judicial Nominating Commission [The Oklahoman].

Legislative runoff elections in Oklahoma will complete November field: In a year that could bring change to the Legislature, Tuesday’s elections will go a long way in defining any shift that might take place. Twelve of the 13 runoff races are for open seats. Ten of the races will produce November favorites because of voter demographics in those districts. “A lot of these runoff races are for open seats in districts that are either deep red or deep blue,” said Cassi Peters, a partner with Skyfire Media, an Oklahoma City-based political consulting firm. “The November winner will emerge Tuesday in a lot of these races” [NewsOK].

Execution state question waste of time, could lead to additional litigation, legal experts say: Some legal experts say a state question dealing with the death penalty does little, is unnecessary and could lead to additional litigation. Voters on Nov. 8 are expected to decide a number of state questions, including State Question 776. The measure says lawmakers can designate any method of execution that is not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution. It also says that death sentences will not be reduced because a method is ruled invalid. Finally, it says that under the state constitution, the death penalty can’t be ruled cruel or unusual punishment [Tulsa World].

State unemployment rate up to 5 percent in July: Oklahoma’s unemployment rate crept ever higher in the month of July. It moved from 4.8 percent in June to 5 percent in July, according to a news release from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. The state lost about 6,200 jobs in July, according to the employment security commission. Employment security commission economist Lynn Gray said the previous projection of adding 2,300 jobs in June has been revised down to 900 jobs [Tulsa World].

Close-to-home crisis: Suicide rates in Tulsa among highest in the U.S.: In the months following his return from Iraq, Josh Butts became depressed and suicidal. It’s not something he planned to happen, or had thought about in the past. “It was a tremendously lost feeling, lonely and hopeless. It’s not that I didn’t think that there were good things in the world. I literally didn’t know if I deserved them,” Butts said. “You fool yourself into thinking that you don’t deserve to be happy or that your situation dictates your happiness. That’s just not true.” It’s a feeling that may be familiar to many in Oklahoma, where the suicide rate is 37 percent higher than the national rate, yet the state ranks near the bottom in spending for mental health services [Tulsa World].

OKC Mom takes fight for working parents to presidential candidates: Ali Dodd’s son died while sleeping at daycare. She now says in addition to stricter infant sleep safety laws, working parents need more time off to take care for their newborns. “Our kids were supposed to be safe in daycare, but they weren’t. We’re not the only parents in this position,” said Dodd. Since then, Dodd has spent nearly a year and a half fighting to protect other families. Dodd is now pushing for changes to federal laws to allow parents longer leave after having a baby. She believes if she and her husband had more time off work, Shepard might still be alive [Fox 25].

Oklahoma brewers say strict interpretation of law could devastate industry: Oklahoma City-based Coop Aleworks was planning a big party at its brewery in southwest Oklahoma City on Friday to celebrate a new state law the brewer believed would allow it to sell full-strength beer in its tap room. But those plans are now up in the air after the Alcohol Beverage Law Enforcement (ABLE) Commission, the state’s chief alcohol regulator, said it doesn’t know if the new law allows for such sales. Craft brewers say their industry would be devastated if state regulators don’t allow them to sell full-strength beer by the glass in tap rooms, which they believed was part of a new state law set to take effect next week [Oklahoman].

Medical marijuana question doubtful for November ballot: Advocates for medical marijuana are convinced limited use of the drug will be allowed by Oklahoma voters this November. That is, if voters actually see a question on the ballot. Doubt is growing that petitioners have enough time to navigate a sometimes lengthy process — which includes verifying 66,000 signatures, a review by the state Supreme Court and additional legal requirements — in time to get the question included. Gov. Mary Fallin, by law, must finalize statewide questions to be printed on the ballot no later than Aug. 30, which is less than two weeks away [Enid News].

Oklahoman poll finds strong support for mandatory background checks on gun purchases: The overwhelming majority of Oklahomans would support a federal law requiring background checks for all gun purchases, according to a recent poll. About 88 percent of all poll respondents said they would support such a measure. Although the measure was most popular among self-described liberals, more than three-quarters of conservatives said they would support such a law, according to the survey conducted by Oklahoma City-based SoonerPoll in cooperation with The Oklahoman [NewsOK].

Corporation Commission orders wastewater disposal cuts: The Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Friday announced more cutbacks to wastewater disposal well operations. The changes are a response to a series of earthquakes near Luther and are an attempt to mitigate risk from triggering more temblors, said OCC spokesman Matt Skinner. Nineteen wells must reduce oil wastewater injected into the Arbuckle rock formation by 26 percent of each well’s monthly average. Operators must install automatic gauges on those wells so that disposal information can be transmitted electronically to the OCC. Two wells must shut down operations entirely [Journal Record].

SEC files $1.2 million claim in SandRidge bankruptcy over whistleblower provisions: The Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a $1.2 million claim in SandRidge Energy Inc.’s bankruptcy case relating the company’s firing of a whistle-blower who alleged the company didn’t accurately report its oil and natural gas reserves. The claim comes as the SEC has announced several fines of companies that have run afoul of federal securities regulations that protect whistleblowers. On June 16, the SEC filed a $1.2 million claim in SandRidge’s pending bankruptcy case. The claim doesn’t offer much detail other than “violations of the federal securities laws” [NewsOK].

Quote of the Day

“We’re working with kids with self-esteem issues. We’re working with kids with behavioral issues. We’re working with kids that may be sleeping on the floor and don’t get a good night’s sleep and they need to come to school. I hope I give them hope. I hope that this is a safe place. I want them to know we’re here and we’re the one constant in their life.”

-Alma Pearson, a social worker at Shidler Elementary School, one of the Oklahoma City schools trying to take a different approach to school discipline to reduce very high suspension rates (Source).

Number of the Day


Rank of Oklahoma City out of the 100 largest metropolitan statistical areas for the percentage facing food hardship (2014). Tulsa was ranked 24th.

Source: Food Research and Action Center

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The Astounding Collapse of American Bus Ridership: Ridership statistics from the past decade suggest that Americans have gotten off the bus. Nationwide, bus trips have fallen from 5.86 billion in 2002 (a peak year) down to 5.11 billion last year, and dropped almost 3 percent between 2014 and 2015. What’s to blame? Low gas prices, the recession, investments in rail, competition from Uber and bike-share? A new Bus Turnaround Campaign in New York, undertaken by research and advocacy groups, suggests that the fault lies largely with the bus service itself and that the city—and, implicitly, other American cities—has the power to restore the bus to the urban transportation toolkit [Slate].

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Gene Perry worked for OK Policy from 2011 to 2019. He is a native Oklahoman and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. He graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a B.A. in history and an M.A. in journalism.

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