OK Policy Turns Five: The best is yet to come

These are my remarks to Oklahoma Policy Institute’s 5th anniversary dinner and award ceremony at Cain’s Ballroom on January 30, 2013. Melvin Moran and Robert LaFortune were honored with the OK Policy Good Sense/Good Cents award. For the event program, list of sponsors, and our fifth anniversary video, click here.

Wow. It’s hard to describe how overwhelming it is to look across this room and see 350 beautiful people crammed into Cain’s Ballroom for our fifth anniversary dinner.  At the end of January 2008, we were holding our first Board meeting as a new 501C3 organization. At the end of January 2010, I was the only person on staff as we worked to determine if OK Policy could survive and what direction it would take.  And now here we are at the end of January 2013. We have a staff of 6. We have a video! We have paperweightpaperweights!! Truly reasons to celebrate.

Some of you no doubt assume that David Blatt plus microphone plus captive audience will equal a fifteen minute policy presentation on the structural budget deficit and barriers to economic self-sufficiency. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m going to take the opportunity instead to offer thanks to those who have made the success of Oklahoma Policy Institute possible.

First, I have also been blessed with the best Board any non-profit Director could hope to have.  Vince LoVoi has been our Board chair since before Day 1, and has invested an endless amount of his energy, strategic vision, confidence and resources into this organization during the rough times and the good times alike.  Don Millican said at our first meeting, as he did on the video, that OK Policy needs to be “the irrefutable conscience of Oklahoma”, which told us exactly what we need to strive for every day.  Nancy, Kell, Steve, Susan and Linda, you have offered your time, wisdom and skills, and have ensured that my staff and I can go out and take tough positions knowing you always have our backs.  I must also thank my friend, mentor and former boss Steven Dow, one of our founding Board members, without whom OK Policy would never have come into being.

Next, our donors.  About a third of our annual budget comes from national foundations through our involvement in the State Fiscal Analysis Initiative and the Building Economic Security over a Lifetime project. We have great national partners in these projects and I’m especially grateful that Jon Shure from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and Sarah Dewees from First Nations Development Institute are here with us tonight. Another third of our budget comes from Oklahoma foundations. I want to especially acknowledge the George Kaiser Family Foundation, who have been with us from the very beginning.  And, finally, a third comes, as they say on PBS, from viewers like you.  Last year over 400 individuals, organizations and businesses decided that Oklahoma Policy Institute was important enough to them and to this state to pull out their checkbooks and credit cards and make a donation. Some of our donors gave us $10, some gave $250, some gave us much more.  For tonight’s event, 30 generous sponsors came forward to be patrons, benefactors and champions –  please join me in recognizing them for making tonight possible. We are grateful for every contribution and hope we can continue to convince you that the money you send our way is being spent well and making a difference.

Part of what makes it easy to convince donors their money is being well spent is the prodigious amount and high quality of work produced by our staff. I don’t think anyone’s ever said, “I wonder what in the world all those people at OK Policy do with all their time.”  I’ve been extremely fortunate to build a team of exceptionally committed, passionate, intelligent, hard-working and nice people.  Shiloh, Gene, Kate, Megan, Tiece, it really is a pleasure to get to work with you every day. On behalf of everyone here, thank you.

Finally, I want to thank Oklahoma’s legislators and statewide elected officials, many of whom are here tonight. OK Policy operates on the premise that if you present policymakers and the public with credible, unbiased information, and you do so in a respectful manner, you can have an impact on policy debates and outcomes. This requires a certain leap of faith. At the risk of shocking some of you in this room, I will admit that Oklahoma is not necessarily the most fertile territory to make the case for the fair and adequate funding of public service and expanded opportunity for low- and moderate-income families.

Yet the reality is, time and again, Oklahoma elected officials have been willing to at least give us a hearing on the key issues of the day.  They have affirmed our conviction that if you are willing to do the hard work of conducting the research, marshaling the facts, and presenting the data, you at least have a chance of persuading them to do the right thing.  On the income tax debate in particular, some of our staunchest allies told us we were wasting our time fighting tax cuts because all those politicians believe in is cutting taxes and shrinking the size of government. Fortunately, out of wisdom, or naiveté, or sheer desperation, we chose not to believe that. Instead we embarked on a strategy based on presenting information and analysis in a forceful, well-coordinated and effective way. Fortunately, we prevailed last year. Along with our allies and partners in our newly-rebranded coalition, Together Oklahoma, we are hopeful that this year we can again persuade legislators that the path to Oklahoma’s prosperity depends not on slashing taxes but on adequate and fiscally responsible investments in our schools, public safety, social safety net and infrastructure. And maybe, just maybe, good data, strong arguments and hard work will ultimately persuade our elected officials that the best way to provide cost-effective health care to uninsured Oklahomans is by expanding Medicaid eligibility.

In short, this organization operates on the conviction that the values that we most deeply believe in and work to promote – responsible fiscal stewardship, civic dialogue, concern for the least fortunate – are not Democratic values or Republican values but core Oklahoma values. There are no two individuals in this great state who better exemplify these core values than the two gentlemen being honored tonight with the OK Policy Good Cents/Good Sense Awards, Melvin Moran and Robert LaFortune. As we turn now to the evening’s main event, I want to add a quick and entirely unsatisfactory thank you to the two most important people in my life, my son Noah and my wife Patty, for your unflagging support and love.  Thanks to all of you for being here tonight and for being part of the journey these past five years.  The best is yet to come!


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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