The Weekly Wonk: Mental health policy hires; who pays taxes in Oklahoma; what influences voter turnout; SQ 793 pros and cons…

What’s up this week at Oklahoma Policy Institute? The Weekly Wonk shares our most recent publications and other resources to help you stay informed about Oklahoma. Numbers of the Day and Policy Notes are from our daily news briefing, In The Know. Click here to subscribe to In The Know.

This Week from OK Policy

This week, we launched the Oklahoma Mental Health Policy Fellowship with three new hires: Lauren Turner as a Mental Health Policy Analyst and Maggie den Harder and Brittany Hayes as Mental Health Policy Fellows. Strategy and Communications Director Gene Perry discussed a new analysis that shows low-income taxpayers in Oklahoma pay more than twice the tax rate paid by the richest Oklahomans. In a new episode of the OKPolicyCast, Perry spoke with the founder of the website, David Glover, to find out what influences voter turnout.

Of the five state questions on the ballot in November, only SQ 793, which would allow optometrists and opticians to operate in retail establishments, is the subject of well-funded campaigns by both supporters and opponents. We asked both campaigns on SQ 793 to submit guest posts explaining their position. A post in support of the measure was written by the former President of the Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature and Chair of the State Council on Aging, John Kusel. A post in opposition of SQ 793 was written by the Executive Director for the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians, Joel Robison.

Steve Lewis’s Capitol Update noted that one of the biggest issues at stake in this election is health care for hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans. In his weekly column in the Journal Record, Executive Director David Blatt pointed out that there is bipartisan support for Medicaid expansion, especially in rural and small-town Oklahoma where access to health care is 0ne of the top challenges.

OK Policy in the News

Blatt spoke with Bloomberg about the Oklahoma legislature’s reluctance to increase revenue and the resulting budget shortfall. Representative Marcus McEntire utilized our state question fact sheets to give the Duncan Noon Lions an overview of the measures that will be on the ballot on November 6. The Hechinger Report cited OK Policy data on Latino student enrollment in Texas County.

Upcoming Opportunities

Legislative candidate forum in Muskogee on Tuesday: Candidates in two Muskogee-area state House districts will discuss important state and local issues in a public forum Tuesday at the Roxy Theater in Muskogee. The forum, which is free, is being presented by Oklahoma Watch, a nonprofit media organization, and Together Oklahoma, a nonprofit education and advocacy group. Those interested in attending are encouraged to register online. Find more upcoming events by TogetherOK on their community calendar.

Oklahoma 2018 State Questions and Elections: The November elections are just under a month away, and the deadline to request an absentee ballot is next Wednesday, October 31st. To help voters in their election research, OK Policy has published fact sheets on each State Questions and gathered useful links and deadlines. We also published graphics with supporting and opposing arguments on each state questions on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Visit our #OKvotes page to find election information, important dates, voter tools, and much more. 

Weekly What’s That

Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, What’s That?

The Court of Criminal Appeals is one of Oklahoma’s three appellate courts, along with the Supreme Court and Court of Civil Appeals. An appellate court hears appeals from lower court decisions.

The Court of Criminal Appeals is the only appellate court with jurisdiction over criminal cases. The court of Criminal Appeals hears appeals from district court decisions. The Court of Criminal Appeals was created by statute in 1918. Originally, the court consisted of three justices by now consists of five. Justice candidates are selected by the Judicial Nominating Commission and appointed by the Governor. Justices are up for a retention election every six years.

Look up more key terms to understand Oklahoma politics and government here.

Quote of the Week

“The hate and vitriol about our differences must stop. Accepting and celebrating differences and finding common ground is absolutely critical to our city, state and country in all areas, but most certainly in public education. Oklahoma City’s renaissance would have been impossible without it.”

-Mary Mélon, president and CEO of the Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools [NewsOK]

Editorial of the Week

William C. Kellough: Hundreds remain in prison for crimes the voters have said are misdemeanors

As a former Tulsa County district judge with a felony docket, I’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand the inner workings of the Oklahoma justice system. I’ve seen the progress the state has made, including passage of State Question 780 and 781 in 2016 by a sizeable majority of Oklahoma voters. By reducing simple possession of illegal drugs and low-level property crimes to misdemeanors, Oklahoma has taken an important step to reduce its unsustainable rate of incarceration. However, these reform measures apply only prospectively. As a result, there are still thousands of Oklahomans serving long prison sentences for drug possession, an offense the majority of Oklahomans say should be addressed as mental health/medical conditions and not as felony crimes. [Tulsa World]

Numbers of the Day

  • 77% – Percentage drop in paroles in Oklahoma, from 1,252 in 2008 to 291 in 2017.
  • -33% – Gap between the average wage for Oklahoma teachers and other college graduates in the state, 2011-15. This was the 6th largest gap in the U.S.
  • $504.8 million – Value of exports to Mexico from Oklahoma (2016).
  • 121% – Increase in the number of Oklahoma kids participating in the Afterschool Supper Program from October 2016 to October 2017, the largest increase in the nation.
  • 13.4% – Percent of total sales of all Oklahoma grocery stores that were meat and poultry, compared to a national average of 10.5%.

See previous Numbers of the Day and sources here.

What We’re Reading


Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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