The nation may have veered left in the recent elections, but Oklahoma made a turn right when it voted into office an equal number of Republican and Democratic state senators.
Republicans now have the majority in the House, along with a legitimate claim they should share an equal number of committee chairmanships in the Senate. This means members of the GOP undoubtedly will ask for Senate floor votes on controversial religious-driven legislation, such as intelligent design, prayer in school issues and more abortion restrictions.
They will have a good argument. Although most of Oklahoma’s executive positions are held by Democrats, the Republicans now have the most legislators. They lost a seat in the House, true, but they still have an 11-seat majority there, and they picked up two seats in the Senate.
The newly elected Democratic lieutenant governor, Jari Askins, will break tie votes in the Senate, but political observers are acutely aware virtually all religious-driven legislation passes in Oklahoma if it makes it to a floor vote. Last session, for example, the Senate declined to put an intelligent design bill, passed by the House, to a vote. Had it gone to a vote, it likely would have passed, too. Can or should Senate Democrats stop floor votes in an equally divided chamber?
Gov. Brad Henry, a moderate Democrat who probably has and deserves to have future political aspirations after his landslide victory over Ernest Istook, is unlikely to rock the boat with vetoes. He signed into law restrictive abortion measures last session, and it’s difficult to know where and if he would draw a line on this controversial issue.
Now is the time for progressives, who should be worried about the state’s direction under the future Republican legislative leadership, to express their concerns to moderate and liberal Democrats who will listen to them. As the country begins healing after several years of divisive and incompetent national GOP leadership, Oklahoma is headed for one of the ugliest sessions in its history because of more ideological Republicans, not fewer of them.
Let it get ugly. If Democrats learned one thing in their recent sweeping national victory, it should have been this: It’s always better to stand up for your beliefs and fight with your full political arsenal.
In Oklahoma, this means, for one thing, the Oklahoma Democratic Party needs to launch a huge campaign to get younger, new progressive candidates to run for office. If it can’t do this ” and its reluctance to embrace the netroots and create more independent media this last election season was telling ” then the state will be controlled by Republicans for the next generation.
The conservative juggernaut in this state in the last 20 years has been built on a weird coalition of religious conservatives who vote against their own financial interests and lifestyle-liberal business types who fleece the faithful to line their pocketbooks with corporate welfare.
Nationally, religious people have noted the hypocrisy underlying the Republicans’ follies, from Foleygate to the Jack Abramoff scandal to the death, destruction and lies of Iraq, and they now have voted accordingly, giving Democrats majorities in both the U.S. House and Senate.
Is Oklahoma behind the curve as usual? Or is it a structural problem because of the conservative nature of the Oklahoma mainstream media, which systematically marginalizes liberal voices? It’s the classic Oklahoma chicken-and-egg story. – Kurt Hochenauer
Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and author of the progressive political blog, Okie Funk: Notes From the Outback.