I’m proud of us Oklahomans. Like much of the country, we, too, showed up to vote on Feb. 5. Democrats and Republicans alike not only exercised a basic civic responsibility, but also clearly made many comments through our votes about our feelings toward the recent past, our hopes for the future, and what truly is troubling our hearts and minds in 2008.
Pollsters both locally and nationally reported that citizens’ concern about the economy is at the top of our lists of worries.
Too frequently, lawmakers and candidates equate “economic concerns” with a naively narrow focus on tax cuts and additional jobs. To be sure, each of those topics does impact economic security on both a state level and a personal, family level.
Let’s examine what the phrase “economic concerns” means to some Oklahomans, and let’s consider the opportunities to respond facing our legislators this session.
What might be the economic worries of a single mother of two school-aged children, who is working two jobs in order to afford rent, food, clothes, child care for the younger child and one extracurricular class for the young teen? What about the two-parent, dual-income family that pays more for day care each year for a toddler than the average rate of tuition for a freshman at a four-year Oklahoma college? What about the retired teacher, age 65, on a fixed income, who still cares for an 85-year-old parent? What about the farmer and the builder who can’t find qualified farm workers or construction employees to hire?
Obviously, these examples are not exhaustive of those challenges many Oklahomans face daily. Unfortunately, these examples are not as “enticing” to the press, to TV reporting or to politicians as the quick-fix rhetoric of tax cuts and more jobs.
Yet, these examples are indeed real. They are the concerns of Oklahomans and, therefore, they are the people’s business and should be the business of our elected representatives.
As bill proposals move through the state Legislature in committee hearings this month, many citizens will be looking for signs of possible solutions to the spectrum of challenges their families face. Will the plights of the majority of Oklahomans be addressed?
There are some hopeful signs. Oklahoma City-area legislators have filed bills to require insurance carriers to cover certain clinical trials that would otherwise financially devastate families facing critical illnesses (Sen. Andrew Rice, Senate Bill 1521); to establish the Oklahoma Food Security Act, which would coordinate and maximize efficiency of farmers’ markets, senior nutrition programs, schools, churches and other community partners providing food to hungry citizens (Rep. Kris Steele, House Bill 2833); to provide a minimal increase to pensions of retired teachers (Rep. Ann Coody, HB 2509 and HB 2510); and to provide incentives for small businesses relating to startup costs (Rep. Mike Shelton, HB 2877).
The words “economic concerns” do require a broad perspective. Let’s hope this Legislature uses such a lens and doesn’t limit its focus to the familiar refrain of tax cuts and more jobs.
Boyd, a former state legislator and 1998 Democratic gubernatorial nominee, is owner and chief executive officer of Policy and Performance Consultants Inc.