Cover Story: Chicken-Fried News year in review and predictions for 2017

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We can all agree that 2016 was not the greatest year, right? While the entire country was busy becoming a veritable circus, Oklahoma did not let itself be the odd clown out.

From ginormous budget cuts to our golden boy Kevin Durant cutting himself from the Oklahoma City Thunder, 2016 caused Oklahoma citizens buckets of grief. Even parts of our state, including the May Avenue bridge over Northwest Expressway, the Silver Bullet roller-coaster at Frontier City and the very ground under our feet, proceeded to fail — or fall or shake — on us.

We also lost a lot of beloved Okies like Leon Russell and Merle Haggard, but not everything in 2016 was horrible.

Oklahoma voters decided a constitutional amendment protecting the Ten Commandments monument wasn’t a good idea and bills against certain people don’t really help anyone. We also banded together to support the Black Lives Matter movement and made a huge effort to ditch our lazy, unhealthy reputation by installing a world-class whitewater rafting facility and actually using it.

We bought a Ferris wheel on the internet and finally decided to crawl out of Prohibition and modernize our liquor laws, too.

Join the crack writing team at Chicken-Fried News as we wave goodbye to the immense dumpster fire that was 2016 and say hello to all the possibility that 2017 holds.

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Ten Commandments

Oklahoma legislators shook their fingers at the Oklahoma Supreme Court, took a line from University of Oklahoma President David Boren (“Let the people vote”) and began drafting plans for the rededication ceremony of the Ten Commandments monument on the Oklahoma State Capitol grounds after passing a resolution pushing the issue to a public vote.

The third-to-last state question on the Oklahoma ballot aimed to repeal Oklahoma’s constitutional amendment separating church and state and, consequentially, allow tablets showing “God’s law” on the capitol grounds. In the ballot booth, voters scratched their heads and thought, “What about the possible lawsuits?” or “Would this allow state money to go to private, unregulated schools?” and “Does this mean the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster gets a monster statute?” With lingering questions, voters said no, squashing lawmakers’ plans for a grand rededication ceremony in 2017.

Prediction: In typical Oklahoma Legislature fashion, at least one state lawmaker will propose a bill with the underlying goal of moving the Ten Commandments monument back to the Capitol. Bill language could include reclassifying the Ten Commandments as artwork by an influential Oklahoma artist. The Ten Commandments would pay tribute to sundry Okie-tied musicians, Native Americans, athletes, actors, astronauts, pilots, authors, artists, journalists and criminals Belle Starr, Chuck Norris, Rue McClanahan, Garth Brooks, Bill Hader, Sequoyah, Greyson Chance, Brian Bosworth, Joan Crawford, Ralph Ellison, Shannon Lucid, Kathy Lee Gifford, Troy Aikman, Reba McEntire, Wiley Post, Wayne Coyne, Taylor Hanson, S.E. Hinton, Joe Andoe, Walter Cronkite, Johnny Bench, Chester Gould, Will Rogers, Quanah Parker, Steve Largent, Bill Moyers, Phil McGraw, David Duke and Randy Terrill working in tablet arts. Heck, comedian Sam Kinison is buried in Tulsa. We at Chicken-Fried News strongly recommend he be included, too.

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New gameplan

With the addition of whitewater rafting at Riversport Adventures and the OKC National High Performance Center’s status as an Olympic and Paralympic training site for the nation’s rowing athletes, there has never been more activity on the Oklahoma River. Indeed, the sports scene in Oklahoma looks bright.

Legendary University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer pulled the wool over the media’s eyes this month when he claimed to be president-elect Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of Offense, but maybe it’s an idea Gov. Mary Fallin should actually consider. How about Secretary of Playtime and Exercise?

Prediction: Chicken-Fried News predicts the coach’s official appointment to Fallin’s cabinet. Maybe if the whole state knew how to run the wishbone offense, it could run its way into some more education funding, or at least a way to protect school sports programs.

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Gone too soon

The Grim Reaper kept busy during 2016. In Oklahoma alone, we lost icons like “Okie from Muskogee” Merle Haggard, Tulsa Sound lightning rod Leon Russell and former Oklahoma! Broadway star Patty Duke.

Prediction: Chicken-Fried News hopes against all hope that it does not happen, but if 2016’s appetite for entertainment icons bleeds over into 2017, we fear Tulsa-raised actor Gary Busey might be somewhere high on the list.

Busey is, of course,  known for his award-winning title role in The Buddy Holly Story and for smaller but no-less-timeless parts in Lethal Weapon and Point Break. He is also one of only a few celebrities to appear in multiple seasons of president-elect Donald Trump’s reality show The Celebrity Apprentice. Still, if there was any Oklahoma celebrity CFN could grant the gift of immortality, Busey would be high up on the list.

Remember, for instance, this summer, when Oklahoma City social media users went nuts as the actor delivered ice cream across OKC for an Uber promotion? Those are the kind of acts of love and quirkiness that live forever.

Historic headliners

For some college students and relative Norman Music Festival (NMF) newbies, it might seem like NMF is something that has always and will forever exist in downtown Norman. In April, the fest celebrates a decade of free music in the city.

Headliners like San Francisco garage rock act Thee Oh Sees and Washington, D.C., rapper and producer Oddisee help ensure Norman Music Festival 10 will be brought in with style.

Prediction: Let’s imagine for a moment, however, that there might be some surprise bookings in store for 2017. A One Direction reunion, perhaps? The Eagles with hologram Glenn Frey? An Oklahoma duet with Carrie Underwood and Blake Shelton? No, no and … no. We suggest Jabee rapping over Blake Lusk instrumentation or maybe Lincka in duet with Wink Burcham. Make it happen, NMF.

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Modern liquor laws

2016 was a great year for lushes in Oklahoma. After decades of backward alcohol laws dating back to the end of Prohibition when the state chose not to ratify the 21st Amendment, voters across the state chose to move beer and liquor laws into the 21st century with the passage of State Question 792.

Before that happened, though, the Oklahoma Legislature saw the writing on the wall and passed a few bills themselves. Senate Bill 424 allows craft beer makers in the state to open taprooms and sell full-strength beer to customers directly instead of requiring them to go through distributors. Then they passed Senate Bill 383, crafted by Sens. Stephanie Bice and Clark Jolley, which set in place the statutory regulations that made the state question possible.

But let’s give it up for the voters, because they truly made it possible. SQ 792 garnered more than 930,000 yes votes to pass by 65 percent. Cheers!

Prediction: The only problem with the new laws, which will put cold beer and wine in grocery, convenience and liquor stores, is that they don’t go into effect until 2018. So 2017 will be the year some thirsty, angry Oklahomans make a fuss at Wal-Mart because they can’t get their cold 6 percent ABV beer for little while longer.

Wheeler’s wheel

The Byrds sang, “To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season, turn, turn, turn, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” For the Santa Monica Pier Ferris wheel, that purpose was to become a part of Oklahoma City’s growing Wheeler District.

Bought for $135,000 on eBay, the newly dubbed Wheeler Ferris Wheel, 1701 S. Western Ave., quickly became a staple of the Oklahoma City skyline and a popular destination for residents and tourists alike. It also became the centerpiece of a grand dining event in September when Russ Johnson and Jonathon Stranger staged the epic Le Restaurant Francais of the 1939 World’s Fair event there.

Diners were treated to music, cocktails and appetizers at the base of the wheel before taking a ride and being served a four-course meal up in the air.

Prediction: After the success of the wheel, Wheeler District developer Blair Humphreys will import the rest of the Santa Monica Pier to Oklahoma City, including a historic carousel, an aquarium and a trapeze school.

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State of disrepair

The last calendar year was not exactly a poster for infrastructure in Oklahoma City. Though repaired at an impressively fast pace, nothing will ever match the feeling of confusion (and perhaps minor bemusement) the city collectively felt after a semi truck collided with and collapsed a portion of the N. May Avenue bridge over Northwest Expressway.

City residents might also recall watching in June as rescue workers led eight riders to safety from atop Frontier City’s Silver Bullet roller coaster. All passengers were safely removed within two hours — much to the seeming dismay of international social media users and tabloid news websites, all of which were consumed with the coaster riders and their dramatic rescue by Oklahoma City tactical fire crews as media helicopters circled overhead.

Prediction: So what new high-profile case of malfunction does 2017 have in store? The Wheeler Ferris Wheel is an obvious candidate, but Chicken-Fried News believes the amusement ride is too new to pose any potential problem soon.

Instead, expect something to go wrong with Devon Energy Center’s tower elevators. Who will be the leg-pumping fireman who has to climb up all those stairs for a rescue? What if the elevators are taken out of commission for a long period of time? Expect some sweat-stained suits exiting the stairway.

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LGBT rights

It wasn’t enough that anti-LGBT Oklahoma lawmakers introduced a record number of hateful bills in 2016. One proposed piece of legislation, which closely resembled North Carolina’s controversial bathroom bill, crept into an amendment to the budget during the last week of session.

The 10-10 tied vote killed the bill that required public schools to provide separate bathrooms to students who didn’t want to share with transgender classmates. In the end, nearly 30 anti-LGBT bills were killed, including one promoting conversion therapy and another allowing business owners to refuse services to people who violated their religious beliefs.

Prediction: While term limits ended the reign of anti-LGBT Republican Sally Kern, lawmakers like Rep. John Bennett, R-Sallisaw; Sen. Joseph Silk, R-Broken Bow; and Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate, continue to serve the state. We could see those three and others attempt revivals on once-killed bills. It might be too soon for Oklahoma, but what about lawmakers proposing nondiscrimination protection bills for the LGBT community?

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What’s your damage?

Oklahoma’s rise in seismic activity has caught the attention of scientists, the media, environmental groups, New York law firms, citizens and, at times, the state government. (Have you checked out the earthquake map at earthquake.ok.gov?) At this point, it’s fact that oil and gas drilling, specifically the rapid injection of fluid during wastewater disposal, caused the hundreds of earthquakes recorded in the Sooner State in recent years. While most Oklahomans can say they felt the tremors, folks in communities like Cushing, Pawnee, Fairview, Medford and Edmond can point to damage in their homes, workplace, houses of worship and communities.

Prediction: Judges in Pawnee and Payne counties are reviewing petitions for class action lawsuits from residents who say their homes and businesses suffered major destruction. In the suits, those plaintiffs allege oil and natural gas drillers, through disposal of fracking wastewater, caused the damage.

Additionally, two federal judges are tasked with reviewing complaints connected to the manmade quakes. Cases can move at a slow pace in the legal system. Considering Oklahoma is friendly to the oil and gas industry, it’s likely these cases will move glacially.

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Oklahoma→D.C.

President-elect Donald Trump must have liked what he saw when he visited the Oklahoma State Fair in 2015, because he’s bringing some of the Sooner State with him to Washington, D.C.

State Attorney General Scott Pruitt has been tapped to run the federal Environmental Protection Agency, presumably so he can tear it down from the inside after years spent attacking it from Oklahoma City. Pruitt famously sued the EPA in 2014 and 2015 over rules the agency instituted to stop the spread of pollutants across state lines and curb coal-fired power plant air pollution and infamously sent a letter to the EPA lambasting the agency over its natural gas drilling pollution estimates, which The New York Times later discovered was essentially copied and pasted from Devon Energy lawyers. Plagiarist!

Gov. Mary Fallin won’t be making the trip with Trump’s new administration. After getting snubbed for a vice presidential nod and passed over for a job as secretary of the interior, Fallin seemed destined to remain in Oklahoma for a while longer. Former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon also auditioned for a spot in Trump’s cabinet, but he wasn’t announced for any of the positions.

Prediction: The Donald still has a few weeks before he takes office, so there could be a few more Oklahomans plucked for plum gigs in D.C. Our bet is that Trump sets his sights on presidential rival Joe “Exotic” Maldonado to run the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Islamophobia

We all know that history is destined to repeat itself, so should Oklahomans be surprised that Rep. John Bennett hosted an interim study exploring threats posed by “radical Islam” in the Sooner State? The answer is no. After all, Bennett has made anti-Muslim comments for years. In 2014, the Sallisaw Republican said Islam “is a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.” In typical Bennett fashion, the lawmaker demonized the Muslim community during the span of a morning as national media watched. Bennett has vowed to draft legislation to protect Oklahoma from organizations that do harm to the state. In his mind, that includes the Oklahoma chapter of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations). CAIR’s mission is to “enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.”

Prediction: While Bennett hasn’t given many specifics on his plans to protect Oklahoma from perceived religious threats, we imagine he will introduce legislation intended to marginalize Oklahoma’s Muslim community. Could we see a bill to restrict the wearing of Muslim burqas or hijabs or create a Muslim registry? Possibly. Should such legislation be proposed, we imagine calls to action by human rights, civil rights and religious rights groups.

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Thunder up-and-up

In July 2016, Kevin Durant decided he wanted off the Thunder train in a decision that the average Oklahoman might have heard a thing or two about.

However, gloom and doom began to fade the next month when Thunder star Russell Westbrook agreed to a multiple-year extension with the team.

Since then, Westbrook has racked up triple-double after triple-double at a pace the NBA hasn’t seen for more than 50 years.

Logic tells Chicken-Fried News that Westbrook will be hard-pressed to extend his prolific statistics through an entire season, but CFN also knows it doesn’t do much good to apply mere logic to this kind of player.

Prediction: This team is finding a way to compete as is, but look out for general manager Sam Presti to recruit more help for his superstar guard sometime this calendar year. The Thunder doesn’t need a Durant replacement, just someone to take some of the load of Westbrook as he focuses on doing what only he can.

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Budget cuts

When will Oklahomans say enough is enough? For the 2014-15 state budget, Oklahoma was short $188 million. The next year, the state saw a budget hole of $611 million. Whew! Then the budget shortfall climbed to $1.3 billion for 2016-17, leading to across-the-board cuts impacting key governmental services.

This year, lawmakers face an $868 million budget deficit. Since the solution to budget woes has been cuts and layoffs, it’s tough to argue Oklahoma has a spending problem. In other words, Oklahoma has a revenue problem and the first step toward change is admitting there is a problem.

Prediction: Gov. Mary Fallin is driving the conversation on pushing revenue raiser measures through the House and Senate chambers in 2017. The Republican wants to broaden Oklahoma’s sales tax base, which would call for taxing services currently exempt like tattoos, dry cleaning and car washes. Fallin’s calls have fallen on deaf ears in years past. Let’s hope lawmakers hear the shouts of the unhappy public over four-day school weeks, rural hospital closures, long waits for mental health services, concerns over roads and bridges, social workers with swelling case loads and troopers limited on their daily travels.

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Matisse in His Time

Oklahoma City Museum of Art scored quite a coup when it became the only North American venue for an exhibit of Henri Matisse’s works and those of his contemporaries, including Pablo Picasso, André Derain and Georges Braque, called Matisse in His Time.

It was a massive hit, selling out tours and bringing an entirely new crowd into the museum. According to NewsOK.com, the museum’s board of trustees chairman Jerome Holmes said more than 62,000 visitors from every state in the U.S. and several foreign nations came to the museum during its four-month stay in Oklahoma.

“It is certainly one of the most successful, if not the most successful, exhibits that we’ve had,” he said.

Prediction: How can OKCMOA top Matisse in His Time? It might be difficult to get another exclusive show like that to the museum. Instead, using time-travel technology, Oklahoma City will host Matisse in Our Time, snatching the famous French impressionist from a few years before his death in 1954 to paint new pieces for crowds of onlookers.

Black Lives Matter

This past July, Black Lives Matter OKC rallied thousands of Oklahomans in Bricktown to engage in a peaceful, public conversation on police brutality, racial discrimination and civil rights. Individuals from NAACP’s Oklahoma City branch, OKC Artists for Justice, American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma and a slew of lawmakers passed around the microphone and called for Oklahomans to vote and get active in local government. Never stop speaking out against hate, discrimination and violence.

Prediction: Black Lives Matter OKC charted a course for change with its 2016 march. With resources and continued discussion — for example, increasing public knowledge on the justice system, government and the challenges for communities of color — Oklahoma City can move the needle in combating systemic racism in our communities.

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Standard Oklahoma

“Something called ‘the Oklahoma Standard’ became known throughout the world,” said former Gov. Brad Henry. “It means resilience in the face of adversity. It means a strength and compassion that will not be defeated.”

People mostly use the phrase to describe the way people in Oklahoma respond to a tragedy by sending money they might not have to help people they probably don’t know. But 2016 was a weird year for the standard, as evidenced by our state’s voting record.

On the same night Americans voted in President Donald J. Trump, Oklahomans also chose to deny a raise for teachers (SQ 779) and declare that the death penalty is not “cruel and unusual punishment” (SQ 776).

Then again, voters also approved State Questions 780 and 781, lowering some property and drug crimes from felonies to misdemeanors and putting the money saved into rehabilitation programs.

Prediction: A tornado will hit some of Oklahoma’s crumbling jails and prisons, rendering the inmates homeless. A compassionate and caring electorate will finally approve new facilities to keep them incarcerated in humane conditions. Sadly, the money will be taken from state education funding.

Print headline: Up in flames, So, you think 2016 was a dumpster fire? Read our 2017 predictions!

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Gazette Staff

This article was written by the Oklahoma Gazette staff. To reach an editor, please email jchancellor@okgazette.com with this story headline in your subject line.

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