Opinion (8)

Friday, 09 May 2014 03:16

Productivity Requires Participation

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The majority of Americans look at Washington with great frustration because they feel like Congress isn’t being productive or doing anything of real value. Despite this declining confidence in the lawmaking process, it’s important to realize that there have been several substantive bills that have become law and still other pieces of legislation that patiently await the action by the Senate and President Obama.

During the last several months in Congress, I am pleased that there have been examples of both sides coming together and negotiating valuable reforms. Throughout December and January, we saw this in the joint budget conference committee that unveiled a two-year budget deal and then through the omnibus funding package offered by the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Passage in both chambers of the budget deal and the corresponding omnibus bill that were signed into law by the president allowed our nation to avert another government shutdown and provided a renewed sense of certainty to hardworking Americans.

Additionally, lawmakers worked together in January to reconcile the farm bills of the House and Senate through a joint conference committee. The conference report, which was supported in both chambers and signed into law by the president, was a victory for both rural and urban America. Even more recently, both chambers and the president acted on the Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act, which redirects tax dollars currently being wasted on political party conventions to instead fund valuable pediatric research.

Even in the midst of some real progress, Americans see deadlock in the legislative process. But the blame cannot and should not be placed on the Republican House. Since Republicans reclaimed majority, they have worked tirelessly to draft and pass legislation that would create much-needed jobs and improve our economic outlook for our children and grandchildren.

 At the center of much of the legislation that has been introduced and passed, there is an obvious commitment to addressing what’s broken in our government. Sometimes that has meant dealing with needless regulations that prevent domestic energy production, hurt small businesses or discourage entrepreneurship, ultimately causing our country to miss out on new jobs. At other times, Republicans have introduced bills that address our more than $17 trillion of debt by cutting wasteful government spending and reforming entitlements.

 While House Republicans have offered solutions, the Senate and Administration have all too often chosen not to even be part of the discussion. Instead of bringing House-passed legislation to the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid rarely puts anything to a vote and instead refuses to address the bills the House has sent. Likewise, President Obama has displayed an unwillingness to lead by calling for action in the upper chamber, making Congress even less productive. Considering that the president dubbed 2014 as the “Year of Action” during his State of the Union speech, his inaction is disappointing.

There are now more than 230 pieces of House-passed legislation awaiting action in the upper chamber. Many of these bills encourage job creation and facilitate economic recovery. For example, the SKILLS Act would provide training programs for the long-term unemployed, helping them improve skills and giving them a wider range of job opportunities.

Through the $7 billion private investment of TransCanada, construction of the Keystone pipeline would also provide jobs for American workers. Members of the House have already shown their support time and again for TransCanada’s extension of the pipeline. In the last Congress alone, the House voted six times to advance its construction. Last year, a bipartisan House approved the Northern Route Approval Act, legislation that expedites the Keystone application process. Unfortunately, despite the outspoken support from some Democratic lawmakers in the upper chamber, no Senate votes have been allowed to complete the pipeline. Similarly, the State Department and White House continue to needlessly delay the pipeline’s approval by choosing to delay a decision on Keystone even though several studies reveal no noticeable impact on the environment.

We need to restore confidence in the federal government, but House Republicans cannot do it alone. In order to improve the view of Congress held by Americans, the Senate must take more votes. With the numerous bills passed by the House, the upper chamber is certainly not in need of material. Furthermore, as the elected leader of our nation, President Obama should encourage the Senate to participate in the legislative process and at least vote on legislation. Otherwise, little is likely to change.

 

Wednesday, 02 April 2014 20:37

Opinion: The Sound of Silence

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Hello darkness, my old friend.

No, wait, that’s not right.

Due to flooding in our office building on Monday, I have been left virtually homeless within the Pacer office. Where I used to have my own office space to work and write in, I’m now shoved into the corner of the front lobby desk. 

Where once I was able to work in the quiet and solitude I often need to think and write straight, I now deal with the drone of fans drying out two thirds of our building on top of all of the hustle and bustle of an office environment. 

Let me tell you, trying to keep a coherent thought for a story together when you crank out thousands of words a day is tough enough, much less when you have a jackhammer ripping up your foundation down the hallway. 

If anything, the experience of being turned into a journalistic hobo at Pacer Headquarters has made me truly appreciate the value of silence. 

That explains the reference I made in the headline. 

We live in a fast-paced, busy world, even in places like Newcastle where time can seem like it creeps to a standstill if you let it. 

There is always something looking to get our attention. This machine beeps, that machine boops, phones ring, people talk, engines roar (or sputter and die, knowing my luck) and the world keeps chugging along. 

Often, we can learn to drown out the racket of the planet ringing all around us. Well, sir or madam, if you can drown out and ignore a jackhammer chewing up concrete 15 yards down the hall, then I have some swampland in the Mojave I’d like to sell you.

My point is, you can’t always drown out the world for some inner peace and quiet, however what you can do is make those quiet times you do get count. 

Shutting out the world around you isn’t a bad idea. A little time out of the day to shut off the phones, silence the beep-boops and sit by yourself is a great time to catch up on neglected hobbies, read something new, or do what I do - look up random facts on the Internet that might be interesting only to myself. 

Speaking of which, did you know that summer lasts about 21 years on Uranus? 

What a tan.

Wednesday, 02 April 2014 15:53

If 25,000 Oklahomans are wrong, why let them teach?

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There is little question that the oil and gas industry is vital to our state. It holds up our economy like no other industry and helped sustain us, while other states were hemorrhaging red ink. Although the energy sector accounts for approximately one out of seven jobs in our state, Oklahoma children account for 100 percent of every student in Kindergarten through 12th grade.

Funding education adequately should be a priority. Funding it more than any other state in the union should be our goal.

State officials seem to disagree. They have repeatedly prioritized the oil and gas companies' profits over our children's education and it is time they stop. 

That is why educators rallied at the capitol on Monday. Not over something as simple as teacher raises, or as seemingly unsubstantial as new football uniforms. More than 100 Newcastle educators, and at least 25,000 Oklahomans came together because it is time the state put education funding at the top of the list.

Newcastle Superintendent Tony O'Brien explains the issue and its implications for Newcastle Schools in our new education section on Page 3 of the Pacer. This section is a product of the importance that education has on our community and the state. The Pacer strives to shine a light on our students and keep the community informed about school events and accomplishments. We place the children front and center, along with the issues that affect their education, as our elected leaders should.

State reps seem more consumed with envy of our southern neighbor than the proper education of our youth. One example of this is the income tax. Texas has no income taxes, and our leaders want to follow their lead. Yet, there isn't a substantial plan offered to generate the lost revenue. This could lead to further cuts in education.

Regardless if we call it "the repeal of the income tax" or "increased property taxes," the government will get money from us somehow. That is not going to change. What will, and should, change is what they do with that money. They should stop giving it to a sector that doesn't need it and start investing it in our state's students.

Representatives that think it is a good idea to cut income taxes, or maintain low tax rates for wealthy corporations, while defunding education, clearly need to go back to school. But unless we increase the education budget, they should probably enroll somewhere in Texas.

 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014 22:01

Opinion: A Birthday letter to Newcastle

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While it’s still a week or so out, the Pacer is celebrating Newcastle’s birthday, which is next Wednesday.

As such, I’d like to offer Newcastle the following message on its big day. For maximum realism, do not read until Mar. 26.

Dear Newcastle,

Wow. You turn 120 today. Where has the time gone?

Who would have guessed? We couldn’t have even considered that the awkward, riverside farming community that was incorporated as South Newcastle in 1962 would have grown into the bustling, forward-looking city that you are today, even with the awkward name change. 

Now, 120 in city terms seems fairly young, but Newcastle as a city is only about 49. Compared to places like Oklahoma City or Norman, you’re still a wet-behind-the-ears teenager, Newcastle. The signs are plain to see, from the occasional streak of dirt road to the awkward signs of construction, covering your face like so much acne. 

Youth does not last forever, though. With every step, with every new building or new initiative or new idea, you take a step closer to adulthood. 

Normally, those of us who have watched you grow over the years would have some sort of advice to give at a time like this, like never trust a moneylender or never drink and drive. 

To be honest, I have no such advice for you. 

While my own status as a “mature, responsible adult” is debatable, there is nothing I could say that you do not already know, because the fact is that you, Newcastle, are wholly unique. 

While Tuttle may be like that one cousin everyone has whose life is defined by the cubic displacement of the motor in their 1964 Ford Thunderbolt, and Blanchard may be that one cousin who begins every story with “This one time at church,” Newcastle escapes definition. 

Even Bridge Creek, who reminds me of that little dog from the Warner Bros. cartoons who would follow the big dog around like a hyperactive sugar-head until he beat up the bad guy and became the tough dog, doesn’t compare to you or your potential. 

Newcastle, even as you start gearing up for your 50th anniversary next year, you are still on the road to the urban development version of adulthood. There is still a lot of growing left to do, and sometimes growth may be painful.

Never doubt that you are well on your way to being the great city we all know you will be.

Happy birthday, Newcastle.  

Wednesday, 12 March 2014 22:10

Opinion: Stomach troubles and more shenanigans

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Whoever decided that Love’s needs to power-wash their parking lot during morning rush hour needs to be fired.

That may be a bit extreme, but twice in a row now I’ve pulled in to Love’s Travel Store across from Riverwind Casino on my way in to work, hoping to grab a drink for the day and something resembling breakfast, only to find most of their parking spaces in front of the store closed off to be blasted with a high pressure hose. 

What spaces were available were all blocked by the morning rush of semi trucks wanting to get fuel, blocking whatever unfortunate soul is trying to get out.

Really, Love’s? You’re open 24/7. You have a better record for staying open than Waffle House. Do you really have to close your only morning-accessible parking to spray dried gum off of the concrete?

If that’s how you want to play, then fine. I’m sure America’s Kwik Stop enjoys selling me my Diet Coke in the morning.

As I write this, it is the morning after the March Newcastle City Council meeting, one which didn’t let out until nearly 10 p.m..

While waiting for hearings on zoning commission agenda items to wrap up, I was standing out in the hallway with State Rep. Bobby Cleveland, who was there to show support for a resolution to lower the speed limit on SH-76. 

After the first hour of zoning issues, the two of us began to grumble - Cleveland actually left the state house early to attend the meeting, and was missing votes, only to find he wouldn’t be allowed to speak for two and a half hours. At about 8 p.m., we started joking that we could run to Sonic, get something to eat, get back to the library and not miss a thing. 

Eventually, talking about food to a prodigious eater such as myself so far past his dinner time will wear on a man, so I said “You know what? I’mma do it.”

So I did.

Of course, by the time I returned from Sonic with my popcorn chicken and drink, they had powered through the zoning issues and rearranged the agenda so Cleveland could speak, so I walked in during his speech to the council.

Thanks, stomach, for screwing me up again.

Friday, 07 March 2014 22:17

From the Editor's Desk: A letter to ice drivers

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It’s not the weather that scares me, it’s the idiots out in it. 

As I write this Tuesday morning - ever the professional, I seem to enjoy putting off the easy stuff until the last freakin’ minute - the schools are out once again because of ice on the roadway.

Now, when it comes to driving on the ice, I have no problem whatsoever. Spending several years in a job that does not take off days for road conditions will teach you how to drive on ice.

More often than not, however, I’m confronted with two types of drivers when I’m out trying to get around on an ice sheet; the kind that go 10 miles an hour down the middle of a four-lane highway, and those that blow by at 80 MPH in a four-wheel drive truck, spooking everyone else in a regular car. 

Either one makes me more nervous when I’m behind the wheel than any winter conditions. Slow down (or speed up, whatever the case may be), drive with some confidence, and drive as normally as possible. 

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, on to other things. 

Last week I took our new intern, Kasey, around town on kind of an orientation tour. We stopped at several locations, the chamber, the police station, and so on. 

Now Kasey, an avid runner, at the time was wearing a boot due to a stress injury on her ankle.

No fewer than four people joked that I caused her injury.

Now, I know it’s all in good fun, but four people? Seriously? Come on people, give me a little credit. 

Regardless, watching how people talked about me and joked about me to someone who barely knows me taught me two valuable things:

1) That very influential people in this community all think I would beat my interns on their first day. 

2) That I will be missed. By some people at least.

With my final day at the Pacer set for April 22, it’s warming to know that I will be missed when I go, even if I am an introverted sort of person.

Besides, every newspaper editor worth their salt knows you don’t start breaking interns’ legs until the second or third week. That’s just good manners.

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We often criticize our politicians, but when they get it right, we should shine the brightest light on them possible.

Rep. Bobby Cleveland has produced a bill that deserves a spotlight because of the sunshine it will provide Oklahomans through the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA).

HB 2730, the Oklahoma Extracurricular Accountability Act, follows up on an Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling (Scott V. OSSAA) that said the OSSAA has governed school athletics with “near impunity.” And should do so “no more.” 

In other words, it is time for the OSSAA to officially follow the Open Meetings Act, and Cleveland’s bill will make them do just that, among other things that provide transparency.  It is a solid piece of legislation, and we should all support it.

The OSSAA has a profound impact on the lives of our state’s students and their extra curricular pursuits. It is a great organization, and nothing about that will change with Cleveland’s bill. But, because of its immense authority over our schools’ athletics and other activities, what the organization dictates has a monumental influence on Oklahoma youth and the communities they live in. But, it is not obligated to follow any open meeting laws. Those laws are designed for organizations that have as much power as the OSSAA.

We want to protect our children from any “arbitrary” or “capricious” acts. Whether we try to protect kids from themselves or others, Oklahomans must be able to trust the decisions by those in a position of authority. It is as obvious as the sun rising in the East and setting in the West. That sun shines through our windows, and should also shine brightly through organizations that maintain power over our daily lives, like local government, our schools, and the organizations that maintain any measure of authority over those agencies, as the OSSAA does in school athletics.

Though, it is not technically a state agency, the OSSAA still gets a portion of its funding from our tax dollars. It is funded by ticket sales and dues from schools. In 2012, during the Oklahoma Supreme court case Brooks V. OSSAA, it was revealed that roughly 70 percent of the OSSAA’s budget comes from schools. That means 70 percent of their budget is derived from our ad valorem dollars. When we pay for things, we should be able to see what, why and how it pays because transparency is the currency of democracy.

Some argue that the OSSAA is like any vendor the school does business with, and those vendors – like the ones that supply school cafeterias with food – do not follow open meetings acts or provide the legislature with their rules or business plans. This is not the same thing. Those vendors do not determine the trajectory of our youth, but the OSSAA does. Especially in a state like ours that values sportsmanship and athleticism. What the OSSAA decides not only directly impacts students’ lives, but also entire communities all across Oklahoma. Because athletics are the “glue” that binds communities in the state, as the state Supreme Court stated in the Scott case.

With 2730, the OSSAA will have to comply with open meetings acts, supply the legislator with the process they use to make rules, and follow ATA standards. It is a bill that will make the organization more transparent. Our children deserve it.

Critics of the bill maintain that the OSSAA already follows the open meetings act, if this is the case, then there is no reason to not support 2730 when it just makes that process official.

With this bill, Cleveland is providing our state with the type of guidance and laws that help our state run more efficiently and securely. Oklahomans deserve it.

The bill made it out of committee, passed through the house, and is now in the senate. Call Sen. Corey Brooks at (405) 521-5522, or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Insist he does everything he can to help pass the bill.

Everyone deserves it.

Friday, 18 January 2013 15:45

Governor's Records

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People who call themselves public servants may want to crack the dictionary to look those terms up before cashing their next checks.   

Last week, Gov. Mary Fallin’s staff refused to release email records, which centered on what she considered regarding creating a state health insurance exchange. The exchanges are required under federal health-care reform, but Fallin opted to not to create the exchange.

The request for the records was made under the state’s Open Records Act. The act defines public records as all documents including, but not limited to, any book, paper, photograph, microfilm, data files created by or used with computer software, computer tape, disk, and record, sound recording, film recording, video record or other material regardless of physical form or characteristic, created by, received by, under the authority of, or coming into the custody, control or possession of public officials, public bodies, or their representatives in connection with the transaction of public business, the expenditure of public funds or the administering of public property.

The Open Records Act makes these record public because, as the law states, “it is the public policy of the State of Oklahoma that the people are vested with the inherent right to know and be fully informed about their government.”

Fallin's general counsel, Steve Mullins, said the emails involving the governor's deliberative process won't be released for the public to see.

Mullins reportedly cited executive privilege and attorney-client privilege as the basis for the decision. Mullins said releasing electronic communications that pertain to state deliberations on public policy decisions could hurt policymakers' abilities to have productive internal discussions.

The problem is Oklahoma law gives the governor no such executive privilege right to hide records. Communications between an attorney and a client does enjoy some protection, but it is hard to fathom, that Fallin’s only emails on the issue would be to her lawyer. So can executive privilege stand up?

American presidents have claimed executive privilege so they can withhold documents or to prevent members of the executive branch from testifying in order to protect their communications. Their arguments have been the president’s advisers must be able to offer advice freely and without fear of censure.

The presidents have not always fared well with the executive privilege gambit. President Richard Nixon tried to withhold sound recordings connected to the Watergate scandal, but that boat was sunk by the U.S. Supreme Court. Later, President Bill Clinton tried to dodge testimony about Monica Lewinsky but inevitably found himself answering some very uncomfortable questions on videotape.

Wrapping one’s self in a blanket of supposed executive privilege rights is a weed-filled political path that someone like Fallin, who has campaigned on government being more accountable, should be trying to avoid. At the heart of the issue, though, is that fact that there is simply no executive privilege right under state law.

The governor enjoys wide popularity in the state, and her opposition to federal health-care reform also likely enjoys the same. Certainly, any discussion that is aimed at blocking that legislation would likely get a warm reception. So it is at best a head-scratcher as to why her office is choosing to fabricate rights to keep the information away from voters.

Instead, Fallin, her staff or maybe both have decided to keep records, which are clearly public under state law, hidden. That only fuels speculation that the details hidden in the records may be ugly at best or conspiratorial at worst
This is not the first such incident though where the public right to know has been curtailed.

State newspapers have reported at least two other occasions where record requests to Fallin’s office were denied.

In the case of the insurance exchange emails, Oklahoma law is clear and the governor should act accordingly.

Fallin would be wise to set an example to other government leaders that her term will be one of transparent governance. This awkward political move is surprising given that Fallin has proven herself to be a nimble politician.

Fallin is Oklahoma’s governor, elected by the people and paid by the people. We did not elect her to blur state laws and play games with public records and our futures.

The bottom line is that public records are the property of the people. They are not the property of politicians who may have forgotten that their power is derived from the people and not the other way around.

Gov. Fallin, release the records.

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