- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Tulsa World, April 22, 2014

The stain: Bogus conviction costs man 17 years

The loss Jeffrey Dan Williams suffered because of his wrongful 1997 conviction in U.S. District Court here is truly outrageous.

Three former Tulsa Police officers and a federal agent, the people the public relies on to uphold the law, perverted the process -misleading a federal judge and likely depriving 49 people, including Williams, of their civil rights.

For Williams, those officers’ actions cost him 17 years of freedom. U.S. District Judge James H. Payne has vacated Williams‘ sentence and ordered him freed from a Minnesota federal prison.

In a lengthy order, Payne found that a scheme by Tulsa police officers “J.J.” Gray, Jeff Henderson, Harold R. Wells and former federal agent Brandon McFadden, “was deliberately planned, carefully executed and intended to defraud the court, and in fact, this court did rely upon the fraudulently manufactured evidence in order to convict and sentence Williams.”

Williams is among 49 people who have been freed from prison or had their cases modified because of civil rights violations or potential problems with the case arising from a police corruption scandal.

All the officers involved have received prison sentences. But even with that, the stain remains. The corruption case encompassed several years and involved an illegal search and seizure of Williams. In addition, the officers induced false testimony from informants against him.

The criminal justice system relies on rules. Those used to convict and sentence Williams on bogus drug charges broke down at every juncture. Williams was arrested illegally, prosecutors relied on bogus evidence and testimony to convict him, a judge relied on the record before him to send Williams to federal prison.

This sounds more like a story you’d read about from a big city police corruption investigation, not one in Tulsa. But it happened here. The public and the judge all were deceived. And people like Williams paid the highest price of all.

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Tahlequah Daily Press, April 18, 2014

Ban on wage hikes by municipalities a mark of hypocrisy

The words “God” and “governor” may share the same first two letters, but the two are hardly interchangeable.

But let’s assume Gov. Mary Fallin really isn’t deluded enough to place her powers on the level of a deity. What rationale would a woman who has championed smaller government and local control use to explain her hypocrisy in banning individual Oklahoma cities from raising minimum wages in their jurisdictions?

Fallin can’t bear all the blame for this dictatorial behavior. Rep. Randy Grau, who sponsored the bill in the House, claims that “an artificial raise in the minimum wage could derail local economies in a matter of months.” Dan Newberry, the Senate co-author, offered the usual reasoning behind wage hike opposition: It will allow Oklahoma to remain economically competitive and see continued job growth. He added: “It is imperative that these decisions be made at the state level and follow the compliance with the federal wage requirements.”

But how “compliant” would Mr. Newberry would be if President Obama managed to ram through his federal minimum wage hike? We suspect Newberry’s on-the-surface support of “federal wage requirements” would sink like a rock with a brick tied to it.

Next to abortion and gay marriage, the minimum wage is one of the most divisive topics on the current agenda. Many Americans are staunch in their support of, or opposition to, raising that rate, and an endless stream of studies, polls, statistics and testimony before blue ribbon panels is not going to change their minds. A practical person can see both sides of the issue, and there is no easy answer.

On the one hand, only the most out-of-touch elitist in a gated community would think a person can support himself, much less a family, on $7.25 an hour. Fallin’s assertion that most minimum-wage workers are “young, single people working part-time (or) high school or college students living with their parents” doesn’t take into account the hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs that were lost during the Great Recession. Lots of those folks - the ones willing to work, anyway - have been forced to take entry-level jobs until something better comes along, if it ever does. And ironically, many of those people have turned to government assistance, like food stamps, to stay afloat.

On the other hand, Fallin is right when she says raising the wage will not lift people out of poverty. When corporations or small businesses expect a certain level of profit, and an across-the-board wage hike is suddenly forced upon them, they’re bound to make up the difference. Widespread business closure is an extreme with little data to support it, but consolidation and loss of individual jobs is a strong probability. The other alternative is to simply raises prices of products or services to offset higher wages. It doesn’t do much good to get a raise when the extra cash is gobbled up by higher expenses.

But this isn’t about the merits, or flaws, in the argument to raise the minimum wage. This is about local autonomy, and whether a power-hungry pack of flea-bitten wolves at the statehouse has the right to decide what communities can and cannot do.

The next time you hear a state official rant about federal mandates and state’s rights, ask him if he supported this municipal clampdown, and if he did, tell him to stop bumping his sanctimonious gums. All due respect to Alexander Hamilton, the more local a government can be these days, the better off its citizens will be. If mayors and city councils want to raise wages in their jurisdictions, they should be able to do it, and let the local business community hold them accountable for whatever happens.

A vast majority of elected officials have shown themselves to be spectacularly inept at running the statehouse. Given that fact, they need to butt out of local affairs, and stick to squabbles over Ten Commandments monuments and kickbacks for oil companies.

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The Oklahoman, April 18, 2014

Political dynamics changing, as Oklahoma candidate filings show

Last week’s candidate filing period reinforced, once again, how the mighty have fallen. The Democratic Party once dominated Oklahoma. Only a few years ago, Democrats still held many statewide offices. Today, the party struggles to even field credible candidates in many major races.

Because no Democrat filed, incumbent Republicans were re-elected upon filing for the offices of state auditor, attorney general and state treasurer. Statewide races for insurance commissioner and corporation commission will be decided in Republican primaries; no Democrats sought those jobs. U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa and a tea party favorite, has attracted controversy during his first term in office but was re-elected without opposition this month. No Democrat filed.

Democrats did field legitimate candidates in some races, although these individuals remain clear underdogs. The party’s candidates for governor, the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Tom Coburn, and the open 5th Congressional District include Democrats who’ve run successful campaigns for state legislative seats. But in many other races, the Democratic Party will be represented by little-known individuals or “perennial” candidates.

In the Legislature, the Democratic Party has shifted from outright control of both chambers in 2004 to being a distinct minority today. In the Senate, Democrats hold just 12 of 48 seats. One of those seats has already flipped to Republicans: No Democrat filed to replace the retiring Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, the Senate minority leader.

This is the second election cycle in a row in which Republicans have made state Senate gains thanks to a lack of Democratic opposition. In 2012, only Republican candidates filed in races to replace outgoing Democratic incumbents in state Senate districts representing Shawnee and Tulsa.

These facts are a reflection of Oklahomans’ growing disenchantment with the Democratic Party, particularly in the age of Barack Obama. But they may also indicate that some people who are more philosophically aligned with the Democratic Party are now simply running as Republicans.

The opposite trend was previously common in Oklahoma. Many conservative voters were registered Democrats because they wanted to vote in local elections that drew few if any GOP candidates. Now, some left-leaning individuals may be running as Republicans because that’s the clearest path to electoral success. Hints of this can be seen in the Legislature, where some Republican members seek to curry favor with groups that traditionally like Democrats.

In 1999, Republican Gov. Frank Keating’s legislative agenda included a call to end social promotion in schools. That same year, state senators voted on Republican legislation to require students to pass tests before advancing to the next grade. At that time, David Duval, executive director of the Oklahoma Education Association, admitted, “I think common sense tells us kids are passed to another grade” when they haven’t demonstrated competency in their classwork.

Today, a third-grade reading law prevents social promotion of students whose state test scores show they read at a first-grade level or lower. Yet some Republicans are pushing legislation to allow local districts to socially promote the students anyway. This puts some Republican lawmakers not only to the political left of their GOP predecessors, but also to the left of prior teacher union leaders.

The Democratic Party may be struggling in Oklahoma. But the increased clout of the Republican Party doesn’t necessarily mean true conservative policy is advancing at a corresponding rate.

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