- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Norman Transcript. Feb. 24, 2017.

State legislators have filed more than a dozen bills aimed at “reforming” the state judiciary, particularly Oklahoma’s appellate courts. The bills run the gamut, but most of them focus on taking control of judicial appointments out of the hands of the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) and giving more power to the legislature.

Currently, the JNC vets applicants for open positions on Oklahoma’s appellate courts and provides the governor with a final three to choose from. The board has six members appointed by the governor, six from the Oklahoma Bar Association, one selected at large and one each from the leaders of the Oklahoma House and Senate.

Some legislators complain attorneys in the state have too much control over the nominating process and argue the legislature doesn’t have enough power in the decision-making process.

But by politicizing the judicial branch, the legislature would be setting up a system that would introduce partisan politics into a system that desperately needs to stay above such back and forth, a decision that would have a variety of long-term, unintended consequences.

We don’t want to elect or appoint judges based on their political viewpoints. We want judges who are impartial to exactly those kinds of biases, judges who interpret and apply the law to the best of their abilities. When a person walks into a courtroom, they shouldn’t have to worry about whether the judge shares their political ideology.

And judicial candidates shouldn’t have to participate in the partisan politics that dominate our legislature. Judges don’t represent people like legislators do. They represent the law. If we open the door for political money and the allegiance of a candidate to a political party to start determining who wields the gavel, Oklahomans will not benefit.

The point is the current system works. Oklahoma has plenty of issues to deal with, from a broken budget system to low health outcomes to poor performing schools. The judiciary is not one of them.

And legislators who want to divert power for the JNC and the governor to themselves should worry about fixing the elements of the government they’re already responsible for.

___

Tulsa World. Feb. 24, 2017.

Add the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust to the list of voter-approved decisions that legislators are trying to tamper with.

Voters created the trust in 2000 and wisely gave it independence from the Legislature and protection within the state Constitution.

Under the voter-approved mechanism, money that comes to the state from the 1998 settlement of a lawsuit brought against Big Tobacco by 46 states is split, with the endowment getting 75 percent. By statute, the rest is divided between the Legislature (18.75 percent) and the Attorney General’s Office (6.25 percent).

The endowment’s 75 percent isn’t spent. It’s invested, and the trust spends the earnings on health-care programs including efforts to discourage tobacco use, obesity prevention and research.

Currently, the trust has a little over $1 billion in its endowment, which continues to grow; trust programs have allowed the state to avoid some $1.24 billion in costs.

Some of the better known programs with endowment funding are the state medical loan repayment program, medical residencies through the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences and the OSU Medical Authority, and programs to help Oklahomans stop smoking.

The endowment’s programs work. We have more doctors, fewer smokers and a healthier future as a result. (You can read more about the endowment’s successes at tulsaworld.com/cigarettestats).

Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, has proposed diverting future funding from the endowment so it can be used exclusively for health-care causes in rural Oklahoma. After all, the health-care problems of Tulsa and Oklahoma City have all been solved, right? (You may remember Biggs is one of the legislators trying to undo the voters’ work on State Questions 780 and 781 too.)

Meanwhile, Rep. Mark McBride, R-Moore, wants an amount equal to half of the 10-year average earnings generated by the trust to be diverted to schools for various health-care needs, including mental health services, physical education programs and school nurses.

Voters knew what they were doing when they set up the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. It was created the way it was as a message to legislators: Hands off!

There’s plenty of problems available for legislators to solve. It’s hard to understand why they keep trying to unsolve problems the people have already taken care of.

___

The Oklahoman. Feb. 27, 2017.

In politics, there are two basic ways to debate. One method involves marshaling facts and logic to convince others to agree with you. The other involves character assassination. It appears some people opposed to childhood vaccinations have opted for the latter, and the results aren’t pretty.

Sen. Ervin Yen, R-Oklahoma City, has filed legislation to restrict the exemptions granted for vaccination requirements. Basically, Yen argues that only true medical problems should be grounds for exemption. Otherwise, children shouldn’t be allowed to attend a public school. Parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children would still have that option, but they would also have to home school their children or find a private school that will take unvaccinated students.

Opponents of Yen’s bill argue that parents should have the right to determine what medical treatments their children receive (or not), and that his bill is an unreasonable infringement upon parental rights.

In this instance, we believe the broad public health benefits created by specific vaccinations outweigh the downside of the related, if minor, impact on parental authority. But we can understand the logic behind that argument.

What we can’t understand is the smear campaign launched by some opponents of vaccinations who have printed mailers that have been landing in Oklahomans mailboxes in recent days. One declares, “Don’t believe in medical choice? These people didn’t, either.” This message is posted above photos of Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Kim Jong-un . and Yen.

To quote the Sesame Street song, “one of these things is not like the others.” There’s a big difference between advocating for vaccinations as a means to prevent children from getting a terrible disease and endorsing genocide. Anyone who can’t make that distinction doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

The same mailer declares that “mandatory medicine historically includes” things like “eugenics/master race programs,” ”forced sterilization of adults,” ”electroshock therapy,” ”covert population control via vaccines,” ”state-sponsored kidnapping of children,” ”cost-saving euthanasia for the elderly” and “medical experiments on minorities.”

Oklahomans who have had their children vaccinated will be surprised to learn this lumps them into the same category as kidnapping murderers and racists, in the eyes of some anti-vaccination activists.

Speaking of race, another mailer (apparently by the same individual or group) portrays Yen as an authoritarian in front of what appears to be a stylized version of the “rising sun flag” used by the military forces of Imperial Japan.

Yen was born in Taipei, Taiwan. After the Communists took over China and officials feared an invasion of Taiwan was likely, Yen’s family fled that country and came to America. (He was a child at the time.) Thus, Yen isn’t Japanese. But his critics apparently operate on the “all Asians look alike to us” theory.

Put simply, some of Yen’s critics in the vaccine debate are mixing hysterical historical analogies with casual racism. That’s no substitute for a compelling argument based on facts.

Instead such tactics are beyond the pale, and those who oppose Yen’s bill should condemn their use the loudest if they want to be taken seriously.

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