- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Tulsa World, April 17, 2016

Civil War confederates don’t need state protection

Legislators have quietly altered a bill pending in the state House to prevent local governments from changing the names of practically anything dedicated to controversial military figures.

Among other things, the amended bill prohibits renaming schools, streets, bridges, buildings and parks that honor any historical military figure, historical military event, military organization or military unit.

An earlier version of the bill specified the protection only applied to those who participated in wars since World War I, but it was changed in committee to extend the protection to military figures throughout history, which some observers have suggested was an attempt in protect the names of Confederate Civil War figures on the down low.

Under the proposal, only the state historical society could grant waivers for name changes after holding two public hearings.

There’s plenty of fodder for potential revisionist rechristeners. Tulsa Public Schools has an elementary school named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee as does Oklahoma City. Earlier this year, the Austin, Texas, school board voted to rename that district’s Lee Elementary, after some patrons objected to Lee’s association with the Confederacy and slavery.

TPS also has an elementary school named after Andrew Jackson, a military figure (and president) who is also controversial in the contemporary world because of his leadership role in American Indian dislocation. Some advocates have pushed for taking Jackson’s image off the $20 bill and replacing it with a woman’s picture. There’s a lot at stake in a name.

Remember the red-hot controversy in 2013 concerning the names of Brady Street and the Brady District after it became well known that its namesake, early Tulsa leader Tate Brady, had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan and had an alleged role in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921? The Klan connection offended some, who demanded a new name. Another faction defended Brady’s memory. Others said changing the name wouldn’t change the city’s history, and said the name should stay as a memorial to Tulsa’s unresolved racial issues. Brady District merchants complained that they didn’t love the memory of Tate Brady, but had invested a lot of money and effort in marketing the name of their growing area. For a few weeks, it seemed like city government thought about little else.

Ultimately, the City Council voted to rename the street in honor of Civil War photographer M.E. Brady, who has no historic connection to Tulsa. It was a decision that left few completely satisfied.

After that experience, we can imagine what would happen if the Tulsa school board tried to rename Lee or Jackson elementary.

It easily could be another big fight. But it should be the school board’s fight and its fight alone.

It’s funny that legislators who preach the gospel of local control become absolutely Soviet in their propensity for centralization when it suits them.

It’s difficult to imagine anything less appropriate for state control than the name of an elementary school. Local schools’ names should reflect local tastes, which can and will change over time. A hero in our time might not be so admired in the future, and we should honor our grandchildren’s potential choices on such things as much as we honor the memory of military heroes of today.

If legislators want to control school naming rights, they should run for the school board.

Until then, their job is funding schools, not naming them.

___

The Oklahoman, April 19, 2016

With Oklahoma filing period over, let the fireworks begin

When the three-day filing period ended last week, 417 men and women had submitted the paperwork to run for public office at the state, federal or legislative levels. “That’s a pretty impressive number,” the state Election Board spokesman said. And it lends itself to a few observations.

One is that Oklahoma’s five U.S. House members, all Republicans, are each being challenged - by members of their own party. This likely is a reflection of the frustration many conservatives feel about a lack of accomplishments by the GOP-controlled House and Senate.

Yet as Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore, noted in a recent interview with The Oklahoman, “The things they want done are things that would be unlikely that President Obama would sign.” Cole argues that Congress has sent to the president such things as a repeal of Obamacare, a prohibition against funding Planned Parenthood and a bill to finish the Keystone pipeline. “Obviously the problem isn’t the Congress if you’re moving that to the desk,” he said, “it’s that you’ve got to have somebody to sign it.”

Regardless, Cole and Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Tulsa, each drew two Republican challengers. In all, 24 candidates filed for the five U.S. House seats.

U.S. Sen. James Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, who won a special election in 2014 to finish out Tom Coburn’s term following his retirement, drew no GOP opposition for a full six-year term. But two Democrats, two independents and two Libertarians will try to unseat Lankford - all six are considerable long shots.

This filing period drew significantly more candidates than the past two election years (275 people filed in 2012; in 2008, the total was 296). All 101 seats in the state House of Representatives are on the ballot, as usual, as are 25 state Senate seats. Every Senate incumbent drew at least one challenger - two years ago, eight Senate candidates were unopposed. Concerns about the Oklahoma economy, and the Legislature’s attempts to deal with a $1.3 billion budget hole, are no doubt driving some of the interest this year.

People are frustrated.

This is what prompted state Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, to run for Oklahoma County sheriff with four years to go before he becomes term limited. Incumbent Sheriff John Whetsel, a Democrat seeking a sixth four-year term, has drawn criticism for problems at the jail. Christian announced his candidacy last month, a few days after the assault on Christian Costello, who is charged with killing his father, former Labor Commissioner Mark Costello, in 2015. “The overcrowding and conditions of the jail are deplorable, and worse yet, there is no solution from the sheriff. . Enough is enough,” Christian said then.

Whetsel has fended off all other challenges through the years. Will he be able to do so again this time?

The same question applies to Oklahoma County Clerk Carolyn Caudill, who is seeking a sixth term. Caudill was unopposed in 2012, but in September 2013 she was arrested on complaints of driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. She drew three Republican primary challengers this year, including a former deputy clerk who sued the county for wrongful termination after being let go in 2014.

The primary election is June 28. Let the fireworks in this latest exercise in democracy begin.

___

Enid News & Eagle

April 16, 2016

Politicians should learn to never say never

Does the phrase “read my lips: no new taxes” ring any bells?

That’s what presidential candidate George H.W. Bush said at the 1988 Republican National Convention, and it put him in a political pickle.

With Oklahoma now trying to fix a $1.3 billion shortfall, some are questioning the decision to pledge never to raise taxes.

Gov. Mary Fallin and two-dozen Republican lawmakers are among signatories of Grover Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” a written commitment to oppose any and all tax increases, according to the anti-tax advocate’s group, Americans for Tax Reform.

Fallin said she’s honored the pledge she first signed in June 2010.

She noted it includes a promise to oppose the repeal or reduction of tax deductions or credits “unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

House Minority Leader Scott Inman decided against signing the pledge.

“I think it’s irresponsible to sign such pledges,” said Inman, a Del City Democrat. “It’s even more irresponsible to adhere to them in the face of a $1.3 billion hole.

“When you artificially tie your hands to make a political point, then you’re taking potential solutions off the table to help balance the budget, to do your job, which is to fund education and make sure health care is protected in rural Oklahoma and to make sure our roads and bridges are good,” he said.

Party politics aside, it’s ridiculous to put yourself into a straitjacket with absolute promises.

When government plays games like this, it puts lawmakers in an awkward situation.

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