- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Tahlequah Daily Press. Jan. 13, 2017.

All U.S. presidents have the right to appoint members of their cabinets, and they should be able to do so without partisan harassment and preconceived notions. But congressional oversight is also part of the process, and regardless of which party holds sway, the nominees of one president should be treated the same as those of his predecessors.

In theory, most Americans would agree. But theory has been turned on its head during this election cycle, and some of Donald Trump’s most ardent supporters are saying outright that his nominees shouldn’t be subjected to the same scrutiny as those of Barack Obama or George Bush.

One of the officials operating on a revolving set of standards is U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla. When recently asked by a reporter whether Trump should be required to disclose income from foreign sources - the same information demanded in 2013 for Obama Secretary of Defense pick Chuck Hagel - Inhofe said no. Asked whether the difference in opinion is “because it’s Trump,” Inhofe said, “That’s just right.” Those who err on the side of justice for all might keep hoping Inhofe will at least pretend to curb his hyper-partisan ways, but his long history inside the Beltway suggests that’s not going to happen.

Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who unsuccessfully challenged Trump for the presidential nomination last year, in 2013 led the charge for “full and complete answers” from Hagel to the question of whether he had “received compensation, directly or indirectly, from foreign sources.” Inhofe was a signatory of the letter, and Cruz was absolutely right to make this demand. Congress rightly ran all Obama nominees through the wringer. One might suggest racism is at the root of the stark change in attitude, had not the same been done for Bush’s picks.

Why are so many eager to avoid taking too close a look at Trump’s nominees? If these folks have no potential conflicts or skeletons in their closet and they appear qualified, Trump and his supporters will be justified in calling foul if they’re not approved. But claiming Trump nominees should be given a pass suggests Inhofe and others like him are either afraid of the president-elect, or they hope to benefit personally from those in his lineup. Whatever the case, the attitude doesn’t bode well for the country.

Inhofe’s press secretary tried later to walk back what her boss said, but it’s still out there, so it’s a good thing a few others on the selection panel are willing to do their jobs. And in a subsequent interview with NPR, Inhofe did acknowledge Russia is an adversary rather than a friend, but in his mind, Trump’s business connection with Russia - and those of others among his nominees - could mean a more productive and safer relationship between the two countries. He may be right, but that’s presupposing neither Trump nor any of his nominees are more intent on personal gain than improving America’s economy and security. There’s no way we can get a handle on the nominees’ thinking without investigation, and that’s why everyone charged with grilling the Cabinet appointments must do so with zeal.

On NPR, Inhofe expressed a wistfulness for the days of the Cold War, when “we had two super powers… with mutually assured destruction.” He believes the U.S. is in more danger of full-scale war than we have been in many years. If he’s right, Congress can’t afford to put party over country, and neither can the rest of us. We need experienced, nuanced people running the show, and that’s why the vetting process is so important.

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The Journal Record. Jan. 16, 2017.

Questions on a recent Greater Oklahoma City Chamber survey suggest topics that are on business people’s minds. There are plenty of questions about whether the chamber is effectively representing members, of course, but the important ones for legislators to consider are directly tied to the chamber’s lobbying efforts. The survey asked members of the business community to rate the importance of things such as business growth incentives and funding for entrepreneurship organizations such as the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology and Innovation to Enterprise, better known as i2E.

It also asked about the importance of increasing teacher pay and of retaining the state’s college graduates and getting them into the state’s workforce. It asked about the importance of early childhood education and the need for pre-K and kindergarten programs.

If it’s not clear to our legislators yet, here’s what can safely be read into those questions: The chamber of commerce is confident that its members feel strongly about the importance of education, that a well-educated Oklahoma means a prosperous Oklahoma. It also suggests that the business community values incentives for innovation and entrepreneurship, which are just the things in which those well-educated Oklahomans are likely to engage.

But the survey also asks a very pointed question about bills that are nothing more than philosophical statements and it gives chamber members an opportunity to voice their frustration about ridiculous bills that serve no purpose but to provide a bullet point for the author’s next campaign brochure.

An early example is Sen. Nathan Dahm’s hat trick of gun bills, the most ludicrous of which attempts to trump federal law. That’s nothing but a waste of time and money and in the unlikely event the bill becomes law, it will waste more time and money until the Supreme Court eventually points out its lack of constitutional merit. Such nonsense bills not only fritter away legislative resources, they project to the rest of the country an image of backwater regressive thinking that deters serious business leaders from considering a stake in Oklahoma.

We implore the 2017 Legislature to find more diverse revenue streams, to solidify a commitment to education, and to avoid wasting our time with bills that serve no useful purpose. There is too much real work to be done.

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Tulsa World. Jan. 17, 2017.

After two weeks of public budget hearings by the state House of Representatives, it’s pretty clear that something is going to have to give.

Agencies are lining up for more money, but the state has less of it to appropriate.

State agencies haven’t been shy in their budget requests.

The Corrections Department asked for a $1.16 billion budget increase to cover the cost of pay raises for workers, critical repair costs for decrepit prison infrastructure and construction of two new medium-security prisons.

Superintendent Joy Hofmesiter says she needs a $221 million increase to maintain what we have and another $282 million to cover a $3,000 teacher pay raise. The state’s colleges and universities want $147 million more.

The Health Care Authority, which runs the state’s Medicaid system, needs $200 million more. And the Department of Human Services and the Transportation Department want big piles, too.

The problem is that the Legislature faces a budget hole of at least $868 million, and we might not have seen the bottom of the revenue spiral.

Some legislative leaders have said some of the budget requests have been unrealistic, and there’s some truth there. No one, including Corrections Director Joe Allbaugh, actually expects the state to come up with more than a billion new dollars to lock up prisoners.

But, in another way, the numbers are completely realistic. They represent that real cost of running the state the way the Legislature says it wants it run. The Legislature created the criminal justice system the way it is, and Allbaugh is just telling the powers that be - realistically - what it should cost.

Similar realistic arguments can be made for all the other requests. The higher education budget increase wouldn’t even get the state’s colleges and universities to the appropriations level they were promised by the Legislature in 2016.

A series of budget failures and vengeful budget cuts have left higher ed at funding levels of a decade ago. There’s nothing unrealistic about the state regents’ request, if we want the public higher education system that we say we want.

In sum, the state has a lot more legitimate needs than it has money to cover, and that means some very tough choices, choices that show more realism than the Legislature has managed in several years.

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