- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Stillwater News-Press. March 19, 2017.

As news was breaking on Sen. Ralph Shortey’s compromising encounter with the Moore Police Department, people within the social media strata of the internet were quick to point out the hypocrisy. Long before he was arrested and charged with three prostitution-related crimes after being caught in a hotel room with a reportedly 17-year-old boy, Shortey had been widely known as a “values” legislator.

Shortey’s Senate bio lists his priorities as “personal liberty, fighting illegal immigration and strengthening public safety.” Personal liberty stands out because it’s a broad focus. It’s also complete baloney that flies directly into the face of his many morality-based initiatives.

On March 15, in a series of sanctions handed down by colleagues, Shortey was removed as author of Senate Bill 512, a bill that would amend several sections of State Question 780. SQ 780 was one of the state questions passed by voters last year that would reduce several crimes from felony to misdemeanor. Shortey said he thought voters were misled or misinformed before they went to the polls.

Part of the Moore PD’s report includes an affidavit wherein Shortey and the boy had admitted to bringing marijuana to the motel room, and Shortey said they were smoking when police knocked on the door. There were no charges for possession, but if there were, Shortey would have been especially unlucky. In only a few months, effective July 1, there would have been several provisions in place from SQ 780 that could have held the possession charge to a misdemeanor. The other stuff - still felonies.

There are legitimate reasons for people to want to roll back 780 - it would mean less money for county prosecutors and for-profit prisons. There are people who can’t accept drug use as anything more than being weak-willed. There are people who for religious reason prioritize values legislation, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You fight for what you believe in.

In the case of Shortey, they weren’t even his values. You can’t lump all “values” lawmakers together, but in this case we have evidence of how much of this legislation is about pandering to a base electorate that isn’t thinking about the state in terms of economic wellbeing.

This isn’t about being progressive, or soft on crime, but we have to wonder what we really consider personal liberty. Shouldn’t personal liberty mean not imposing our values onto others?

___

The Oklahoman. March 21, 2017.

Oklahoma is a special place, with special people. We’ve seen another example of this in the efforts to help those affected by recent wildfires in northwestern Oklahoma.

The fires that began March 6 burned nearly 800,000 acres in Beaver, Harper and Woodward counties. Eight houses were destroyed, along with farm equipment and buildings, and thousands of head of livestock were killed.

Kerry Hamilton, an Oklahoman reader in the Beaver County community of Knowles (it’s 9 miles west of the town of Gate) wrote us to thank those from around Oklahoma and other states who helped fight the fires and responded with donations of hay and other goods.

“How can we thank you all for risking your lives and for saving our way of life and livelihoods?” she wrote. “‘Thank you’ seems inadequate for what was accomplished, but THANK YOU a thousand times over!”

Hamilton said the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and the Farm Credit Associations of Oklahoma coordinated with an Oklahoma company, Love’s Country Stores, to provide gas cards to truckers hauling hay. In addition, she wrote, “How many of you were behind the scenes working hard that we don’t even know about?”

The loss of livestock impacted young people who ordinarily might have been a part of the Oklahoma Youth Expo, which wrapped up March 17 with its Sale of Champions auction. Those fire victims were not forgotten by the Expo.

A special auction raised $60,000 to benefit wildfire victims. The move began when state Sen. Eddie Fields, R-Wynona, donated a show steer that at market was expected to bring about $1,500. Then Tyler Norvell, Oklahoma Youth Expo executive director, secured a $10,000 challenge from four members of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association - Devon, Chesapeake, Newfield and Cimarex. Soon after, he had a $20,000 challenge from the Coalition of Surface and Mineral Owners in Oklahoma.

“I thought it was great how agriculture and the oil industry come together, probably the two most important industries in Oklahoma,” Norvell said in an interview. “The oil and gas people didn’t have to step up like they did.”

The $30,000 in pledges was easily matched, in part from checks written by longtime corporate supporters of the Expo, but about $5,500 came in the form of donations made by some of the teen competitors. For example, Norvell said, the winner of the Grand Champion steer donated a second steer, which was expected to bring about $1,500 at market. Another competitor pledged 10 percent of whatever her animal brought during the Sale of Champions.

“Those people from western Oklahoma are great people and have always been good agriculture people,” Norvell said. “When money gets tight, they may not be able to show livestock next year. We wanted to make sure their child could show next year.”

He noted that those who show livestock “are fierce competitors against each other all year long. But when something like this happens, that goes out the door. That’s Oklahoma as a whole.”

It’s called the Oklahoma Standard for a reason.

___

Tulsa World. March 21, 2017.

Ooops!

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, someone screwed up when they were writing the state budget last year and the state ended up supplanting $10 million in Lottery Trust Fund money from education.

Supplanting is an accounting term of art, but what it comes down to is this: The lottery is supposed to add money to specific education purposes in the budget, and, according to information first brought to our attention by the Oklahoma Policy Institute, the lottery bump didn’t happen this year. As a result, a little more than $10 million in lottery money ended up getting spent on the wrong things.

Under language in the state Constitution, the Oklahoma Legislature has to make up the $10 million before it can start appropriating money for next year, and legislative leaders promise they will do just that.

So, public schools, higher education and career tech didn’t get as much as they should have gotten. They’ll get that much extra now.

The best possible reading of the situation is that the system eventually worked. The Legislature shouldn’t have supplanted the money, but the Office of Management and Enterprise Services caught the mistake, and forced the situation to be fixed. Those who have suspected for years that lottery money wasn’t going to the right place were finally right, and their fears are going to be rectified.

But the best possible reading isn’t good enough in this case.

The lottery did its job. It sent the right amount of money to the state and then, somehow, that money got taken the wrong way. The responsibility rests with the Legislature, and that’s who should find out what went wrong, who was responsible and what needs to happen to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

In a state budget of nearly $7 billion, $10 million isn’t a lot of money, but the state is supposed to get every penny correct, and a $10 million mistake is enough to call the competence or intentions of our state leaders into question. A full accounting is needed.


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