Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Citizens Get What They Demand and Are Willing to Pay For

I lived almost all of my years on this earth in Oklahoma, and I can tell you that everything you think about Oklahoma is true.
  • Oklahomans are generous. In fact, the State’s benefactors place OK in the national number-eleven spot for giving: “The state’s typical household claimed charitable contributions totaling about 5.6 percent of its discretionary income. Donations were fueled by the residents of Oklahoma City, which ranks No. 7 among metropolitan areas with the most-generous residents." They are also resilient, adjusting to droughts and tornadoes that destroy relentlessly.
  • The stereotype about obesity in the Midwest and Bible Belt is factual for OK. About one-third of the population weighs too much.
  • Oklahomans bleed red politically, and all that red translates into low scores for human development; e.g., the “…process of enlarging people’s freedoms and opportunities and improving their well-being.”
  • The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has a strong presence in OK: the Executive Branch, including Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Treasurer, Senate President Pro Tem, Majority Floor Leader, House Speaker, Speaker Pro Tempore, and Director of the OK Department of Human Services, is dominated by ALEC. In Washington, five of the seven Senators and Congressmen are ALEC devotees. In the State’s Senate, 31% are ALEC affiliates; in the House, 28%. Consequently, the ALEC agenda thrives in OK. For example, abortion restrictions are in place and were put in place with almost no protest or consequence; Conceal and Carry firearms laws became Open Carry laws, allowing Okies to carry firearms almost everywhere; tort reform of all kinds has blocked the common man’s access to judicial remedies; Medicaid was not expanded, leaving about 1 in 5 citizens uninsured; and public schools are being tested, then replaced by private charters that receive public tax money.
  • OK also practices unfunded mandates, especially in schools. The State slashes budgets while adding increased costs in the form of standardized testing and cutting property as well as income taxes. This too is an ALEC/National Chamber of Commerce initiative, one that fulfills the unelected but influential Grover Norquist’s dream of shrinking government at the expense of pensions, raises, health, and education. 

What baffles me above all else is the Oklahoman’s tendency to vote against his or her own best interests. The Oklahoman cheers Right to Work legislation, believing that some one else will be let go--until, of course, he is let go. And the average Oklahoman seems surprised that Right to Work has undercut collective bargaining, employer benefits, and pension security.

He also bristles at the notion that everyone could or should have access to quality health care--even though one in five Oklahomans has no secure health care benefit. Above all, the typical Oklahoman believes government is too big and too costly and that folks, especially nineteen percent of them classified as poor, just need to work harder, and if they can't, the Lord will provide. But the Lord hasn't been listening because poverty and hardship are widespread in OK, important reasons causing business and industry to look elsewhere when choosing a home office location.

Oklahoma's stretch of I-44

Oklahomans are also content to drive across bridges that are unsafe and upon roads that are rough. Anyone who’s ever driven into Oklahoma from Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, or Arkansas knows that he has crossed into Oklahoma without a State-line marker. Oklahoma interstates and highways look as if some Highway Jackson Pollack worked across the state end to end and north to south, flinging tar upon asphalt.

In Oklahoma, on I-44

More annoying, of course, is the number of highway projects as Oklahoma’s Department of Transportation grinds down the truly wretched stretches in order to resurface them. Signs warn of work zones ahead and terrible fines if caught speeding in those zones (an unlikely occurrence because every aspect of the judicial system is being systematically choked and squeezed, forced to complete more tasks with fewer men and women).

 Oklahoma, I-44

Orange cones appear for miles before drivers glimpse a small contingent of workers actually working on the roads. Big earth-moving equipment and huge empty trucks stand ready along the shoulders, but few men labor. On my way from Oklahoma City through Tulsa and beyond into Missouri by way of I-44, I slowed repeatedly for long work zones--at least four times on the Turner and four more on the Will Rogers turnpikes, each of which is under 100 miles in length.

One of the reasons for the need to repair and repair again is the original roadbed. It sets upon the hard red clay-dirt in OK, the same bedrock that makes digging tornado shelters difficult. Still like all ground, red dirt dries and cracks without rain and swells with it; thus, the foundation for the road shifts and the asphalt above cracks.

Missouri, I-44

Many states invested in man-made roadbeds and concrete lanes. Many looked to the future when first building or ponied up the funds for a better infrastructure if the old, first work began to fail. And Oklahoma is joining them, adding concrete inch by inch. Nevertheless, progress is slow in spite of a steady stream of revenue from gasoline taxes in a State that enjoys oil and gas in abundance. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has a very long list of needs to prioritize: 6,800 bridges to repair, 750 of which were deemed structurally deficient; 31,000 miles of laned roads upon which double and triple-trailer trucks move America’s goods; and 850 miles of railway.

 A narrow, rural lane in Missouri without shoulder or curb, but also without tar-tracked repair.

I submit that OK will never attract business as it promises and needs to do with roads so shoddy and policies so antithetical to the average citizen's best interests. Those roads are noticeable--as noticeable as the weight, health, and readiness of the work force. OK should look to those seven surrounding states, the ones that have better roads for their drivers, both tourist and resident, and attempt to learn from them, at least with regard to road repair. It’s one small step toward a better future.

"The Guardian," A Sculpture by Enoch Kelly Haney selected to grace the Oklahoma Capitol Building, the seat of government, is now in disrepair, its facade crumbling as a consequence of political ideologies that refuse to raise revenue even for good causes. According to former Representative Haney, "The Guardian" was intended to exemplify “…the valor of Oklahomans and their ability to overcome the most horrific catastrophes such as the bombing at the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City. The Guardian is a reminder that just below him within the halls of our grand Capitol, the true guardians of Oklahoma, our legislators, are working everyday to improve this already magnificent state.” Surely, "The Guardian" now sheds tears because the so-called guardians labor instead to dismantle the infrastructure and social nets in Oklahoma. (Capitol Dome Photograph by Al Griffin.)