NOTE: As a good scientific skeptic, I try to adjust my views when presented with new information and evidence. As such, I have changed my recommendation for the Oklahoma Senate race.
It’s October in the United States, which means many of us are thinking about the upcoming elections, both national and state level. I won’t be spending much time on presidential election issues, because it’s honestly a no brainer at this point. If you’d like to read some informative takes on the presidential election, I would point you to the work of this outstanding journalistic group.
Instead, I’m an Oklahoman, having lived here for all but 4 years of my life, and wanted to offer my thoughts on both the large number of state questions we have on the ballot and some of our candidates.
But first, a few general voting tips and hints:
- To be prepared, make sure that you go to the Oklahoma Voter Search page and pull up a sample ballot. This will allow you to thoroughly research the local elections and not be surprised by the names and issues. The page will also tell you where your voting location is, in case you’ve never voted before or if you’ve moved.
- Look up the full wording and potential implications of all the State Questions below on the excellent, non-partisan website OKvoterguide.com or the Oklahoma Policy Institute – don’t just take my word for it.
- If you are voting in person in Oklahoma, make sure that you have one of the following forms of identification, or otherwise you won’t be allowed to vote: current Oklahoma driver’s license; current photo ID issued by Oklahoma, the US government, or a federally recognized tribal government; military photo ID; county election board voter ID card.
Keep in mind that my priorities may be very different from yours, as I am a clinical psychologist-professor-scientific skeptic-hobby farmer-social liberal and you are whoever you happen to be. That being said, on to the ballot!
State Questions 2016
There are a total of seven state questions on the Oklahoma ballot this year, which is a pretty large number. Many of them are also highly divisive, with large amounts of money being spent by the YES and NO camps, with a corresponding amount of vitriol and rhetoric being slung around. Below I will give my recommendation for each, plus a short explanation why I think that vote is the best one. I will say, though, that although several appear to me to be pretty clear cut, others (779, 780/781, and 792) are not.
SQ 776 – Death Penalty / GPS recommends NO
An attempt to look “tough on crime,” this SQ would label the death penalty as not being “cruel or unusual punishment” and give the state legislature the power to decide on a new method of execution if one currently being used is ruled to be unconstitutional. Legal analysis, though, shows that this does not actually change anything about current Oklahoma law and is instead only likely to lead to lawsuits, not any positive change.
SQ 777 – Agriculture / GPS recommends NO
The so-called “Right to Farm” bill, this would prevent Oklahoma lawmakers from passing legislation designed to regulate agricultural entities unless there was a “compelling state interest” to do so. Having grown up farming and ranching, on land owned by my family for 100 years, I am a huge supporter of family farms and agriculture. This SQ, though, does not actually protect the “right to farm” and instead appears designed to protect and shield large, corporate farms from having to obey regulations designed to protect the safety of their workers, animals, and our environment. Oklahomans already have the right to farm and ranch, they just don’t have the right to ignore any and all laws surrounding what a person (or corporation) can and can’t do while farming and ranching. The Kirkpatrick Foundation has a very thorough examination of this issue that I recommend reading.
SQ 779 – Education Funding Tax / GPS recommends YES
This SQ would add a 1% sales and use tax state wide to create an “Education Improvement Fund.” The majority of this fund (some 60%) would be used to raise teacher salaries (currently 49th in the nation) by a minimum of $5000 per year, with the rest going to higher education, early childhood education, expanding programs, and career and tech education (in order of amount). This is one of the most difficult recommendations I am making, as I am a huge supporter of public education but at the same time recognize that this bill is essentially a cop-out by our legislature. This sales tax increase (as all sales tax increases do) will be more burdensome on the poor and middle class families than on the very wealthy, and is essentially the result of our legislator’s failure to properly prioritize and fund education over the past 30 years. However, I recognize the desperate need for Oklahoma children to have high quality teachers, which can only really be obtained if we pay people what they are actually worth. Despite the difficulties with this SQ, I recommend voting “Yes” on it, but also (as I will describe below) voting out the lawmakers who made such a thing necessary and replacing them with pr0-education lawmakers.
SQ 780 – Law Enforcement / GPS recommends YES
This measure would drop the level of simple drug possession (not distribution) and property crimes (under $1000) to misdemeanors as opposed to their current status as felonies. Given the ridiculous overcrowding in Oklahoma prisons (at over 100% capacity and the second highest rate in the nation), the failure of incarceration to actually rehabilitate substance users (who make up over 26% of inmates), and the diversion of funding that could occur with SQ 781 (see below), this looks it could be a very positive move for Oklahoma. However, a number of people I’ve talked to have expressed concern about several aspects of the bill. First is that it makes no distinction between types of illegal drugs, lumping marijuana together with meth, opiates, and all other drugs. Second is that moving from a felony charge to a misdemeanor may reduce the motivation that people would have to go through the Drug Court process (which has been repeatedly shown to both save money and reduce recidivism rates). Third is that the wording is very vague about the determination of how much money is “saved” that would then be funneled into SQ 781’s funds. Despite these concerns, we truly are in a crisis situation, and changing nothing will certainly not help to improve care. As such, I will support this, with some large reservations.
SQ 781 – Criminal Rehabilitation / GPS recommends YES
This SQ is completely contingent on SQ 780 being passed. If 780 passes, this would create a “County Community Safety Investment Fund” that is funded by the costs savings from SQ 780. This money must then be used for county rehabilitation programs, primarily to treat mental health and substance use problems rather than jail people. This would be a very good move, especially in a state with some of the worst mental health funding in the nation, but unfortunately (as mentioned above) who determines how much money goes into the funds is very vague and problematic.
SQ 790 – Religion & the State / GPS recommends NO
This is a question that’s been framed by supporters as “protecting religious liberties” and heralded as making it possible for the highly controversial Ten Commandments monument to be installed at the Oklahoma State Capitol. It would actually repeal Article 2, Section 5 of the Oklahoma constitution, which prohibits the use of state money or property to directly or indirectly support a church or religion. In other words, Oklahoma state law would then be in direct contradiction to federal law, which will quickly cause lawsuits to be brought against Oklahoma, which the state will lose at the expense of taxpayers. The current separation of church and state (at the local, state, and federal levels) actually protects the religious liberties of all Americans. Bills like this seek to destroy that wall and favor a particular religion over others, allowing for the diversion of state funds to pay for (just as examples) religious monuments to be placed on state property or state money to go to private religious schools via voucher programs. Do not be fooled, folks: religious or non-religious, voting yes on this will actually restrict religious freedom.
SQ 792 – Alcohol / GPS recommends NO
This measure (full text here), which wouldn’t go into effect until October 2018, restructures Oklahoma alcohol laws. It’s being advertised by supporters as “modernizing” Oklahoma’s booze laws, which is in many ways accurate. It would allow for high-point cold beer and wine to be sold at grocery stores, allow liquor stores to refrigerate products and sell non-alcohol in them (ice, corkscrews, mixers, and so on). But it also changes the way distribution works in Oklahoma, which may actually decrease competition and drive up prices on products and/or reduce selection (particularly when it comes to liquor). Unsurprisingly, the major supporters are large business like Walmart, Reasors, 7-11, and such, while it is opposed by most liquor store owners and the Oklahoma Retail Liquor Association. This is not exactly a clear-cut issue, as both sides have very valid points. This article from NewsOK actually does a good job in presenting both sides.
Now, in full disclosure, I would love to be able to pick up some cold Coney Island Hard Root Beer from my local store, instead of having to buy it, bring it home, and spend 10 agonizing minutes waiting for it to cool down in a bucket of ice water before I can pour that sweet nectar of the gods into my mouth hole. But, I would rather see Oklahoma modernize it’s laws about who can and can’t carry certain products without the provisions regarding distribution changes and/or the limiting of how much of a liquor store’s sales can be non-alcohol (which “retail locations” that sell beer and wine would not have), which certainly does not encourage competition that is in the consumer’s interest. Not making it onto the ballot was SQ 791, which (as seen in this website), would have modernized laws in a more gradual fashion, while at the same time providing larger protections for Oklahoma interests and businesses. Personally, I’d rather see a vote on the language used in 791. Given that this isn’t a “crisis” situation (as I mentioned in my analysis of 779 and 780/781), I see no reason that we can’t wait a year and get a better law on the books.
Congressional Officer Elections
In addition to these state questions, we also have elections for a US senator and representative on the ballot.
For United States Senator / GPS recommends GNASHING OF THE TEETH
The incumbent, Republican James Lankford, has this one basically in the bag, thanks to his pandering to the religious right and oil & gas interests, raising over $1 million to fund his reelection (much more than all other candidates combined). He is running against four others: Democrat Mike Workman (who is apparently not being endorsed by his own party, due to concerns regarding personal behavior), Libertarian Robert Murphy, and two independents, Mark Beard and Sean Braddy. Independent candidate Sean Braddy, who could be best described as a highly progressive “Bernie-crat,” is a political newcomer but a good and energetic person who has my vote.
For United States Representative / GPS recommends CRYING AND WAILING
There are five Oklahoma congressional districts, each of which is currently held by a very conservative Republican. None are expected to face anything remotely close to a contested election in 2016, even though District 2’s incumbent’s first name is (and I’m not making this up) “Markwayne.” Hence, the recommendation of Crying and Wailing, although I’ll personally be voting for Frankie Robbins in my district (3). And, if I lived in the Fourth Congressional District, I would be supporting Christina Owen.
State Officer Elections
In opposition to the national-level congress positions, there are actually a number of viable candidates challenging incumbents at the state level. While I cannot make recommendations for every single race, I would refer you to a document published by the group Oklahomans for Public Education that lists which candidates running in each race are supportive of public education. My specific recommendations below are based on my being familiar with these particular candidates, and shouldn’t be seen as exhaustive.
For OK Senate District 41 / GPS recommends KEVIN McDONALD
Kevin is long-time public educator who is married to another career teacher, and apparently pretty darn good at it based on winning “Teacher of the Year” in two different school districts. His Republican opponent, Adam Pugh, is certainly an improvement over the other GOP nominees, but is very much in the Tea Party mold of “politicians-who-claim-to-not-be-polititicans.”
For OK House District 31 / GPS recommends JOHN B TILLER
This is my home district, which is highly conservative in nature. The incumbent, Jason Murphey, has sponsored many bills in his 10 years in office, many of which seem to deal with freeing access to guns, restricting access to abortion, and fostering misinformation about immunizations. His opponent, Democrat John B. Tiller, is a Guthrie resident and small business owner.
For OK House District 43 / GPS recommends MIKE BOUNDS
Full disclosure: I work with Mike’s daughter, who I think is a swell person. Nonetheless, I would still support Mike, who is running on a very strong “pro public education” platform. His wife is a life-long educator, and he understands the need for bringing back funding to help building the next generation of Oklahomans into smart, well-educated people.
For OK House District 56 / GPS recommends DAVID PERRYMAN
This district contains my home town of Mountain View, so I try to pay attention to what’s happening there. The incumbent Democrat, David Perryman, has done a fine job in the past four years since first elected and will no doubt continue to do so.
For OK House District 81 / GPS recommends DAN MYERS
Full disclosure: Dan’s oldest daughter and my son went to preschool together. Like many of the people I’m recommending, Dan is very strongly focused on public education support and also early childhood education. Dan is a smart, hardworking family man who wants to make positive changes, and has my support.
For OK House District 85 / GPS recommends CYNDI MUNSON
Cyndi is the incumbent in this race, having taken the seat in a special election only last year. She’s done a fine job in the position over the past year, including co-sponsoring a bill to require insurance companies in Oklahoma to pay for services required to help treat autism. She stands up for women’s rights as well, which we desperately need in the Oklahoma legislature.
For OK House District 87 / GPS recommends COLLIN WALKE
Collin’s primary issues are supporting public education, expanding mental health services, working to help veterans succeed, and reforming our criminal justice system. I was going to talk about how this is different from his opponent, Bruce Lee Smith, but couldn’t find anything resembling policy statements on Bruce Lee’s website.
Feel free to argue with about my recommendations in the comments section, that is what democracy (and the Internet) is for!