School has started, 2018 campaigns are kicking off, and interim studies are being conducted - it's a typical fall at the Oklahoma State Capitol. This is the time of year is typically when the thrashing tide of partisan pressure recedes and we begin to see calmer heads prevail as the rhetoric on both sides of the aisle attempt to take on a more collaborative, almost hopeful tone through the winter. But this year is different.
If you've driven by or seen photos of the Oklahoma State Capitol recently, you probably noticed that about half of the building is surrounded by scaffolding and shrouded in white tarps. A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to go behind the curtain with the project manager, Trait Thompson, to tour the capitol restoration efforts. It was an impressive, down-right fascinating look at how we maintain one of Oklahoma's top tourist destinations. It's a lot of work and a lot of attention to detail. Mike Holmes would be proud.
A guy approached me at the coffee shop this morning, asked my name, said he recognized me from a Let's Fix This event or news story or something, and struck up a conversation. Important to note that we didn't discuss politics; we discussed his thoughts on the state budget situation and what it means for the future of Oklahoma.
A lot of folks, myself included, have commented on the lack of leadership among our state legislature and other statewide elected officials. That deficiency has been highlighted repeatedly this year by the legislature's fledgling attempts to fix the budget. From the Governor's highly unpopular plan to tax services to the recent communication break down among legislative leaders, the people responsible for guiding our state's financial well-being have left the public feeling, well...honestly, pretty scared about the future.
Yesterday we joined more than two dozen nonprofit and professional organizations to announce the Save Our State budget plan. This three-year budget blueprint is far more than just the gimmicky fixes that the legislature often passes - this plan puts Oklahoma on a real, sustainable path to prosperity. It steers us away from more devastating budget cuts and allows us to actually invest in education, public safety, healthcare, and transportation.
Just over 84 years ago, in the midst of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office and delivered his first inaugural address. The speech mostly was about the Depression, which was (and still is) the worst financial crisis in American history. However, if you read it now, you'd think he was talking to us about Oklahoma's present budget situation. We've been saying things are bad, and hearing FDR's words echo across history gives our current situation some much-needed context. The familiar phrase "those who choose to ignore history are doomed to repeat it" has never felt more relevant.
Most of my career has been spent working in the mental health field, which isn't exactly known for being lucrative. (For reference, it's likely that NASA will put a man on Mars before I will pay off my student loans.) But, it's good, honest work and I have always appreciated the opportunity to serve a group of people who have complex, sometimes painfully difficult needs. It is truly a privilege to be bear witness to the depth and darkness of a person's life, to hear their secrets and their fears, and to be a living testament to the struggles and suffering they have endured.
A lot of people started this legislative session feeling fairly optimistic - we believed the new leadership in the Oklahoma House & Senate were going to be thoughtful, reasonable, and empowering to the people of Oklahoma. We were prepared for the news of yet another revenue failure and an $878 million budget shortfall, but with so many people at the Capitol agreeing that the state isn't bringing in enough recenue to cover its expenses, we thought that we'd see multiple revenue measures pass through both chambers relatively quickly.
If you're like me, you spent the past weekend indoors, awaiting the arrival of an ice storm that [thankfully] didn't materialize for most of the state. And, if you're like me, that also means you spent most of your time eating, sleeping, and catching up on your Netflix queue. Or, to put it more succinctly, you were inactive.
A few hours ago I watched President Obama deliver his farewell speech to the nation. It was a good speech - warm, reflective, inspiring. All the things you'd want an outgoing, two-term president's speech to be. After the speech I did some laundry and did some tidying up around the house, but I couldn't stop thinking about one passage of the speech that resonated with me so strongly that it kinda weirded me out.
Several months ago Together Oklahoma invited me to write a blog about the importance of self care for advocates, and at the time I eagerly agreed. We had just finished the 2016 state legislative session and everyone was exhausted, including myself. I knew I had done a terrible job at self care - Let's Fix This began more-or-less on accident and blossomed more quickly than I had ever imagined. In response, I gave it my all without consideration for what it would mean for my physical or mental health. By the time the legislature proclaimed sine die near the end of May, I had a full-blown sinus infection, middle school-grade acne, and a sleep debt that could only be counted on both hands and feet. I was the poster child for "How not to take care of yourself."
You know how most city council meetings have an item on the agenda for "public comment?" That's the time when they allow residents to get up and share their opinion/perspective on a given issue. Pretty cool, right? Our city government actually setting aside time to hear from the public on matters that will affect them. Well, our state government doesn't really do that. Currently there isn't a provision in the state legislature's operating procedures that allow for public comment during committee hearings.
Wow, what a year it's been! It's hard to imagine that it was just 8 months ago I created a Facebook event and invited a bunch of people to join me at the Capitol to talk to our lawmakers about the dire situation in which we found ourselves. That event exceed my wildest expectations and it was clear that the public was thirsty for way to be involved, so we held another event, and then another, and then another. Since April, we've mobilized thousands of Oklahomans - most of them just regular folks who, like me, had never done anything political in their lives. We've worked hard to create opportunities for people to engage with their government in meaningful ways. We've fostered conversations between the public and their legislators wherever we can - at the Capitol, on social media, at restaurants, and even in bars. And that was just the first year!
The Oklahoman recently published an editorial written by Oklahoma House of Representatives Speaker-elect Charles McCall (R-Atoka), in which he states that before the legislative sessions starts in February, the House will hold budget hearings for the top five appropriated state agencies. (He doesn't mention which agencies, but they are Education, Health, Human Services, Public Safety, and Transportation.)
Last week we hosted our first events of the 2017 Oklahoma legislative season - Hall & Oaths and the inaugural Capitol Crawl. Both of these events were timed to coincide with the swearing-in ceremonies of the 56th Legislature, which more-or-less marks the first "official" day for the 43 new members of the legislature.
Tomorrow is will be the first event of Oklahoma's 56th Legislature, and for many of the folks attending our Hall & Oaths event, it will be their very first time to ever visit the state Capitol. Which, by the way, is terrific. When Let's Fix This started in the spring of 2016, it was the first time most of us had ever gone to the Capitol, at least for something other than a tour. Personally, I wasn't sure where to park or walk or where to find the restrooms, much less my Senator's office.
And so, here's your quick guide to visiting the Oklahoma State Capitol!
It's pretty clear that, in Oklahoma, the 2016 election is about two things: presidential candidate hoopla and the seven state questions. With less than a week until the election and early voting already under way, it's hard to believe that anyone has yet to make up their mind about these issues. However, these are complicated issues with far-reaching implications which may not be immediately clear to the average person, and we want to help with that.