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.
The guy is married, has a couple of kiddos, lives in Edmond, and works for a large oil & gas company in downtown OKC. His family hasn't been directly impacted by Oklahoma's state budget shortfall - they're financially comfortable, plenty of food, nice clothes, reliable cars, good schools, etc. Honestly, they're probably better off than 80% of Oklahomans.
And yet, he's contemplating moving to Texas. Not because he can't make a living here, but because he's frustrated and ashamed at how our state government continues to stumble and fumble and fail. He admits Texas may not be the model example of how a state should be run, but he feels like they're doing a much better job than Oklahoma. He said the reason oil & gas companies pay so well and invest in local communities is because they need to attract people to live here & work for them...but if they choose to not properly invest in the state (in reality or in the public's opinion of them), then they're going to start losing people to other states just as quickly as we're losing teachers.
That sentiment should give all of us pause. Moving is a huge hassle and costly, and if we're already losing the folks who can least afford to move, then it should be no surprise that we may start losing the folks who can most easily afford it. If you have the option, why would you raise your children in a state where they don't get a full week worth of school or where they don't have sports to play? Why would you keep living somewhere that requires you to drive for hours to get to a hospital? Why would you spend time in a state that neglects its roads, its state parks, and its people? Why would you live in a state that is widely known for having the worst health outcomes and highest incarceration rates in the entire country?
We've got to change the narrative. All of us - from the Governor all the way down to you and I - need to stop and think about where we're at as a state and where we're headed. We're at a crossroads in our history, and this is the defining moment of our generation. Our response to the co-occurring crises of identity, purpose, value, and direction of our state will surely determine what the next 10, 20, and even 50 years of Oklahoma looks like. Because when we ask ourselves "What do we have to lose," the answer is an emphatic "Everything." And based on my conversation in the coffee shop this morning, we may already be starting to lose it.
I'll end by reiterating what I said in my last post - we need leaders in our state who have a bold vision for our future and who are committed to leaving a legacy of decisive, formative, positive action on our state. We need people who are committed to the future of our state, not just the future of their careers.