A New Deal for Oklahoma

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.

To help illustrate this point, I reworked parts his speech to make it sound more modern and swapped out national nuances for Oklahoman ones, while retaining key phrases to preserve the overall feel and sentiment of the original. And, because I believe we need to be inspired by strong voices and thoughtful dialogue, I will be delivering this version during our Capitol Day event this later morning. 

This is a day of statewide importance. This is the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. We should not shrink from discussing the conditions that face our state today. This great State will endure as it has endured. Together we can overcome, and together we will prosper.

First of all, let me be clear: the only thing that stands in our way is our own fear of speaking up, of speaking out, and of being labeled "too political." This is an unjustified terror which paralyzes us and inhibits our willingness to lead and do what is right and what is best for the people of Oklahoma. In this dark hour, as in every dark hour of our state, we need a leadership of frankness and of humility, a leadership that understands and supports the people themselves. We need to live up to the Oklahoma Standard that we so often revere.

Year after year, we face the same problems. Revenue has declined; taxes are levied inequitably and irresponsibly. Our government's ability to pay has fallen; our progress is frozen in the currents of corporate coddling; the withered leaves of broken families lie on every side; prisons teem with huddled, neglected masses; and the very safety nets that have saved thousands of Oklahoma families are now riddled with holes. Many of my fellow Oklahomans continue to face the grim reality of unshakable poverty, and an even greater number work tirelessly, week after week, living check to check, hovering just above economic collapse. Only a fool can deny the dark realities of the moment.

And yet, we have faced this adversity before. Compared with the perils of our past - the Dust Bowl, the oil bust, the other oil bust - we have much to be thankful for. The Earth still offers her bounty and our human efforts have multiplied it. However, while there is a package of prosperity at our doorstep, greed threatens to steal it away. The leaders of our state have failed, and yet, due to their own stubbornness or perhaps their own myopic incompetence, they still refuse to admit their failure. The shameless behavior of special interests stand indicted in the court of public opinion, and they are rejected by the hearts and minds of men.

True, the Legislative leadership may say they have tried, but they continue to act in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by repeated revenue failures, they have only proposed more cuts and more social control. Without the ability to promise prosperity and entice us to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for us to trust them while placating us with platitudes of moral indignation. They have no vision, and when there is no vision, the people perish.

Yes, some of those who created this situation have fled from their high seats in this building, the temple of our state. We may now restore this temple to the truth it once held. How well we restore it requires we seek values more noble than mere monetary profit.

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort. The joy and the moral stimulation of work should not be forgotten in the mad chase of fleeting profits. These dark days, my friends, will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to live in fear that our government may abandon us in our time of need, but to remind us that our state constitution was ordained to secure a just and rightful government, and to promote our mutual welfare and happiness. 

We must recognize that lower taxes will not magically make Oklahoma successful, and that must go hand in hand with legislators giving up the false belief that the only value of public office and political position are pride and personal gain. There must be an end to the conduct by both the legislature and by businesses that places politics and profits ahead of people. I'm not surprised that people have no confidence in our state government. Confidence thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, and on unselfish performance. Without them, confidence cannot live.

If we are to restore this state, it will require more than changes in ethics alone. This State is asking for action, and action now. As I stand before you today, our primary task is to fix the budget. This problem is completely solvable if we face it wisely and courageously. There are, in fact, many ways in which the budget can be helped, but it can never be helped by merely talking about it. We must act, and we must act quickly.

We must recognize that this will require nearly all of us to share the responsibility. However, the burden borne by each person should be fair, equitable, and proportionate to the degree of blessings each of us has received. Broadly supported measures, such as increasing taxes on cigarettes and fuel, despite their regressive nature, are a must. A surcharge on high incomes would only affect three percent of households, and they would still be paying less income tax than they did prior to the most recent round of tax cuts. Ending wind subsidies and the capital gains exemption, adopting combined corporate reporting, and increasing the gross production tax are all reasonable, viable, and totally justifiable means for reconstituting our lost revenue.

And finally, in our progress toward fixing our budget, we require two safeguards against a return of the evils of old: there must be a strict supervision of funding and how it is spent. There must be an end to automatic tax cut triggers that ignore the full context of the state's economy.

These, my friends, are the lines of attack. Through adoption of this plan, we begin to put our house in order and slowly restore the persistent optimism that has guided our state for more than a hundred years. Our social policy, though very important, must be secondary to establishing a sound state economy. I favor, as a practical policy, the putting of first things first. We all want to completely eliminate every ounce of waste, fraud, and abuse, but the emergency we face cannot wait on that accomplishment.

The basic thought that guides this specific plan of statewide recovery is the recognition of the old and permanently important Oklahoma spirit of the pioneer. It is the way to recovery, and it is the immediate way. It is the strongest assurance that recovery will endure. We must blaze a trail to solvency, to hope, to our successful future. 

We must be good neighbors; we must be the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and the rights of others; the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements with all of his neighbors. We cannot merely take; we must give as well. If we are to move forward, we must recognize that we are all in this together.

We hope that the normal balance of authority between the House and Senate will be enough to meet the unprecedented task before us. However, in the event that the legislature fails to take a proper course; in the event that the statewide emergency is still critical, we shall not evade the clear course of duty that will then confront us. We will file, we will campaign, we will vote, and we will win each and every seat currently occupied by legislators who do not represent the best interests of the good, hardworking people of Oklahoma.

Now, we don't distrust the future of democracy. We, the people of Oklahoma, have not failed. We have registered a mandate that we want direct, vigorous action. We have asked for discipline and direction under leadership. We have made the governor and the legislature the instruments of our wishes, and in the spirit of that gift, we request, nay, we demand that our leaders stand up and lead.

We face the difficult days ahead with an increasingly warm courage of growing statewide unity; with the collective decision to seek justice based upon inclusive and accepting moral values; and with the clean satisfaction that comes from doing what we all know, deep down, is for the common good. We all want a secure and prosperous Oklahoma life.

My fellow Oklahomans, I ask you to join me in this fight. Join us in asking the legislature to fix the budget, to redeem our state. There are many in this building who already stand with us. My friends, with your help, we can do this. Grab a friend, join me, and together: let's fix this.