Local organizations want to play a big role driving civic engagement this year | OK Gazette

January 17, 2018

By Laura Eastes

It might have been called Civics 101, but the discussion amongst several dozen women during a midweek lunch at a popular pub in the downtown neighborhood of Midtown had little to do with identifying the three branches of government or chatting about specific rights and duties of citizens. Instead, Women Lead Oklahoma’s program director Elizabeth Horn engaged the women by asking what was on their minds.

“What are the things you worry about? What news stories stick in your head? What are the issues that keep you up at night? Let’s take those and answer the questions, Who is responsible? Why do I care, and what can I do? Who is responsible? is the big one,” Horn told Oklahoma Gazette.

At Women Lead’s #7MonthsOfCivics, a monthly lunch series launched this month for women to learn about government structure and how to navigate it, there’s no shame in admitting anything. Don’t know what the county commissioner does? Not a problem. If you aren’t clear about who to call about a pothole or where to start when it comes to a school-related matter, Women Lead — a nonpartisan nonprofit that aims to empower women — will explain. Horn has met many women who find themselves wondering how to get involved in a process that seems beyond their control. Women Lead, along with many other nonpartisan organizations, is working to educate on the roles, systems and actions needed to make a positive and measurable change in individuals’ lives and their communities.

“It doesn’t matter what you are registered as or if you are registered,” Horn said. “We will do whatever it takes to help grow that little spark.”

Showing up

Let’s Fix This, a grassroots movement to bring “regular folks” to the Oklahoma Capitol turned nonprofit centered on civics education, creates opportunities for anyone to engage with state government. The organization’s signature red buttons have become a common sight among those seated in the House and Senate galleries or roaming the halls of the lawmakers’ offices. Let’s Fix This has planned four Capitol days with the first set for Feb. 22.

“Just going to the Capitol is a great chance to see how things work, even if you don’t want to talk to your legislator,” said Andy Moore, founder and executive director of Let’s Fix This. “It’s totally fine just to observe. We are happy to answer any questions.”

Coming into 2018, Let’s Fix This leaders believe the organization can play a greater role in education and is exploring the creation of short videos on subjects like voter registration, what to expect if you’ve never voted before or how a bill becomes state law.

Following the contentious past 12 months at the Capitol, such videos could serve a growing population of citizens seeking an opening into civic engagement.

“2017 was sort of a circus at the state Capitol,” Moore said. “Every week, we got new followers on Facebook and Twitter. People were signing up for our newsletter. This year, as the elections begin to ramp up, I believe we will see people congregate around candidates. I hope that pushes issues back to the forefront. I hope people remember now is the time to have conversations and pay attention.”

Why vote?

Indeed, it is time to pay attention. Locally, many communities face school board and municipal elections in February. Oklahoma conducts its next congressional and state primary elections in June, with majority winners appearing on the November ballot. Oklahomans enter the ballot booth at a unique time in the state’s history. In recent months, state lawmakers were called back twice to the Capitol to address budget issues. Leadership on both sides of the aisle agrees the state has a budget problem. No solution has been reached.

“I see this as a crucial year for Oklahomans,” said Lindsey Kanaly, an organizer for March On Oklahoma and board member for the national March On movement born from the Women’s March with a focus to influence future local, state and midterm elections. “It is time to make Oklahoma the way we want to see it.”

March On Oklahoma, Let’s Fix This, Women Lead and Freedom Oklahoma are joining forces Saturday for Operation: Marching Orders. Following 2018’s Women’s March OKC (see OKG’s calendar section for more information), group leaders will discuss how to channel interest and energy into action to produce change beginning at 2 p.m. at Kamps 1910 Cafe. Additionally, March On will speak about its national online poll to survey individuals and groups about the issues that matter most. The results, which will be broken down nationally, statewide and locally, will be shared with civic engagement groups, advocacy organizations, candidates and elected officials.

All three leaders agreed Operation: Marching Orders is the first of many events from Oklahoma’s nonpartisan organizations dedicated to encouraging voting and other forms of civic engagement in 2018.

Kanaly, who attended the Women Lead Civics 101 event and other similar events, is encouraged by the number of locals coming together to learn how to make a difference.

“I think it is a sign that people want to learn more about how their government works,” Kanaly said. “Not just state and federal, but county and municipal. These are just the very beginning steps of understanding, which will eventually capture the voters for 2018. You have to educate them, give them the power and the tools to make an educated vote.”

Original article: http://okgazette.com/2018/01/17/local-organizations-want-to-play-a-big-role-driving-civic-engagement-this-year/

Group Sends Holiday Cards To Legislators (News9)

DECEMBER 14, 2017

BY GRANT HERMES

OKLAHOMA CITY -

A small group of people is trying spread some holiday cheer to those in the state Capitol.

The state Capitol is generally the target of a lot of anger and frustration, so these cards were filled with some good will for the season.

It is sort of an extra positive push before lawmakers return to work next week.

They were written by members of the group Let's Fix This, a non-partisan voter engagement group. They wrote the letters a little earlier this week with just four people writing to more than 150 representatives, senators and elected officials. 

Their holiday notes were written with good intentions, but they also doubled as a way to let lawmakers know voters are watching to see if they're being naughty or nice.

Those letters are supposed to land on the desks of lawmakers before next week. There are just four days until the unofficial start to the second special, but legislators are still waiting on the official executive order calling them back to work. That is expected to happen in the coming days.

Original link: http://www.news9.com/story/37066639/group-sends-holiday-cards-to-legislators

Oklahoma County sheriff candidates debate

by Jordann Lucero

Wednesday, August 23rd 2017

OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) — Wednesday, the men hoping to be elected the Oklahoma County Sheriff, faced each other for a debate.

The "Tussle at the Tower," held at the Tower Theater in Okahoma City was organized in part by Let's Fix This. The non-profit organization helps regular people get involved in politics.

"So often we show up at the ballot booth and we have no idea who these candidates are for positions like sheriffs and judges so we really wanted to give an opportunity for regular folks to show up and hear directly from the candidates for a very important position," said Let's Fix This executive director Andy Moore.

There are three candidates for the sheriff position. Republican P.D. Taylor is the current interim sheriff. Democrat Mike Hanson is a sergeant in the sheriff's office. Ed Grimes, the independent, is the only candidate who has not worked for Oklahoma County, but he has experience with the Canadian County Sheriff's Office and other law enforcement.

The candidates talked mostly about the jail, which has several issues.

"Proper funding, I think we need to spend it on having more detention staff, well-trained detention staff at the jail... Whenever there is a situation we can overwhelm the inmates with people, staffing. I think that spending money anywhere else, at first, is just wrong," Hanson said.

"First thing I'd like to see, in Oklahoma County, especially the jail is to treat people like human beings. They're not animals, they're people," Grimes said.

"Funding is an issue, but I've taken the stand that I'm going to do the best job with what I've got.," Taylor said.

The election is September 12.

Source: http://okcfox.com/news/local/oklahoma-county-sheriff-candidates-debate

A local West Wing watch party and discussion hopes to spark political interest (OK Gazette)

By Ben Luschen

June 23, 2017

When Andy Moore met with Wheeler District director Ashley Terry about possibly screening an episode of The West Wing in her district as a way to promote civil engagement, he said the director was very receptive.

Some events just sound like they were meant to be.

“I had joked with her before about how I would love to do a watch party at the district,” Moore said, “because the alliteration in the name is great: West Wing watch party at the Wheeler Wheel.”

The phrasing, combined with a chance to use the popular late-1990s-to-early-2000s political television drama as a way to get people thinking about government, was enough to sell all parties on the special presentation.

The event, hosted by locally based nonpartisan nonprofit Let’s Fix This, runs 8-10:30 p.m. June 29 near Wheeler Ferris Wheel, 1701 S. Western Ave.

Inside look

Moore, executive director of Let’s Fix This, said he plans to project The West Wing season one episode “The Crackpots and These Women” on the side of the dining-area pavilion.

After the screening, a panel of former White House staffers, including current state senator and Oklahoma City mayoral candidate David Holt, will speak about how the show relates and differs to reality in Washington, D.C.

At press time, Moore was still finalizing panel participants, but he said he has contacted former staffers from administrations as far back as Ronald Reagan and wants representation from Democrats and Republicans.

“It’s just to give people some insight into what life is like in Washington,” Moore said.

The hope is that the show’s appeal — which has held up over time, if not expanded in the era of streaming and binge-watching — will be a fun way to engage the public and get them thinking about political policy.

“The big purpose of Let’s Fix This is just to get regular folks involved in government, specifically in our state government and even at the city level,” Moore said.

Long-term appeal

The West Wing’s final episode aired May 2006 on NBC, but the series outlives its initial run due to award-winning storytelling and its still-relevant themes.

For the uninitiated, The West Wing is a drama that follows the fictional presidential administrations of Josiah “Jed” Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and later Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits).

While the show’s events and characters are fictitious, they often bear some similarity to real-world issues and figures.

The show focuses on the White House’s inner workings through the actions of chief of staff Leo McGarry (John Spencer), deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford), communications director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) and his deputy Sam Seaborn (Rob Lowe).

Moore is a big fan of the show. He wears West Wing T-shirts and regularly listens to the popular West Wing Weekly podcast co-hosted by Hrishikesh Hirway and Joshua Malina.

Malina portrayed speechwriter and communications staff member Will Bailey in the series.

Despite his current zeal for the show, Moore said he began watching the TV drama in early 2016 after several of his friends continually suggested it.

“I binged for as much as I could with seven seasons of hourlong episodes,” he said. “I watched it all and really fell in love with it.”

Moore said part of what draws him into the show is that some of its themes are still pertinent years later. He mentioned topics like North Korea and dilemmas about what is proportionate international recourse.

To Moore, it is a sign that more creative approaches to some of these issues are needed.

“It’s interesting to think the show aired almost 20 years ago and there’s stuff that’s still relevant to today,” he said.

Everyday voices

Moore said he would like the West Wing watch party to become a regular, recurring event but will gauge the success of the first one before making any long-term plans.

Let’s Fix This leadership is formulating its programming for the next year and hopes to blend some of its older, proven events with newer ideas. The group hosts regular events at the state capitol so concerned citizens can meet with lawmakers.

Moore hopes to use the West Wing watch party as a lever to inspire the community to get involved and stimulate conversations about politics — not about any one issue, but just talking about how one even goes about talking about politics.

These conversations should not be partisan or fueled by animosity.

“That’s what Let’s Fix This is all about: helping everyday people get their voices and concerns heard and yet create opportunities for them to engage in their government in a meaningful way,” he said.

Moore hopes this event and others will help people walk away thinking their voice can really make a difference.

“The voices of everyday people do have an impact on those who make decisions on all levels of government,” he said. “We encourage everyone to speak up and reach out to form a relationship with their elected officials so that they can have their voice heard.”

Visit letsfixthisok.org.

Original story: http://okgazette.com/2017/06/23/a-local-west-wing-watch-party-and-discussion-hopes-to-spark-political-interest/

Save Our State Coalition announces Oklahoma budget wish list (NewsOK)

April 18, 2017

by Dale Denwalt

A coalition of 20 organizations on Tuesday presented its Oklahoma budget wish list, which includes familiar ideas to raise revenue.

The Save Our State Coalition proposed raising the tax rate on oil and gas production to 7 percent, up from the current 2 percent rate that lasts for the first three years. The group's “Blueprint for a Better Budget” also would create a new income tax rate of 6 percent for income above $200,000.

The group's first news conference was Tuesday, where several high-profile state Capitol advocates and other groups presented the plan. Leaders of the Save Our State Coalition include policy groups, grassroots organizations and groups representing teachers and state employees.

The plan resembles House Democrats' “Restoring Oklahoma” offering, but the two aren't identical. The Democrats are asking for a gross production tax rate of 5 percent and would implement a steeper tax curve, raising the top income tax rate to 7 percent.

Both plans would enact taxes on some services. Save Our State calculates that Oklahoma could net more than $90 million by adding a tax on repairs, digital downloads, landscaping, surveying and seven other services.

The Democrats want to raise more than $290 million by taxing services.

The coalition members worry that without clear ways to fill an $878 million shortfall in the budget starting July 1, important social services could be affected. Sterling Zearley, executive director for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, said the state has lost more than 4,000 employees since 2008.

“We simply cannot afford any more agency reductions,” Zearley said. “A majority of those cuts come from agencies where we desperately need more workers, not fewer.”

Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director David Blatt noted that several of the ideas have been supported by Democrats and GOP leadership.

The coalition's plan includes both revenue and expenditures. There is $300,000 for a teacher pay raise and millions more for public education. It includes enough money to cover rising costs of Medicaid.

Blatt said, however, that some details were left out.

“We didn't feel like it was our responsibility or our role to say, ‘This is exactly how many dollars needs to go to each priority,'” Blatt said.

It's uncommon for third-party groups to present their own detailed, comprehensive budget suggestions. State Rep. John Montgomery, R-Lawton, said he's never seen an outside group do that during his time at the Capitol.

“Honestly, I think as lawmakers we owe it to our constituents to listen to them,” Montgomery said.

Original story: http://newsok.com/save-our-state-coalition-announces-oklahoma-budget-wish-list/article/5545996