19 August 2002
Above us, only roof
From the Department of Why The Hell Not: The Air Force, having discovered that as much as half of its on-base housing for families is in disrepair, an issue which affects retention rates, is going to experiment at some bases with turning the facilities over to the private sector for maintenance and service. Altus Air Force Base in Oklahoma will be one of the early test sites. Under the scheme, private contractors will bid on first upgrading and then maintaining base housing. One hundred thirty-two of Altus' 966 units will be demolished; the 834 remaining will be refurbished, and 87 new units will be built. Base housing staff will meet with contractors this fall to begin the process.
Is this a Good Thing? Altus' Denise Hastye, in charge of the project, says:
"This is about quality of life. A person who has to go off to fight a war can't be worried about whether or not his family is being taken care of back home."
At least they seem to have their priorities in order.
Oklahoma and its residents, reports Mike Congrove at Fly Over Country, suffer from a social stigma: we are "a little slow, too rural, and unsophisticated." Much of this, though regrettably not all of it, is undeserved, but there's not a whole lot we can do about it.
Or is there? If business has an image problem, they call in the brand managers. It's time, says Mike, for Oklahoma to be "rebranded":
"First, change the name of the state. Oklahoma has too negative a connotation. Oklahoma City is a mouthful with a similar connotation. Change the name, redesign the flag, and hold a state-wide contest for a search for a new name. During the name changing ceremony, the governor could create a neat little historical caveat. He or she could officially secede from the Union for one minute then rejoin the Union under the new name. Trivia buffs everywhere would rejoice."
Well, "Baja Kansas" is probably out. Changing the name of the state is a drastic step, but Mike's right: the image of Oklahoma hovers somewhere between rustic and risible. And worse, its elected officials seem to like it that way. Maybe it will take something as dramatic as a name change or the threat of annexation by Arkansas.
Permalink to this item (posted at 5:30 PM)
20 August 2002
You're running against whom?
I'm sure something like this has happened elsewhere at some point, but there's a definite Only In Oklahoma air about it just the same.
Glen Hampton is running (as an Independent) for one of the three Commissioner positions in McIntosh County, against incumbent Democrat J. D. Williams. Hampton's qualifications include experience on county road crews: he runs a grader under the supervision of, um, Commissioner J. D. Williams. Or anyway, he used to run a grader; Hampton reports that he was fired shortly after filing for the post with the county election board. Now Hampton has filed a $100,000 wrongful-termination tort claim against the county, which contends that he wasn't really fired but is on a leave of absence. Williams isn't saying a word, but this isn't the first time he's sacked someone and got slapped with litigation for so doing, either.
"I'm not a native Okie; I've only lived here for seven years but I've grown rather attached to the name. I like the way it rolls off the tongue. The only thing better would be one of those Native American derived names that are not pronounced quite like they are spelled. That would give us endless opportunities to laugh at the rest of the country. (I just love it when one of the local TV stations gets a new meteorologist from out of state.)"
They learn quickly enough: the TV stations go out of their way to mention every podunkular town possible during their alleged newscasts, and the aggrieved residents are quick to complain if their little paradise is mispronounced.
But nomenclature, Lynn thinks, is the least of our problems:
"The really bad part though is that politicians play to this inbred bunch. I don't think I've ever seen a local political ad in which the candidate didn't brag about how many generations of his family have lived in Oklahoma. (5 seems to be the magic number) Furthermore, every idiotic, right-wing extremist idea you can possibly think of is probably supported by the majority of Oklahomans if it didn't actually originate here."
Not everything "right-wing" can be fairly categorized as either "idiotic" or "extremist" some such notions are occasionally endorsed in this corner, in fact but a perfunctory glance through almost any issue of The Oklahoma Observer (geez, Frosty, get a Web site, wouldja?) will reveal some of what Lynn's talking about. If you've ever had any reservations about Bertrand Russell's quip that "there is not one word in the Gospels in praise of intelligence," a few weeks in Soonerland may prove to be scary.
Fortunately, our bloggers are brilliant.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 PM)
27 August 2002
Well, I'm just back from the voting "booth" in actuality, it's a cardboard box with sides just high enough to keep Joe Schmoe from looking over your shoulder and it occurs to me that if the idea of redrawing the precinct lines was to equalize the size of the precincts, they botched the job bigtime. Two adjacent precincts share this polling place, though they have separate staffs and separate machines, and the one in which I live had drawn four times as many voters with two hours (of twelve) left to go. Somebody needs to rethink these boundaries.
The one good thing about Oklahoma elections is that they're almost immune to Florida-style screwups. All the properly-marked ballots (improperly-marked ballots are immediately expelled by the machine and the voter is given another chance) are sealed, loaded into trucks and driven to the county seats; final results will be in well before midnight.
Permalink to this item (posted at 5:26 PM)
28 August 2002
The morning after
Even in Oklahoma, incumbents don't always get a free ride. State Senator Dave Herbert, first elected in 1986, was tossed out on his ear this time around by political novice Joe Smith, who had the advantage of name recognition everyone knows a Joe Smith, even if it wasn't this Joe Smith and a push from organized labor, which was presumably in the mood to punish Herbert for expediting a referendum on right-to-work. Smith is a Democrat; he will face Republican Cliff Aldridge in November.
Contrary to what some East Coast pundits might have thought, J. C. Watts didn't give up his seat in Congress because he feared being defeated this fall; even after redistricting, Watts wasn't in any danger. His anointed successor, political consultant Tom Cole, easily won the GOP nod for the Fourth District seat, and the top two Democrats will likely destroy each other in the runoff, which would put Cole in the so-far unfamiliar position of being able to hire his own political consultant.
And in the District 1 Commissioner race in Oklahoma County, previously harped on herein, it will be Jim Roth vs. Beverly Hodges in the general election.
The big story, though, is the gubernatorial race. Frank Keating won't be back due to term limits. Former First District Rep. Steve Largent breezed to an easy GOP primary win; the Democrats (again!) have a runoff. Vince Orza, who will likely win this runoff, ran for governor in 1990 when he was a relatively-moderate Republican. Whether he'll do any better as a relatively-conservative Democrat remains to be seen.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
2 September 2002
Another coat of paint
NewsOK.com, the joint venture between KWTV television and The Daily Oklahoman, got a facelift over the weekend. What it didn't get, of course, was an injection of content, so NewsOK.com remains what it was: exactly the sort of Web site you'd expect from two organizations who didn't put any work into their sites when they were separate.
On the plus side, at least they're not making you register, unless you're browsing the archives for items older than three days. The Tulsa World charges forty-five bucks a year for access to just about anything, which might be defensible if they carried anything much that wasn't already on the AP wire.
Permalink to this item (posted at 2:23 PM)
3 September 2002
The legend that was Lemons
He won 599 games, missing the 600th by one point in his last game before retirement. "Damn referees," he said. "I'll miss them less than anybody."
Abe Lemons had a quip for everything. He coached basketball for thirty-four years: eighteen at Oklahoma City University, three at Pan-American University, six at the University of Texas, and then seven more years at OCU.
"Maybe it would be best for me to finish at 599," said Abe. "People seem to like you better when you finish just short."
Naw. Everybody liked Abe, win or lose, and 63.6 percent of the time it was win.
And now he's gone. His name is over the door of the basketball arena at OCU; his influence will be felt by everyone in Oklahoma hoops for many years to come.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
4 September 2002
Remembrance at the bridge
Back on the 26th of May, the Interstate 40 bridge over the Arkansas River near Webbers Falls, Oklahoma was struck by two barges; a span collapsed into the river, and fourteen people were killed.
Funding has now been obtained to build a memorial at the site. The bridge has since been reopened and traffic is flowing normally, or as normally as it can flow on I-40. I rather expect that most drivers coming through won't pay a whole lot of attention to the memorial; this is fine with me, so long as they pay a whole lot of attention to their driving. Too many of them don't.
17 September 2002
Runoff elections are today, and the two biggest races are on the Democratic side of the aisle, for seats currently held by Republicans.
Governor Frank Keating is out due to term limits, and while Rep. Steve Largent easily won the Republican primary, none of the four Democrats were runaway favorites, forcing a runoff. I tend to prefer Vince Orza over Brad Henry, Orza's previous dalliance with the GOP notwithstanding, and I'd prefer a bowl of blue Jell-O over Steve Largent.
David Walters, who used to be governor, and who got into some serious trouble with campaign finances during his term, will face Tom Boettcher for the right to lose to Senator Jim Inhofe in November.
There are other things going on, but these are the ones that are going to get the breathless, insipid local news coverage tonight.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:25 AM)
18 September 2002
The voters have spoken
And, in the case of the Oklahoma gubernatorial race, Democrats have declared that they'd rather have a candidate who has been loyal to the party apparatus than one who might actually win the general election.
Now to November, where Brad Henry will lose, and lose big, to a GOP empty suit.
21 September 2002
I was going to say something to the effect of "They'll get my finger when they pry it off my cold, dead hand," but it's probably easier just to give it to them.
Permalink to this item (posted at 8:21 PM)
26 September 2002
The Stevester makes the rounds
The OkiePundit reports on a sighting of the man widely expected to be the next governor:
"I actually spotted Steve Largent today, tooling around in his black SUV. He's working the powers hard. He needs to work the people harder. No one seems to know him."
Actually, in this state, working the powers is usually enough, and Largent, being (1) a certified Christian conservative and (2) very, very slow on the uptake, has probably already endeared himself to them. (There is no shortage of bright Christian conservatives, but they never seem to run for office around these parts.)
Permalink to this item (posted at 10:06 AM)
28 September 2002
Boosting the tech sector
Oh, and one other thing: that the means by which this encouragement would be implemented should be as vague and inchoate as possible, at least until the election.
Actually, with dot-com dominoes still dropping, there may be nothing left of Oklahoma's tech sector by November but me. And frankly, none of these guys does anything for me.
Permalink to this item (posted at 12:06 AM)
29 September 2002
And the land we belong to is grist
Permalink to this item (posted at 11:16 AM)
1 October 2002
Lynn Sislo, grumbling about that New Jersey hack Amiri Baraka:
"Frankly, I have no idea whether my state, Oklahoma, has a poet laureate or not. I suppose we have, but even though I'm more interested in that sort of thing than most people in my neck o' the woods, I have never heard of the Poet Laureate of Oklahoma."
Well, we do have one. In fact, we have a new one every two years, appointed by the governor. Through 2002, it's Carl Sennhenn, whose day job is Associate Dean of Humanities at Rose State College in Midwest City.
Permalink to this item (posted at 8:30 PM)
9 October 2002
The number crunch
Two hundred thirteen million dollars.
That's how much the state of Oklahoma is going to come up short in the FY 2003 budget. Absent some sort of divine intervention, or, say, Eddie Gaylord putting the whole deficit on his MasterCard, spending must be cut the state Constitution prohibits going into the hole and each department is expected to pull its own weight.
The Department of Corrections has a budget-cutting plan which involves furloughing (a state term meaning "involuntary unpaid vacation") its staffers for a total of twenty-three days between now and the 30th of June. Upset, a couple of hundred Corrections employees put in an appearance at the steps of the Capitol, hoping to draw attention to themselves and their plight. Corrections is, by some estimates, about 20 percent understaffed already, so the furloughs will exacerbate matters, but there simply isn't any extra money at the moment, the Legislature is not in session and will not likely be called into special session between now and Election Day, and revenue projections continue to decline.
What does the state plan to do? There's little or no support for raising taxes, and enacting new ones is even less likely. Maybe Oklahoma can start buying tickets in the Kansas lottery.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
12 October 2002
Unanimity in the House
Well, not exactly, but the Oklahoma delegation, five Republicans and one Democrat, went for House Joint Resolution 114 the resolution that authorized the President to use force against Iraq six to zip.
I'm curious: did any other state delegation with three or more Representatives vote this way?
Permalink to this item (posted at 3:59 PM)
14 October 2002
One step beyond drug court
The county's so-called Drug Court, which provides an alternate jurisdiction for nonviolent drug offenses individuals who plead guilty to same are put on treatment programs and report to the Drug Court rather than to the normal (and overcrowded) criminal-justice system is apparently successful enough to justify a spinoff. The new Mental Health Court will open on the first of November and will provide supervision for offenders who are diagnosed with a recognizable mental illness. Given the sheer number of people who might qualify county officials estimate that 20 percent of current jail inmates are "severely" mental ill this court could further reduce the backlog at Criminal Court.
The state authorized this court during the past legislative session, but provided no funding for it, so the county is scrambling for money to operate the court and has asked for $500,000 next fiscal year. Sounds like a bargain to me, if it works.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:20 AM)
15 October 2002
Muffins fresh from the meadow
I have tended to regard outgoing 1st District Representative Steve Largent, currently running for governor, as the emptiest of empty suits. Apparently, though, he is discerning enough to recognize crapola when he hears it.
Two cheers, maybe 2.2.
Permalink to this item (posted at 8:31 PM)
21 October 2002
Racked with pain
The OkiePundit scans the magazine rack at the supermarket, and he is not impressed:
Well, while I'm here I might as well see if they have the latest issue of Scientific American. Ummm. Well, they have Guns & Ammo and American Metal over there. There's Rod and Steel, Soldier of Fortune, Heavy Metal, and Maxim there. No, it wouldn't be there. Up here are the women's magazines, Redbook, Home & Garden, Sixteen, etc, etc. Every one of them had a big headline about how to have super sex and satisfy their man. Who are these women who are obsessed with sex? Where are they? I know where they aren't anywhere within sight. There must be over 100 publications before my eyes and not a one of them is the least bit cerebral in nature. Every magazine is designed to appeal to testosterone, homemaking, or the most mindless of pastimes. Forget Scientific American, they don't even carry Popular Science. Do college graduates not shop for groceries? Is there a secret food supply for the thinking part of society that I don't know about?
Scientific American sells fewer than 150,000 copies on newsstands worldwide. The number of copies finding their way into Oklahoma food stores is inevitably very small.
And I bet there are probably more college graduates reading Guns & Ammo than he thinks.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:03 PM)
23 October 2002
Slouching towards ignominy
The Columbia Journalism Review hands out Darts and Laurels as deemed appropriate, a feature copied by, among others, The Oklahoma Observer (which uses the same terminology) and TV Guide (where it's Cheers and Jeers). For that matter, even my site could be said to be ripping off CJR; over in the navigation section, there is a list of "Inspirations" and another of "Irritations".
And speaking of Darts, The Daily Oklahoman was the only media organization to pick up two (of seven delivered) in the current CJR. I tend to doubt that this brings them much in the way of bragging rights, but you never know with the Oklahoman; they've always seemed to enjoy the edge of pariahdom.
Permalink to this item (posted at 3:17 PM)
26 October 2002
Soon everything will BOK
Bank of Oklahoma's corporate sister, Bank of Texas (well, of course), is going after lone-starred dollars in a big way, picking up a Houston bank and looking for other acquisitions. With the oil patch wasting away in Mergerville, hardly anything seems to have headquarters in Oklahoma anymore, so maybe the rise of a BOK Financial empire will bring some investment money this way.
Permalink to this item (posted at 8:54 AM)
27 October 2002
Berserk? We got that
I've been to Sallisaw, Oklahoma a couple of times, and while it would be unfair to call it "sleepy", it's not the most rambunctious place on the map.
Yesterday, some self-absorbed high-school doofus took it upon himself to wake up the place in the worst way, and when his petulant tirade ended the police shot out the tires of his pickup truck two people were dead, at least eight were hurt, and the twerp was in jail. He's 18, so they'll throw the book at him.
This being Oklahoma, no one is likely to start shrieking about some imagined need for stricter gun laws, but there's always going to be the question: "How is it that this state produces so many goddamn idiots?" None of the standard responses weird religious groups, generally low educational levels, scant per capita income, proximity to Texas and/or Arkansas is likely to provide any answers.
(Before you comment: I was strange before I got here.)
Permalink to this item (posted at 8:58 AM)
28 October 2002
The budget crunch
The Tulsa World poll shows that while Oklahomans want something done about the sad state of the state budget, they're not in agreement on exactly what that something should be.
The state has no choice but to balance its budget it's a Constitutional requirement and what's most likely to happen is that state agencies will go through the motions of tightening their belts, and low-level state employees will be sacrificed to preserve the positions of their bosses. In other words, nothing new.
30 October 2002
Though this be madness
Yet there is meth in't: while state agencies in places like Florida and New Jersey agonize over the fate of absentee ballots, Oklahoma takes a free-market approach. Down in Keota, a wide spot in the road in Haskell County, an absentee ballot is worth $20 or the equivalent quantity of methamphetamine.
Then again, what's an equivalent quantity? The powers that be figure three pounds of the stuff to be worth $800,000, so I'm figuring that either it's a far, far better drug than anything I take, or they're quoting Pentagon prices.
Meanwhile, the snarky (and dashedly cute) Arkansawyer at Liquid Courage has some suitable thoughts on the subject.
Permalink to this item (posted at 2:46 PM)
31 October 2002
Sallisaw shooting update
Daniel Fears got his first day in court yesterday, during which he was read eighteen charges, including two charges of first-degree murder. Preliminary hearings will be 24 February; until then, Fears will remain in the Sallisaw jail. The defense will likely file a request for a mental-competency hearing in the interim. And the little town on I-40 will wonder just what it was that they had seen last weekend: a young man gone temporarily bonkers, or a brief but lethal flash of pure evil.
Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 AM)
1 November 2002
Dark, foreboding questions
Last night I was sitting at my desk, waiting for the arrival of various ghosts and goblins, and, in tune with the date, I was contemplating the kinds of pain and sorrow that I could reasonably expect in the next few years, other than the obvious one of going to work. Two things hit me at once: I have a dental appointment next Tuesday, and right after that appointment, I get to stuff myself into the voting booth.
Okay, not the stuff of medieval torture chambers, but certainly enough to register on the Discomfort Meter. And since I'd already picked out my candidates, I figured I might as well do some research on the bevy of State Questions on this year's ballot. The results, such as they are, can be seen in The Vent. As for the ghosts and goblins, they apparently got the night off.
Permalink to this item (posted at 6:33 AM)
Everybody's heard about the bird
Lynn Sislo is not impressed with Oklahoma cockfighting or its boosters:
I can't tell you how appalled I am that there are actually some people so lacking in shame that they come right out in public on television and defend cockfighting as just another form of entertainment, like we were trying to ban baseball or something.
Well, of course not. Nobody bets on baseball. Except Pete Rose.
Apparently these pro-cockfighting people don't realize, or more likely just don't care, that cockfighting is the ultimate symbol of backward, stupid, white trash, low-life, scum of the Earth, low down filth that even a snake wouldn't slither over for fear of contaminating itself. Is it any wonder that the rest of the country thinks Oklahoma is backward? But of course we don't care. We are Oklahoma and we're proud and we must keep the rest of [the] country from stealing our children and contaminating them with those evil 20th century ideas.
Taking the last point first, the country isn't stealing our children; they're high-tailing it out of here first chance they get.
But I wrestled with this question (which is, incidentally, State Question 687) for half a day, and while I suspect I find the cockfighting culture, such as it is, every bit as distasteful as Lynn does, I'm not ready to baldly go where so many have gone before and say, "I hate this. Let's ban it." If I could ban everything I didn't like, there wouldn't be a hell of a lot left.
Still, the ban is likely to pass last poll I heard projected 62 percent in favor and being excessively introspective by nature, I have to wonder: how much of my position is based on rock-bottom conviction, and how much is an effort to persuade myself that I'm much more open-minded than anyone else thinks?
Welcome to Dustbury, where every guess comes with a second-guess free.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:24 PM)
2 November 2002
Dead heat on the merry-go-round
A month ago, I'd have told you that Steve Largent, former First District congressman now running for governor, was a shoo-in. Now I'm not so sure. The gap between Largent, a Republican, and Democratic rival Brad Henry, is within the margin of error of your favorite poll. And Independent Gary Richardson is actually not trailing by much; instead of the expected two or three percent for someone outside the D/R axis, Richardson is pulling more than 20 percent in the polls.
The usual last-minute sources of campaign funds are coming through on schedule, and the advertising blitz is on. This one, I think, is going right down to the wire.
Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 AM)
3 November 2002
For your consideration
Not that anyone takes my advice on anything, but these are the results I'm looking for on Tuesday:
Governor: It's hard to work up much enthusiasm for any of these guys. Brad Henry is your average faceless Democrat, and the GOP's Steve Largent basically does what he's told. That leaves Independent Gary Richardson, who is a flake. But he's an independent flake, and weirder yet, he's not trailing by much. At the very least, he would make things interesting, and in Oklahoma, where the governor's powers are rather sharply circumscribed anyway, "interesting" counts for more than you'd think it would.
Lieutenant Governor: Republican Mary Fallin has done this job for four years without causing too much grief. But Laura Boyd, one of the smartest (if occasionally one of the more quixotic, for a Democrat anyway) state legislators we've had in recent years, is running against her, after going nowhere in the governor's race in 1998, and I'd like to see her back in the public eye.
US Senate: This boils down to a choice between former Democratic governor David Walters, ambitious but deeply flawed, and incumbent Republican Jim Inhofe, who has no depth of any kind. It's Walters, barely, but he isn't going to win this one anyway.
US House, District 1: John Sullivan, the Republican incumbent, has been mostly an embarrassment. I don't expect much better from Democrat Doug Dodd, but rotating the idiots is closer to my idea of democracy in action.
US House, District 2: The GOP's sacrificial lamb in the most Democratic district in the state is one Kent Pharaoh. Incumbent Brad Carson will wash him into the sea.
US House, District 3: Frank Lucas, who used to represent District 6 back when we had a District 6, is easily the best of the current Republicans in the state delegation; the Democrats didn't even bother to put up an opponent this year. There's an Independent running on general principles, but Lucas is the master of this domain.
US House, District 4: The old stomping grounds of J. C. Watts. Longtime GOP attack dog Tom Cole is certainly more interesting, and possibly less annoying, than colorless Democratic state rep Darryl Roberts.
US House, District 5: Anything sentient, and some things that aren't, would be an improvement over Republican incumbent Ernest Istook. Neither Democrat Lou Barlow nor Independent Donna Davis has impressed greatly, but then, they don't have to; I'd prefer Davis.
Superintendent of Public Education: I've supported Sandy Garrett, the Democratic incumbent, in the past, but I think she's stayed too long and become too entrenched. I have some qualms about Lloyd Roettger, the GOP challenger; still, it's time for a change at this office, so here's to Dr. Roettger.
Labor Commissioner: Had Tim Pope won the Republican primary for this position, I'd have voted for him, if only because he was actually willing to question whether the post was worth keeping. Incumbent Brenda Reneau Wynn, who did win the primary, has always rubbed me the wrong way, and she has the unique distinction of being the only statewide officeholder ever to have a Tulsa World endorsement revoked. On the other hand, Lloyd Fields, last seen as a Democratic state representative, has thus far given me no reason to think he will do much to improve the system.
Insurance Commissioner: (Yeah, I know, why is this an elective office?) Incumbent Carroll Fisher, a Democrat, is fairly innocuous; opponent Doug Barry, a Republican, argues mainly that he's not Carroll Fisher. Advantage, such as it is: Fisher.
Auditor and Inspector: I'm inclined to give this one to Democrat Jeff McMahan, protégé of retiring auditor Clifton Scott, whose track record was pretty decent, though I see no real faults in Republican Gary Jones.
And that's the way I see 'em. That and $2.99 (plus tax) will get you one of the cheaper combo meals, if you don't upsize anything.
Permalink to this item (posted at 1:35 PM)
This year's State Questions
693, 696, 697, 701, 702, 703: YES.
687, 698, 704: NO.
My reasoning, or lack thereof, can be seen here.
Permalink to this item (posted at 1:39 PM)
5 November 2002
The time has come
One hour to go before the polls close, and the state's estimate of one million voters strikes me as just a hair on the low side. At my precinct, there was a steady stream at 5 pm, but with a dozen "booths" available, things moved quickly enough; I was in and out in less than three and a half minutes. Then again, I knew (in fact, most of you knew) exactly which boxes I was going to mark.
Projections of winners, you ask? Too early yet.
Permalink to this item (posted at 6:00 PM)
And when the smoke had cleared...
Goodbye, Steve, and don't let a towel hit you in the keister on the way out.
Brad Henry, who wasn't even the front-runner in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, appears to have won all the marbles tonight, sliding past Steve Largent in what was thought to be a safe Republican slot. In his report for Fly Over Country, Chris explains why:
Makes sense to me.
On the other hand, the GOP doesn't have a whole lot else to cry about; they will still hold all but one seat in the state's Congressional delegation, returning three incumbents and holding the District 4 seat vacated by J. C. Watts. (The Fox News site called District 4 for Democrat Darryl Roberts about an hour ago, which may have been a typo, since they hadn't called Districts 2 or 3, which were never in doubt; AP and other sources have called District 4 for Republican Tom Cole.)
But what you really want to know is: what about those cocks? Back and forth, up and down, all night, so far. But with 90 percent of the precincts reporting, the cockfighting ban was starting to catch on at the 54-percent level, and it looks like it will hold up.
The Oklahoma State Election Board will certify results on or before Friday afternoon, and they'll be readable here.
Permalink to this item (posted at 10:36 PM)
7 November 2002
Last gasp for fighting fowl
Oklahoma State Rep. Frank Shurden (D-Henryetta), one of the more reliably loose cannons in the legislature, has announced that he's planning a bill for next session to reduce the penalties for cockfighting imposed by the newly-enacted ban. No one, says Shurden, should have to serve jail time for participating.
And Shurden may have an ally in Governor-elect Brad Henry, who in the past has characterized the penalties as too severe and yesterday said that the cure might be worse than the disease.
What is most likely to happen, with or without Shurden's bill, is that cockfighting will eventually become one of those laws which is enforced selectively: the state is likely to look the other way unless they're trying to stick it to someone for some other reason. In rural Oklahoma, things will go on pretty much the way they always have.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:16 AM)
14 November 2002
Cocks and other American oddities
Yeah, I know: The Guardian. But Matthew Engel actually manages to make some sense of the Oklahoma cockfighting dust-up:
[L]ike certain Oklahoman sheriffs who have grumpily muttered that they have better things to do than deal with damn fool stuff like this, I have severe doubts about this particular law's enforceability....As thousands of years of trying to ban prostitution have shown, it is mighty difficult to make anything illegal where cocks are concerned. And as the US draws in more and more migrants from countries such as Mexico, where cockfighting remains part of the culture, this will get harder, not easier.
And a point I myself made somewhere along the way:
A cockfight is a bloody business, involving tying knives to the birds' feet to make it even bloodier, but they are pampered until they get into the pit and how come this cruelty is a political issue, and the treatment of our dinner is not?
Then again, it wouldn't be The Guardian without a shot at what's really bothering them:
This is not, however, the prelude to a ban on shooting, the more so as the infinitely richer and more powerful gun lobby has been greatly strengthened by the Republicans' successes last week....Personally, I feel a lot less alarmed by the atavistic rural barbarism of cockfighting, than by the shooters' insistence that, in order to preserve their sports, it is necessary to veto any laws that might make it easier to prevent murderous maniacs terrorising millions for weeks on end.
Somehow I have a feeling that if there had been a cockfighting referendum in, say, Gaza, there wouldn't be any snide references to "murderous maniacs".
(Muchas gracias: Andrea Harris.)
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:32 AM)
17 November 2002
A reminiscence of sorts
I never knew Jenkin Lloyd Jones, who worked his way up the ranks at The Tulsa Tribune to the publisher's office, but anyone who cared anything about Oklahoma journalism in those days knew his work, and mourned ten years ago when the Tribune closed its doors. A few thoughts along these lines, this week in The Vent, now in issue #317 with no (well, not much) sign of slowing down.
Permalink to this item (posted at 10:39 PM)
18 November 2002
A bridge too fallible
When The Road Information Program announced in May that Oklahoma had the worst bridges in the country, almost none of us were surprised; while only one bridge in the state (I-44 at 51st in Tulsa) made the Bottom 100 list, fully a third of the state's bridges are considered "structurally deficient," and another 7 percent are "functionally obsolete."
Bringing all these bridges up to spec would cost about $5.4 billion, which of course we don't have. Senator Jim Inhofe is chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, which means that he may be able to scare up a few more dollars in federal highway funds. In an unexpected move, Robert Milacek, a Republican state senator from Enid, has proposed a state vote on an increase in fuel taxes to pay for improvements. The alternative? Perhaps federal "wheel stamps," to help pay for auto suspension parts broken while trying to traverse these battered old bridges.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:09 AM)
19 November 2002
How predictable was this? District Judge Willard Driesel has granted a temporary injunction barring enforcement of Oklahoma's new cockfighting ban in the area of his jurisdiction: Choctaw, McCurtain and Pushmataha counties. A permanent injunction will be sought; the state has already announced it will appeal the judge's decision.
Judge Driesel, for his part, has a problem with the ban as written: "You're making extinct the very bird the state says it is trying to protect." If he'd stopped there...but no. Instead, he took the plunge into Preposterous Metaphor Land with this whopper: "We punish child molesters but don't prohibit the raising of children."
Anyone up for a statewide ban on schoolyard fights?
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:21 AM)
24 November 2002
A tweak of the beak
It's a safe bet that no one knows for sure just how things are going to work out with this new ban on cockfighting. Last week, a judge ordered a temporary injunction against its enforcement in three southeastern counties.
Perhaps we can learn something from Kentucky's experience. Cockfighting has been illegal in Kentucky for over a hundred years, but it still goes on, and law enforcement gives it a relatively low priority; last year, Mike Hall, Pike County Attorney, asked about those priorities, snapped, "As soon as we get rid of all the drug problems and drunk driving and domestic violence, I'm going to ask the police to mount an all-out effort against chicken fighting."
I suspect this may take a while.
Permalink to this item (posted at 9:25 PM)
26 November 2002
Want some seafood, Mama
Well, there's the Port of Catoosa, outside Tulsa, which actually supports a fair amount of shipping (barging?) traffic, but other than that, we're pretty much landlocked here in Soonerland. We don't care. You walk into Albertson's and head for the Butcher Block meat counter in the back, and you'll find that two-thirds of the space is used to display shrimp and fish and lobster and crab, and only a smidgen of it is that fake "krab" stuff made of ground mopheads. There were even dolphins at the Oklahoma City Zoo, until some of them took ill and the zoo eventually decided to close the exhibit.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:51 AM)
5 December 2002
God's own prune
The Big Tree in the courtyard is suddenly about one-third less Big; the ice storm frosted up the limbs, a hard freeze afterwards made sure the ice wasn't going to melt, and gravity took care of the rest.
I don't think it's doomed while there's a nasty break in the trunk, it's not the worst this tree has ever suffered but if you're in the habit, as I am, of thinking that trees are something that endure no matter what, the sight of massive branches not exactly writhing on the ground is a shock to the system.
Besides, I know better than "no matter what"; another tree in the same courtyard, twenty-five feet away or so, fell victim to bagworms a few years ago and did not recover. Only a fragment of stump and an odd grass pattern remain to attest to its existence.
Evidently reminders of mortality have more effect on me now than they did when I was young and semi-indestructible.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:29 AM)
7 December 2002
Do we read his lips?
Governor-elect Brad Henry said yesterday that he will oppose a proposal to raise Oklahoma's state sales tax from 4.5 to 5.5 percent as a way to fill the estimated $700 million shortfall in the state's budget.
This is perhaps a tad less courageous than it looks: almost every county in the state levies an additional sales tax, as do most municipalities. Add it all up and you're paying a stiff 8.375 percent in Oklahoma City, which isn't even the highest in the state. It's not likely that Henry would want to start his term by pushing some Oklahoma towns perilously close to ten percent, especially if there's some joker around to point out that the sales tax in New York City is a mere 8.25 percent.
But still: a Democrat who disdains raising taxes. How often do you get to hear that?
Permalink to this item (posted at 12:04 AM)
Without honor in our own home
George Lang churned out a five-page piece about blogs for the Oklahoma Gazette this week, with quotes from Joshua Micah Marshall, Andrew Sullivan and Joe Conason, screen shots from all of the above plus one from Glenn Reynolds, and the obligatory interview with a journalism professor in this case, Mark Hanebutt of the University of Central Oklahoma, who opined:
If I were an editor again at a paper, I would be assigning somebody to pay attention to these. If you look at some of these Web logs, it's people who are talking about the aftereffects, the aftershocks, the fallout of an event and how it might affect them or how it might push over other dominoes.
Reasonable enough. But George, couldn't you have found it in your heart to talk to so much as one blogger actually in Oklahoma?
Permalink to this item (posted at 1:39 PM)
14 December 2002
NewsOK.com, the Web site of The Daily Oklahoman and KWTV, is asking visitors "Do you want the smallpox vaccine?" As poll questions go, this one ought to get points for simplicity, if nothing else.
As of this writing, just over 40 percent of the respondents have said "Yes." (The only other response was "No," which of necessity is drawing just under 60 percent.) This isn't at all scientific, of course, but I wonder if comparable figures are available from other areas.
Permalink to this item (posted at 6:49 PM)
15 December 2002
Don of a new Congress
What everyone wants to know, apparently, is whether Senator Don Nickles (R-OK) can wrest the Majority Leader position away from Trent "You don't know how sorry I am, but just wait" Lott.
It is no particular secret that Nickles has been pining for Lott's job. But with the rest of the Senate Republicans basically sitting on their hands, Nickles' call for a new vote looks almost like Actual Leadership, something the GOP has not been getting from Lott. Oklahoma Republicans are giddy over the prospect, and given the electoral drubbing they got this fall expected to make substantial gains, they lost a couple of legislative seats and the Governor's mansion to boot it's perfectly understandable.
What sort of person is Don Nickles? On the left-right scale, he's not so far from Lott: the American Conservative Union's lifetime ratings put Lott at 93, Nickles at 96; Lott got a zero in 2001 from Americans for Democratic Action, who gave Nickles a 10. Myself, I find him a tad indigestible, though nowhere nearly as distress-inducing as the other Oklahoma senator, Jim Inhofe, a man to whom clues are a personal affront. And I've been known to grumble about Nickles' off-again-on-again support for term limits (hint: when it comes to him, it's off). But the GOP could do a hell of a lot, or a Lott, worse.
Permalink to this item (posted at 5:40 PM)
18 December 2002
Those huge sort-of-rectangular shipping containers are common sights at port cities, not so common elsewhere. Certainly you wouldn't expect one in Calera, Oklahoma. But there it is, next door to the police department, blocking the view of the mural painted on the building's side.
This big ol' box is Calera's response to being charged as much as $800 a month by Bryan County for use of the county jail. The shipping container can hold as many as twelve inmates on a short-term basis; cots are anchored to the interior walls.
Many residents consider the box to be an eyesore, and after the complaints started to pile up, the trustees of the town decided to schedule an election in March to determine whether it should be kept or removed.
Me? I don't know. It's definitely not very pretty. On the other hand, it's a jail, not a museum; a certain amount of starkness would seem to be inherent in the concept.
19 December 2002
Slash, then slash some more
For fiscal year 2004, the state of Oklahoma will have approximately $600 million less to spend, a ten-percent hit to the state's budget.
That's the glum story from the Office of State Finance, which each year is required to produce revenue projections for the next year. The Board of Equalization may tweak the figures before the Legislature approves a budget in February. But there's simply no way to tweak away a deficit this large, and since the state Constitution prohibits deficit spending, there will be cuts. Big cuts. The state income tax will rise slightly because of an automatic indexing provision enacted a few years back, but the operative word is "slightly".
It's going to be a long year for state planners.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:19 AM)
23 December 2002
Home of the Whopper
The local Burger King franchise will pay $187,000 to settle a civil-rights lawsuit filed by a male employee with learning disabilities who claims he was strip-searched and sexually harassed by a female assistant manager.
I'd say that it seems he learned fast enough, but that would be cruel and uncalled-for.
Permalink to this item (posted at 3:24 PM)
26 December 2002
It's a gas
It's no particular secret that Oklahoma, like many other states, is in dire financial straits this year, no thanks to a stagnant economy and rising expenses.
There is one bright spot on the horizon, though: natural gas prices, while not quite through the roof, are definitely knocking on the ceiling. And Oklahoma, a major producer of the stuff, collects a production tax based upon those prices.
The state budget anticipates $252 million from the tax this coming year, a projection based upon an expected market price of $2.52/mcf (thousand cubic feet). However, the current market price, due to low production and nasty weather, is more than twice that: the closing price Tuesday was $5.15, and most analysts expect the price to hold above $4.00 for at least a year, maybe longer, depending on how much (if any) production increases. At four bucks per mcf, the take from the gas-production tax would be about $147 million higher, which would put a sizable dent in the state's projected $593 million shortfall.
Permalink to this item (posted at 8:04 AM)
29 December 2002
After that West Virginia chap picked up some spare change in the Powerball game this month, a small circle of Sooners started wondering out loud just why it is that Oklahoma doesn't have a lottery of its own. The short answer is simple: the last time it was put to a vote of the people, it lost, and Brad Henry, then a state senator, tried but failed to get a new initiative on the ballot this year.
In 2003, though, Brad Henry is the governor, and will have more of a bully pulpit to push for the numbers game. But there's yet another sticky wicket: should the state enact a lottery, the door will be opened for lotteries to be operated by Native American tribes in the state.
Tribal lotteries could theoretically put a serious dent into a state-run game, since they won't have receipts earmarked for state purposes and won't pay state taxes, which means that they could offer bigger jackpots, which will attract money that might otherwise have gone to the state lotto. Other forms of tribal gaming exist in the state already and are largely flourishing, though there's nothing here to compare with, say, Foxwoods.
But would the state's forty or so tribes strike out on their own, or band together to produce one really big game? A lot of questions are out there, and the answers seem a long way off.
Permalink to this item (posted at 9:37 AM)
8 January 2003
Reaching for the sky
On the 26th of May, 2002, a barge took out a 400-foot section of bridge on Interstate 40 in eastern Oklahoma near Webbers Falls, dropping ten vehicles 50 feet into the Arkansas River. Fourteen people were killed.
The monument planned for the Webbers Falls area the bridge has since been reconstructed and reopened will stand fourteen feet tall (of course) and will be topped off by the sculpture of a girl, her arms raised skyward, to commemorate the youngest victim, a three-year-old Arkansas girl. The monument will be constructed in part with metal from the wrecked bridge.
Assuming there is a World Tour 2003, and further assuming that the monument will be completed by mid-July when WT03 is most likely to occur, I'll schedule a side trip to see it up close.
Permalink to this item (posted at 2:25 PM)
16 January 2003
Scratch and discard
In case anyone had any doubts about it, Governor Henry was serious about that we-need-a-lottery business he was spouting before the election. He's got a sponsor for a lottery measure in the State House, and is shopping for a Senate sponsor. The Democratic establishment seems to be viewing the prospect favorably; the Republicans, dominated by conservative Christians, are likely not keen on the idea, but I believe they'll go along with Henry's call for a referendum, since this issue has been up for a vote before and it has always lost.
Last month, I raised the spectre of tribal gaming as a potential threat to a state lottery. Henry isn't worried; he says the tribes don't have the infrastructure in particular, they don't have enough retail access to implement a lottery large enough to present a threat.
If the Guv gets his way, the referendum will be in late summer. I want to see the particulars before I decide how I'll vote on it.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:46 AM)
22 January 2003
Monday, a task force led by Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune will discuss the disbanding of the Tulsa Philharmonic, and what, if anything, can be done about it. The orchestra's board, seeing no way to get around a debt load of $1 million, has suspended the rest of the season and closed the office.
We know this situation here at the other end of the Turner Turnpike. The Oklahoma Symphony Orchestra folded in 1988. It took some doing, a lot of donations, and some concessions from the American Federation of Musicians, but we have an orchestra again. There's really no reason they can't do the same in Tulsa.
Permalink to this item (posted at 4:20 PM)
23 January 2003
Not a birthday, exactly
I made a point of keeping my mouth shut yesterday, the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, mainly because I felt I didn't have anything to add to the debate, although I must point out in passing that however impassioned one's defense of Roe, it will likely never be as eloquent as some of its denunciations.
In Oklahoma, Rep. Kevin Calvey took advantage of the, um, festivities to announce a bill which would require the State Department of Health to issue a standard abortion information packet, and would impose a 24-hour waiting period before the procedure can be undertaken. While Calvey didn't go into a lot of detail regarding the contents of the packet, it can be safely assumed that it's not all sweetness and light, and the state ACLU, right on cue, complained.
And round and round we go again, Roe, Roe, Roe, not at all gently and not even slightly merrily. [Obvious next line excised because, well, it's obvious.]
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:18 AM)
27 January 2003
License to kvetch
Last year, the Oklahoma legislature, noting substantial increases in the state's Spanish-speaking population, passed a measure written by Sen. Bernest Cain (D-Oklahoma City) to make the state driver's test available in Spanish though it has yet to be implemented because of a lack of funding.
This year, there's a new bill, courtesy of Rep. Ron Kirby (D-Lawton), which would require that all "official state business" be conducted in English. Cain says that Kirby's bill will supersede his; Kirby says it will do no such thing. It seems likely that if Kirby's bill should pass, the state Supreme Court will wind up deciding the matter.
And language isn't the only issue with driver's licenses this year, either. In the 1970s, state law mandated that anything on your head except prescription glasses be removed before taking the photograph to be affixed to your license, a law which remains in effect. There are no religious exemptions, for Muslim women or Roman Catholic nuns or anyone else, but here's where it gets interesting: the vast majority of license renewals are issued, not by the Department of Public Safety, but by independent agencies contracted by the state, and the law provides no penalties should the agencies fail to comply. I expect the law will be rewritten eventually, but not this year.
Permalink to this item (posted at 10:33 AM)
3 February 2003
The state of the state
The major interest when a new governor has to give a State of the State speech right away is how much of his campaign agenda he will be flogging, and Brad Henry was up to the task today.
After a moment of silence for the Columbia crew, Henry pointed to the state's budget shortfall, and declared: "Our will has outstripped our wallet." The condition of that wallet didn't stop him from proposing some new expenditures, but so what else is new? At least he didn't suggest raising taxes or the ubiquitous "user fees". And once again, he called for a state lottery, receipts to be earmarked for education.
It will be an interesting year in the legislature, to be sure. Henry has a Democratic majority to work with, but not much of one, and the Republicans aren't giving out any signals just yet.
Permalink to this item (posted at 4:00 PM)
5 February 2003
J. C. gets a day job
Former Representative J. C. Watts, drawing on his experiences in Congress and as a University of Oklahoma football star, will be writing a monthly column for The Sporting News, on the role of sports in contemporary society. The first installment will appear in next Monday's issue (10 February).
Permalink to this item (posted at 6:58 AM)
7 February 2003
Do you know where your pervs are?
Following up on a report that 33,000 sex offenders who are supposed to be in California's Megan's Law database aren't there at all, the national Parents for Megan's Law organization started checking the other 49 states and asking "And how are your databases?"
In Oklahoma, at least, they stink; according to PFML, half of the state's sex offenders aren't in the state database, a figure roughly twice the national average, promptly disputed by state officials. Brian Johnson at Corrections says there will be an audit of the database, but cautions against expecting too much from the list, or from Megan's Law itself:
"There's three reasons to have a sex offender registry. One is public protection, the second is it supports law enforcement investigations and it might prevent future acts of criminal behavior. I'm not aware of any research that says any of those things are accomplished."
And, in fact, the Supreme Court heard two cases last fall challenging Megan's Law. I've always been a little uneasy about this law myself why is it, for instance, we don't register armed robbers or white-collar criminals or other people who present threats to the community? but you know the drill: if it's for The Children, it must be good.
(The Children is a trademark of Juan Gato.)
Permalink to this item (posted at 10:43 AM)
9 February 2003
Shurden's new game
Sometimes it's hard to get a grip on Frank Shurden. For years and years he's been pushing for a measure to allow chemical castration of sex offenders, and more recently he's been trying to come up with a workaround for cockfighting proponents, who were supposedly dealt the death blow in November's election; his most recent thinking on the subject is some sort of "county option".
The tendency, therefore, is to write off the Henryetta Democrat as some kind of crank. But, the Oklahoma legislature being full of such, it's not the disadvantage you might think. So it's Frank Shurden who gets to introduce the governor's lottery scheme into the Senate, and only God and Frosty Troy know how much wheeling and dealing will go into the final package.
The OkiePundit is not inclined to cut Shurden any slack:
Like a spoiled brat, [Shurden] has tried at every turn to change the rules of the game each time he loses. Given this M.O. by Shurden, the Legislature should consider Shurden's lottery bill only as a county-option. If the lottery loses when and if it comes up for a vote of the people this year we should assume that Shurden will disregard the will of the citizens and try in 2004 to pass legislation to institute a lottery in counties that voted in favor of the lottery.
Of course, a county-option lottery wouldn't work worth a darn at best, it would increase the take from the state's fuel tax from people driving across the state to buy tickets where they could but it could be just the thing for lottery opponents, who, after a few months of so-so business, will be able to point and say "See? We told you so!" In Oklahoma, this ability is prized more highly than gold. Or natural gas, anyway.
Permalink to this item (posted at 6:09 AM)
14 February 2003
Still ahead of Senegal
The Oklahoma Department of Health issued its annual We Are In Sorry-Ass Shape report yesterday, complete with ominous warnings and the usual gratuitous Third World comparison this time to Costa Rica, where the estimated life expectancy is a tick or two higher than Oklahoma's. I searched in vain for a video from Costa Rica's last killer ice storm.
Who gets the blame? Some of it goes to the state's residents themselves, who simply can't bring themselves to conform to the standards of the New Puritanism, and some of it goes to the state, which has inexplicably failed to quintuple the tobacco tax or to enact anything resembling mandatory health insurance.
"The current state of the state's health," says the report, is "unacceptable." Well, of course. Were it excellent, you'd all be out of a job.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:26 AM)
20 February 2003
Undoing the cockfighting ban
State Senator Frank Shurden (D-Doublewide) has actually made some progress in getting around the provisions of the state's cockfighting ban. The Senate Appropriations Committee has passed Shurden's bill to reduce the penalties for participants to misdemeanor level. The bill now goes to the full Senate, where its future is uncertain.
The OkiePundit (if permalinks aren't working, go to 20 February) is not happy with this development:
The sheer arrogance of the Senators that voted to ignore the vote of the people is amazing, even by Oklahoma Legislature "standards".
Personally, I think the bill is DOA once it reaches the full Senate, and Governor Henry wouldn't sign it if it passed, but you can't be sure with the Oklahoma legislature; sometimes they seem to be motivated by pure petulance.
Permalink to this item (posted at 11:12 AM)
21 February 2003
Shoulda used the drive-thru
The robbery at BancFirst's Expressway branch in McAlester was fairly uneventful, as robberies go. The bank staff was clever enough to switch bags, and the thief walked away with nothing.
Police arrested Kenneth Ray Dean in the parking lot between the bank and a restaurant in a matter of moments. Dean is 71 and walks with a cane. Of course, bank employees had no way of knowing the cane wasn't loaded.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
23 February 2003
Last time we heard from Rep. Leonard Sullivan (R-Oklahoma City), he was complaining about the North Canadian River: "I can't see any good reason for Canada to get all of that publicity," he said as he moved to rename the waterway the Oklahoma River.
I didn't think much of that scheme, but to give the guy credit, at least he's thinking outside the box. Sullivan came up with a notion this week to tie starting teacher pay (now $27,060 per year) to legislative salaries ($38,400 per year, plus travel expenses and whatnot). "I guarantee you," he said, "that Oklahoma teachers would be paid better if their salaries were tied to the compensation of state legislators." Of course, what Sullivan was proposing in these thrifty times wasn't a big raise for teachers, but a big cut for legislators.
Sullivan's resolution never made it out of committee (duh), but I have a feeling it may be back next session. By then, teachers will have put in at least nine months of work, and legislators possibly as much as five.
Permalink to this item (posted at 11:06 AM)
24 February 2003
Who you gonna call? Bridgebusters!
Back around 1928, people say, a woman driving between Wilson and Schulter missed the approach to a brand-new bridge and plunged into Montezuma Creek and if you stand on that bridge late tonight, you can still hear her baby crying.
Is it true? I don't know. They did supposedly fish a car out of the creek, and a woman's body was recovered, but they never did find the baby. And there's not a whole lot of time left to go standing on Crybaby Bridge, because it's way short of modern-day road standards and is scheduled for demolition this spring, in a classic case of "If you don't do this now, you'll lose your funding for the new bridge."
Actually, the county did look for someone to buy the bridge and move it, but there were no takers. The $660,000 tab for replacement includes straightening out that treacherous road, but no money for ghost relocation perhaps ironic, given this state's reported fondness for ghost employees.
Permalink to this item (posted at 3:46 PM)
25 February 2003
Greenwood brings out the big guns
Johnnie Cochran and Dennis Sweet are heading up the legal team for the Tulsa Reparations Council, a group which is seeking damages from the city of Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma in compensation for the 1921 race riot in Tulsa's Greenwood neighborhood.
Among other things, the suit claims that Tulsa police and the Oklahoma National Guard used violence to put down what was perceived as a "negro uprising" in Greenwood, and that afterwards, Tulsa city government reworked its zoning laws to discourage people from rebuilding in the area. State law limits liability in matters of this sort; the suit seeks to have that provision stricken from the books.
The Tulsa Race Riot Commission, which examined this matter in detail a few years ago, issued a recommendation which supported many of the suit's allegations and urged the payment of restitution to survivors of the incident. (The number of survivors is estimated at a bit over 100.) No payments of this sort have been made, though the legislature passed measures in 2001 to improve the neighborhood and provide scholarship money for descendants of survivors.
Government officials in general have yet to comment on the suit.
Permalink to this item (posted at 6:26 AM)
27 February 2003
Malpractice makes malperfect
Doctors on strike? Not here, not yet. Still, Donald Palmisano, MD, president-elect of the American Medical Association, brought his traveling show to Oklahoma City yesterday. About 600 physicians showed up at the Capitol to protest the current legal climate, "strewn with frivolous lawsuits and exorbitant jury judgments," which has caused malpractice premiums to skyrocket in recent years.
Dr Palmisano's state-level counterpart, Dr Jack Beller, called for immediate action:
We are beginning to see things happen in Oklahoma that have happened in other states and we must convince our Legislature that if nothing is done this session, dire results of an out-of-control medical liability system may happen here.
By no particular coincidence, a bill is before the Legislature to cap pain and suffering awards at $250,000 and limit contigency fees for trial lawyers.
And speaking of trial lawyers, the executive director of the Oklahoma Trial Lawyers Association was on hand to challenge the doctors:
As insurance companies try to make up for revenues lost through bad investments, they have increased their practice of denying claims and denying necessary medical procedures, and they've worked harder to defend bad doctors. These actions drive up the cost of litigation.
The most telling comment, though, came from an Edmond physician:
There's certainly a cost in the United States to our 'always-blaming-someone' society.
Not just in dollars, either. I do not understand the mindset that believes medicine to be somehow equivalent to automotive mechanics, that any problem can be fixed if you replace enough parts.
On the other hand, I suspect that a substantial number of malpractice suits are brought by the same people who ruin their cars because they won't spend $75 for diagnostics when the little warning light comes on.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
28 February 2003
Governor Henry still wants a state lottery, but it won't be this year he gets it, which suggests that maybe the operators of legal gambling in the state non-commercial (yeah, right) bingo, Indian gaming, and horse racing are breathing a little easier for now.
Remington Park in northeast Oklahoma City has had a couple of rough years, and I was wondering if perhaps, at least in this market, thoroughbred (and occasionally quarter-horse) racing had, um, run its course. Not necessarily, seethes Jo:
[H]orse racing isn't fading simply because its heyday is over. It's a myth and lie state government would love you to believe, but the fact is simple: horse racing has been slowly suffocated by the hands of state government, eager to make a quick buck on state gambling. There is no knowledge needed to buy a scratch-off, powerball is a guessing game. No need to pick up a program or the Form, no effort since you can buy state lottery tickets at 7-11. It is the ultimate in gambling convenience.
Hmmm. Of course, in Oklahoma they bet on fighting chickens (or did until last November), which falls somewhere between racing and the lotto in terms of brainpower required.
And I think at least some of Powerball's appeal stems from the fact that once in a blue moon, a truly enormous payout goes to someone who kicked in a mere handful of bucks. At the track, if you put a C-note on a hundred-to-one shot that comes home, you're handed a mere ten grand (before taxes). If I were going to shoot for the $2 million it would take for me to retire (1) instantly (2) in indecent comfort, I'd never make it at the races, and the fact that the odds are astronomical against making it from the state lottery (even if we had one, which, I remind you, we don't) doesn't seem to make any impression on me.
Permalink to this item (posted at 9:18 PM)
1 March 2003
Akron, Ohio may be the Rubber City, but the fact is, more tires are made in Oklahoma than in any other state. And Michelin North America, whose Uniroyal Goodrich unit has a huge plant in Ardmore, is about to spend $200 million to expand the facility, including $25 million kicked in by the state as incentive money.
Employment at Michelin will grow to about 1850, still smaller than Goodyear's Lawton operation, which started an expansion program of its own last year to will bring its workforce up to 2400. Bridgestone/Firestone operates a plant in Oklahoma City which employs about 1800.
Now get out there and drive. :)
Permalink to this item (posted at 1:25 PM)
Physician, **** thyself
Meet Jeffrey Schimandle, MD, non-practicing orthopedic surgeon in Oklahoma City. He became non-practicing rather involuntarily in 1999 following reports that he was swiping pain medication intended for patients for his personal use. This year Dr Schimandle applied for reinstatement, and got it; and within seconds of getting it, he whispered what The Daily Oklahoman called "a two-word, gender-specific obscenity" to the licensure board's attorney.
Said attorney is Elizabeth A. Scott, who also serves as an assistant attorney general; charges were brought, and Friday Dr Schimandle's license to practice was pulled yet again not because he called Scott whatever it was he called her, but because he denied having said it. He can apply for reinstatement next year, if he can keep his mouth shut.
As for that "two-word, gender-specific obscenity", well, I'm not quite sure what the good doctor actually said, but I'd be surprised if it's truly gender-specific. Even in Oklahoma.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 PM)
4 March 2003
Former Congressman J. C. Watts is not lacking for titles these days. In addition to his gig as a columnist for The Sporting News, he's now on the board of directors of Dillard's, the Arkansas-based department-store chain.
In his new capacity, perhaps Watts can figure out how come Dillard's keeps getting into racial hot water. In 1996, the chain was sued after an African-American customer claimed that she was denied a routine cologne sample; the case wound up before the US Supreme Court, which declined to review the verdict or the $1.2-million penalty against Dillard's. And this was only the most visible of a number of cases in which the store was charged with some blatant form of discrimination.
Permalink to this item (posted at 11:39 AM)
5 March 2003
It probably wasn't any big surprise that failed Congressional candidate Walt Roberts entered a guilty plea to various counts of conspiracy; many of us have been wondering just where this good ol' boy was finding all this campaign financing.
Now the finger has been pointed, and it's pointed toward Senator Gene Stipe, a McAlester Democrat, whose own fingers have been found in all sorts of Oklahoma pies over many years. Chris at Fly Over Country says there's a 90-percent chance they're gonna nail him this time; I think that's a tad high, but I won't shed any tears if Chris is right.
Permalink to this item (posted at 3:59 PM)
6 March 2003
According to at least one poll, Oklahomans favor the establishment of a state lottery by a three-to-one margin. I find this surprising, since the issue has been up for a state vote before and did not come close to passage.
A few minutes before the poll results were announced, the State House had an announcement of its own: House Bill 1278, which would put the establishment of a lottery on the ballot, had failed, 52-49. Most Democrats voted Yes, most Republicans voted No, but there were defectors from both sides.
I expect Governor Henry will be back with a similar proposal next year, but for this session, it's dead.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:02 AM)
7 March 2003
The estimable Goof Beyou, who has been keeping tabs on the state-lottery measure (and keeping track of my fumbles on the story), has yet to weigh in on the prospects for getting the bill passed during its reconsideration phase, though I'm sure we'll hear from Beyou shortly.
In the meantime, House Republican leader Todd Hiett seems miffed at the prospect of seeing this bill again: "At this point," he said, "we should move on and do the people's business." Apparently Hiett's concept of "the people's business" does not include the possibility of voting on a controversial measure. All by itself, this ought to be enough to get him onto Frosty Troy's 10 Worst Legislators list this summer.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:13 AM)
8 March 2003
A piece of the action
Opposition to the proposed Oklahoma lottery comes from many quarters, but much of it emanates from the state's churches, dominated by conservative Christian denominations who have no qualms about calling 'em the way they see 'em.
Leaders of five of those denominations have signed a letter to Governor Henry asking him to give up the idea of a lottery, and urging him to set up a "task force made up of business, government, church and education leaders to seek long-term solutions for education funding."
The Guv, himself a Southern Baptist, says he appreciates the input but still would like the lottery put to a state vote. Personally, I think the task force idea might fly even without direct government involvement, though there's always the question of whether the state will give a reasonable hearing to the ideas of non-politicians.
Permalink to this item (posted at 9:19 AM)
9 March 2003
And the feathers continue to fly
Tuesday, Senator Frank Shurden (D-Henryetta) expects a vote on Senate Bill 835, which proposes yet another cockfighting election, though this one will be limited to settling the penalties. Under State Question 687, passed last fall, taking part in a cockfight is a felony; Shurden wants this reduced to a misdemeanor, and he apparently thinks that while most people in Oklahoma do support the ban, which passed with 56 percent of the vote, they don't necessarily want people hauled into the pen for a year or more for it.
The House has already passed a similar measure, which suggests that Shurden might actually have a chance of getting this through. The anti-cockfighting forces are, unsurprisingly, highly incensed at all this. Meanwhile, there are legal challenges to SQ 687 in more than two dozen counties. We haven't heard the last of this issue by any means.
Permalink to this item (posted at 10:03 AM)
11 March 2003
Welcome to the Post-Stipe Era
Stipe's departure may or may not have something to do with the fallout from the failed Walt Roberts for Congress campaign of 1998, the investigation from which has so far resulted in charges against three individuals, one of whom is Stipe's assistant at his law firm. Stipe himself has not been named as a defendant.
As noted by Chris:
I am wildly speculating here, but his resignation seems to me the prelude to a plea agreement. The Feds got their pound of flesh by making him quit and he will probably get probation and a fine.
In defense of Stipe, he had better hair than Jim Traficant. And really, that's about it.
Permalink to this item (posted at 3:33 PM)
12 March 2003
And a long shot comes in
I wouldn't have thought it possible and, in fact, said so but Governor Henry's lottery bill isn't quite dead yet. When the vote for reconsideration came around, three Republicans who had opposed the measure the first time through voted for it, so instead of failing 52-49, it now passes 52-49 and will go on to the Senate.
Wayne Pettigrew, who represents a section of Edmond, was frank about the reasoning behind his switch:
I wasn't for this bill a week ago because of some very good reasons. I am still not for a state lottery. But any issue that has this much concern or this much interest I am not against sending it to a vote of the people.
The future of the bill in the Senate is unclear. Still, the fact that it got this far borders on miraculous.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:03 AM)
16 March 2003
You talkin' to me?
If you've dialed somebody's 800 number, you might be talking to someone in Oklahoma; the state now boasts some seventy call centers which employ 35,000 people. One of the biggest is the AOL facility in Oklahoma City's Shepherd Mall, which has nearly 1500 staffers.
Why here? Three reasons come to mind:
Well, okay, we're not as cheap as Bombay or Manila, but we're marginally easier to understand on the phone.
Permalink to this item (posted at 12:55 PM)
17 March 2003
We want your data
NewsOK.com, the joint venture of The Daily Oklahoman and KWTV, has decided that if The New York Times can do it, so can they. Starting later today, you'll have to do the registration bit to get access to any NewsOK content.
It could be worse. TulsaWorld.com not only demands your demographic information but a monthly check as well.
Permalink to this item (posted at 6:33 AM)
Watching it go
I was squishing my way down to the mailbox when F. (not necessarily her real initial) poked her head out of her door and acknowledged my presence.
In response, I pointed to the big elm tree out front and said, "What do you think? Dead?"
"Think so," she replied.
The big elm tree is about thirty percent less big this spring: a winter ice storm broke away one of the three major limbs, and while everything else is gradually going green well, except the cottonwood trees along 42nd, which are already sprouting Q-tips this tree is still barren, its branches grey, almost black in the March rain.
One does not romanticize trees on the prairie; they are there, and eventually they are not there, and you're supposed to shrug and go on. It's different in the Midwest, as H. Allen Smith once explained:
Midwesterners worship trees. I have frequent guests from the middle states and invariably I find that they venerate trees and that the cutting down of a tree is, to them, close to a mortal sin. I'll be walking around the premises with one of them, and I'll point to a tree and say, "Think I'll get the ax and take that damn tree out." They are horrified. They react as if I'd said, "Think I'll get the ax, since it's a nice day, and do away with my wife and kids."
I looked at the big elm again, and maybe I did, maybe I didn't, see the faintest hint of green along the lower branches, the tender beginnings of a leaf or two or a dozen or a thousand. Then again, I was born in Illinois.
Curiously, so was H. Allen Smith.
Permalink to this item (posted at 5:17 PM)
18 March 2003
Oklahoma gears up
With war now more or less inevitable, the state legislature has been working up fresh measures to deal with the possibility of terrorist attacks. Each of these bills has passed one house and must be approved by the other to become law.
HB 1467, perhaps the most controversial, empowers the state to quarantine individuals and property exposed to infectious diseases distributed by biological weapons.
SB 509 authorizes the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation to investigate acts of terrorism, and instructs the Attorney General to seek judicial authority for electronic surveillance of terrorism suspects.
SB 696 would set up vaccination programs, contingent upon receiving federal funding.
Meanwhile, the state's Congressional delegation (four Republicans and one Democrat in the House, two Republicans in the Senate) has declared itself to be in full support of the war effort.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:22 AM)
19 March 2003
The lottery hangs on
The Oklahoma lottery remains stubbornly undead. The Senate Finance Committee, not quite along party lines, approved House Bill 1278, which will now be sent to the full Senate. Governor Henry is now officially optimistic about its passage: asked if the bill had enough votes to pass the Senate, he replied, "I think so."
The revised bill contains a provision which will discontinue the lottery should its presence open the legal door for expanded tribal gaming, which at least indicates that its proponents are aware of the Law of Unintended Consequences.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:05 AM)
20 March 2003
Don't get too comfortable
It's almost a mantra here in Oklahoma. Pleasant weather can change in a matter of minutes into something decidedly unpleasant. Large segments of the state's economy are still commodity-based oil, agriculture, methamphetamine leaving us highly vulnerable to marketplace volatility.
And, though nobody thinks about it very much, we have earthquakes. Nothing that will make a Californian shudder, but the state is riddled with fault lines, and seismic disturbances are even harder to predict than the weather.
Of course, if you don't like it, you can always wait a few minutes.
Permalink to this item (posted at 6:57 AM)
Delaware's got them, and they've made over $800 million for the state's General Fund.
Oregon's got them too, and they've earned nearly $1.7 billion.
"They" are video lottery terminals, and they won't be coming to Oklahoma; at least some members of the legislature are convinced that if the boxes are allowed in the proposed state lottery, there will be no recourse should tribal-gaming associations choose to use them as well, and the state might not be able to compete with the ubiquitous Indian games. Competition, you know, makes you look like you're serious about this sort of thing, and God forbid we should look like we're serious about gambling.
Oh, well. Kansas doesn't have them either.
Permalink to this item (posted at 4:08 PM)
25 March 2003
Billie Joe MacAllister, go home
Oklahoma Senate Bill 625, on its way to the House, would provide penalties in some cases, felony penalties for throwing something off a bridge.
Inspiration for the measure was a 2001 incident in which a Duncan resident was badly injured by a bottle of sulfuric acid dropped from an overpass into the windshield of her car.
No thanks to the state's ongoing budget woes, the Oklahoma Rainy Day Fund is now approaching the outskirts of Tap City. After drawing $10 million for an emergency funding package for state agencies, there's only about $100,000 left.
The Fund is replenished by a surplus of tax collections over the official revenue estimate at the end of the fiscal year (30 June); if collections are down, there will be no money to stash in the Fund.
Maybe we can try to win some money in the Kansas Lottery.
Permalink to this item (posted at 2:02 PM)
26 March 2003
All MMST-y eyed
It's called, blandly enough, the Multi-Mission Sensor Test. What it actually does is simulate a biological or chemical weapon attack to see if existing radar facilities can track the stuff. The fakes vary in composition, but the ones being used here in Oklahoma consist of powdered clay, ethanol and polyethylene glycol. (Oddly enough, these are three things I have had occasion to ingest, and don't ask.)
There had been some concern over the distribution of the fakes, mostly due to the potential for allergic reactions to the original formulations, which contained egg whites and a denatured pesticide.
The Army will spread the fakes over the next couple of weeks to see how well they can be picked up on radar.
Permalink to this item (posted at 9:47 AM)
27 March 2003
Gene Stipe, having resigned his seat in the state Senate, has been formally charged with conspiracy and perjury in connection with the 1998 Congressional campaign of Stipe protégé Walt Roberts. No court hearing date has been set, and the charges were filed by information rather than through a grand-jury indictment, which suggests that a plea bargain has already been struck.
It's hard to imagine an Oklahoma legislature without Gene Stipe he first was elected to the Senate in 1956 but somehow I think we'll manage.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:37 AM)
31 March 2003
Forward to oblivion
The town of Hall Park, once on the edge of, now surrounded by, the city of Norman, is contemplating dissolving itself. Tomorrow town voters will face a measure to disincorporate, which requires a simple majority provided that 40 percent of the town's registered voters cast ballots.
Norman has already moved to annex the 1.13 square miles of Hall Park, contingent upon the passage of the ballot measure, effective 1 October. Residents would be billed $4200 per household for upgrading to Norman city services.
I'm not sure what I think about this. When I think "Hall Park", I tend to think "speed trap", but then I've never been ticketed by the town. Maybe the 1100 or so residents will be better off in Norman; Town Manager Susan Boehrer favors the measure, saying "It's the best long-term solution, the best economical solution and the solution that's best for the environment."
Permalink to this item (posted at 4:17 PM)
2 April 2003
Stipe facing the music
And it's not a tune he particularly wanted to hear, either.
Gene Stipe, state senator since the Pleistocene era, has entered a guilty plea, admitting that he did in fact skirt election laws to funnel $245,189 to Walt Roberts' 1998 Congressional campaign. He could be fined twice that much $490,378 although it is not clear whether he will be required to serve any hard time. Formal sentencing will be in mid-June.
3 April 2003
Do you want to play a game?
The House has passed Governor Henry's lottery bill, by the now-usual 52-49 margin. HB 1278 creates the lottery, defines where the income will be spent, and directs the Governor to call the election, which he's planning for the fall.
There's a second bill Senate Joint Resolution 22 which calls for another election to amend the state constitution to permit this lottery in the first place. (The state constitution is about the size of a Chevy Suburban, and nowhere near as easy to work on.) We're still a long way from voting, but the hurdles are diminishing.
Permalink to this item (posted at 6:57 AM)
5 April 2003
Keeping it on the Cam
Cam Edwards, who presides over the morning-drive news at KTOK in Oklahoma City, has started blogging, and there's bite to go with his broadcast bark. Linking to a piece by a Democratic Underground type who claims to live in this neck of the woods, Cam observes:
When you say something like "Speak the truth about the evil being done in our name," you should at least be brave enough to use your real name.
Like, say, that courageous Columbia professor Nicholas De Genova, who most recently distinguished himself by skipping a class he teaches, claiming he had received death threats after his "million Mogadishus" comment. What can be going through his head? "The use of force by the American imperialists can never be justified. Now where's that goddamn security guard Columbia was supposed to send me?"
Of course, with Cam on the scene, now I can concentrate on obscure pop-culture references, complaints about the weather, and fluffy bunnies.
Well, maybe not the bunnies.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 AM)
6 April 2003
A monumental moment in history
One of the most curious incidents in Oklahoma history occurred literally on the first day of Oklahoma history. This was April 22, 1889, and settlement was being opened up in what was then known as Indian Territory, in a manner that was both highly unorthodox and uniquely American: basically, you park on it, you own it. Thousands of quarter-sections and city lots were claimed in the first few hours after the opening gun, and by the next morning, two cities with populations of 10,000 or so, their populations largely housed in quick-and-dirty shacks or hurriedly-pitched tents, stood where there had been nothing more than railroad stops before.
That was the original Oklahoma Land Run, which settled the central part of the eventual 46th state. An event like this seems utterly unimaginable in the not-exactly-freewheeling 21st century, which may explain much about why down in Norman, dozens of cast bronze figures are being assembled for the first-ever Land Run Monument, to be built along the Bricktown canal east of downtown Oklahoma City. Completion will take four years, but the first few figures will be emplaced later this month and will undoubtedly shake up travelers on the Crosstown Expressway.
Permalink to this item (posted at 9:54 AM)
7 April 2003
The city of Moore, a suburban enclave between Oklahoma City and Norman, is considering a ban on tobacco use in municipal parks. It's not an issue of air quality, exactly: rather, it's that parents whose children participate in sports are apparently setting a bad example by lighting up a Winston between innings.
Tobacco is destined to become this century's Victorian erotica. Eventually, only rude old gentlemen will own tobacco products, and their heirs will be duly shocked when the estates are probated and the boxes in the attic are opened.
Permalink to this item (posted at 7:15 AM)
11 April 2003
Not zoned for red lights
DavidMSC, who used to live in these parts, may well be surprised at this. Or he may not, depending on how jaded he was back then.
Anyway, there's a fairly innocuous strip mall along Air Depot Blvd. in Midwest City, housing insurance agents, a Furr's cafeteria in one corner, a Kinko's in another, a children's dance studio and apparently a brothel.
The most interesting remark in the wake of the operation's bust was one by the owner of the dance studio, who said, "We suspected it was a prostitution ring from the day they first started moving in because they could never give us a straight answer as to what kind of business they were." I'm just wondering what they wrote down on the storefront lease.
15 April 2003
A matter of cooperation
This takes some serious choreography:
And Laertes and the Queen fall, and Fortinbras is left to find someone to mop up.
Or something like that.
Permalink to this item (posted at 3:16 PM)
18 April 2003
The post-Gaylord era starts here
There have been many dynasties in American newspaper publishing, but few of them lasted as long, with as few members, as the Oklahoma Publishing Company's Gaylord family.
Edward King ("E. K.") Gaylord bought into the struggling Daily Oklahoman in 1903; by 1918, he was running the place. And E. K. continued to run the place for decades, which prompted local wags to point out that son Edward L. Gaylord would be at retirement age by the time E. K. stepped down.
As it turned out, E. K. never did step down. In May of 1974, the 101-year-old publisher sat down at his desk for the last time, and never got up. Edward L., then 55, quickly assum