Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Conundrum of Oklahoma Legislative Committee Chairs

Super Tuesday Quick Quiz

Oklahoma legislative committee chairs can be classified as:
a. Dictatorial Lemmings?
b. Water-carrying shills for Republican leadership?
c. Basically nice people just trying to do a job while forced into a corner by legislative rules?
d. Spineless blobs only able to function legislatively if leadership is giving them cover?
e. All of the above

As writer of the quiz, my answer is 'e'. 

Sadly, I find it hard not to be cynical about the whole legislative process anymore. After waking up to the impending doom that is our current state of unconstitutional over government three years ago, I have been an involved citizen lobbyist at the state capitol - primarily for ROPE on education issues. 

Since researching the Common Core State Standards initiative last year, ROPE has attempted to have them repealed from state law through HB1714 by Sally Kern

For TWO YEARS in a row, however, ROPE has been shut out of the DEMOCRATIC process by House Education Committee Chair Ann Coody. 

Last year (2011), Representative Coody said she would not hear HB1714 in her committee because Senator John Ford, Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, would refuse to hear it in his committee [should it pass the House Education Committee and the House membership and move to the Senate side, where it would be be assigned to the Senate Education Committee]. 

Though both ROPE and Representative Kern spoke to Representative Coody and asked her to reconsider her decision, she simply continued to argue that it made no difference whether she heard the bill or not - if Senator Ford wouldn't hear the bill in his committee, HB1714 was destined for holdover status yet another year*.

This year (though we found out we had already missed the deadline for bills to be heard in committee) we went to Senator Ford to ask him again to hear our bill.

We attended all 3 hours of the Senate Appropriations Committee meeting Wednesday, February 29 [to make sure SB1797 was amended to keep NAEP testing accountability - and it was], and waited to catch Senator Ford before lunch. We left the committee meeting room, but Senator Ford stayed behind for nearly 20 minutes talking to Joel Robison, Janet Barresi's Chief of Staff [who was with taxpayer paid lobbyist Jessica Russel - also of the Department of Education]. 

After he finished talking (leaving Joel, Jessica, Damon Gardenhire - also of the Dept. of Ed. - and Education Secretary Phyllis Hudecki to powow seriously in the adjacent board room), we caught the Senator and were ushered down the hall into his office. There, we were told politely, but firmly that he would NOT hear our bill. 

Of course we assailed him with all our reasons why the Common Core would be devastating for Oklahoma taxpayers and students, but for naught. It was clear the taxpayer funded OSDE lobbyist and our new education 'establishment', led by Obama-grant-seeking Dr. Barresi, were not going to allow any silly citizen lobbyist/researchers to derail the plan for Oklahoma to be eaten alive by the federal education machine.

Dejected and disgusted, we went back to the House side, where we met with Representative Gus Blackwell - ALSO running a bill attacking the Common Core, HB2624, that had ALSO been blocked from a hearing by Representative Coody. 

An ex-ProTem, Gus knows quite a lot about legislative rules. While we sat in his office, Gus pulled his bill from the House Education Committee and set about to have it signed out of committee.* Three of us (Jenni, Lynn and Julia) stayed in the lobby of the House for nearly 2 hours talking to House Education Committee members - attempting to get them to sign off on the bill and gain it the hearing it deserved in the House.

Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful. Though we had gotten verbal commitments from many that afternoon, many committee members backed away from signing in the end, refusing to "go against leadership" and risk having any future bills blocked from a hearing in Common Ed. 

For the last two legislative years, ROPE has been told by several senators that they wouldn't work with us because it had been made plain if they did, Senator Ford would refuse to hear any of their bills in his committee. Obviously, this was nothing new to us. Obviously, it was extremely disappointing and frustrating.

How does this happen? How does the voice of the people simply become INERT? How does By the People, For the People, Of the People become, By the Chairman, for the Republican Leadership, Of the Political Establishment? 

Easy really. The PEOPLE quit showing up and taking part a LONG time ago, and left alone to their own devices, their representatives became kings and queens of their own little fiefdoms supported by lobbyists - private and tax-funded alike. Now that many of us have awakened and are ready for responsive government, we have found that the Kings and Queens are not disposed to being deposed.

Are we giving up? ABSOLUTELY NOT! In fact, ROPE has a plan up its sleeve as I write. I will be posting on our ObamaEd campaign tonight!

Tomorrow we will descend upon the Capitol to finish getting signatures on a discharge petition for Charles Key's Open Government bill, HR1004, providing that every bill get a committee hearing. I don't anticipate a warm and fuzzy response from a number of legislators, but it's important to remember that we live in a country governed BY THE PEOPLE FOR THE PEOPLE OF THE PEOPLE and THE PEOPLE are the only ones who can get it back!


* [when bills are unheard by committee chairs, or failed to be assigned to a committee by the Speaker of the House or the Senate ProTem for whatever reason (usually because they are found controversial in one way or another or the Governor or another official doesn't want them, they sit on the books without action and can be brought up again next year as a holdover]
* this is a similar maneuver to the "discharge petition". If a bill can not be heard in committee, it can be pulled from the committee and submitted to each of the members of that committee for consideration. If 2/3 of the committee (which also includes the Speaker and ProTem) agrees that the bill should be heard on the floor, the committee members in agreement sign off on the bill and it is sent to the House floor for a vote.