Here's To The State Of Oklahoma On Election Night

Here's To The State Of Oklahoma On Election Night
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In the 1960s, the great folk singer Phil Ochs sang an ode to the state of Mississippi which had torn out the heart of the nation as a result of its odious racial practices and the buffoonery of its political leaders.

As I have written about previously, the state of Oklahoma though not quite as evil as Mississippi could today serve as an effective substitute in Ochs' song.

It is at the center of the global warming denial movement, leads the world in female incarceration and its Republican-dominated legislature has passed measures in the face of declining state revenues from a drop in oil prices to gut the state's public education system.

The legislature at the same time pushed for the repeal of the earned income tax credit and for the assignment of felony status to performing an abortion (though this was vetoed by the Governor for being unconstitutional).

On election night 2016, Oklahomans came out to block a ballot measure promoted by Oklahoma University President David Boren that would have increased sales taxes by one penny to help improve public education.

The educational crisis in Oklahoma is severe.

Teachers who supported the ballot initiative are having grave difficulty making ends meet as teacher salaries have not been raised in a decade.

Matt Campbell, a former student of mine who is the head of the history department at East Central High School in Tulsa, told me that he has to survive on a diet of craft dinner at the end of each month because of low pay. The Tulsa World has profiled many dedicated teachers over the last year who have been forced to leave the profession or left the state to be able to support their families.

Some schools districts have been forced to go to a four day school day, something unheard of even in the poorest parts of Africa. Teachers on their meager salaries meanwhile have to purchase supplies for their students and even clean their own classrooms, doubling as janitors.

Unfortunately, on election night, Oklahomans could not find it in their heart to vote the one penny sales tax raise to begin to ameliorate this dire situation.

Prior to the election, a coalition of wealthy businessmen and conservatives financed an ad campaign falsely claiming the tax would serve as a slush fund for school administrators, apparently persuading many voters against the measure.

Sixty percent of the total revenue, however, was to go explicitly towards increasing teachers' pay and thirteen percent was to assist in improving educational outcomes. None of the money was to be used to increase superintendents' salaries.

In another disappointing result from election night, John Waldron, a high-school history teacher who has been a tireless advocate for education was defeated for a state Senate seat by the former football coach at the University of Tulsa, Republican Dave Rader; a reflection of the state's priorities it appears.

While voting down education, Oklahomans voted overwhelmingly to uphold the death penalty despite the disastrous, botched execution that took place there in 2014.

On the positive side, Oklahomans passed a measure reclassifying small drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, directing expected savings to substance abuse and mental health community treatment, and rejected a bill to remove a part of the Oklahoma Constitution that prohibits the use of state resources for religious purposes.

Oklahoma was one of the first states to declare for Donald Trump. The state has been at the heart of the anti-Obama sentiment, and there is an ugly nativist strand Trump tapped into.

The state's Republican Congressional delegation easily won reelection including Senator James Lankford, a deficit hawk who paradoxically supports a huge military budget. According to, Lankford's campaign committee received over $700,000 from the oil and gas industry (including from the Koch Brothers) and he characteristically sponsored a bill to remove an expired wind energy incentive from the federal tax code.

The Democrats poor showing in the 2016 election was in good part self-inflicted. The party is demoralized at the state level, underfunded and has often adopted a Republican-lite platform rather than promoting robust progressive principles many Oklahomans might embrace.

The Clinton's are hated in many circles because of their outsourcing jobs under NAFTA and role in contributing to the depleting of the manufacturing base in cities like Tulsa.

Bernie Sanders not only won the Democratic primary but also had more votes than the Republican victor, Ted Cruz.

Oklahoman's as Sanders' success shows have populist and progressive inclinations the Democrats would be wise to try and channel to their advantage in the future.

Until that time, the state remains the poster boy for red state America with all its paradoxes and pitfalls, including a disgraceful neglect for environmental protection and public education.

So here's to the state of Oklahoma, you've torn out the heart of...

Jeremy Kuzmarov teaches at the University of Tulsa and is author of two books on U.S. foreign policy.

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