Oklahoma and Post-Trump Hope for Education and America

I have to admit that I became horribly sick at my stomach last week when I heard Republican consultants react to a tracking poll which briefly showed Trump leading Hillary Clinton. The consultants issued the obligatory disclaimer about feeling depressed about the 2016 election, but how would they be able to look in the mirror on November 9th if the modern-day Mussolini they reluctantly support was elected?

Then, on a beautiful pre-election Sunday morning, NPR's TED Talk by Jonathan Tepperman reinforced the more "optimistic view: democracy is remarkably pliant -- and resilient." Tepperman cited "the politics of Brazil, Canada, Indonesia, and many other countries" as reminders that when the future of democracy looks the dimmest, opportunities are created for a renewal of government of, by, and for the people.

I wouldn't be surprised if Oklahoma - of all places - provides another hopeful example. Now, 80% of the state's voters are white but half of Oklahomans younger than 25 are nonwhite. As political scientist Keith Gaddie explains, the next census will shift power to urban areas where diversity is growing, meaning that Oklahoma could become a swing state. And when the history of that transition is written, I predict, it will be educators and school patrons who will credited with spearheading that victory.

Although Trump will triumph in our Red state, four educators, and two other dynamic progressives could be elected to the state legislature in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, and two educators could flip Republican legislative districts in the Tulsa metropolitan area. And, SQ 779, a grassroots effort to raise the sales tax by a penny to fund a $5,000 raise for teachers is favored to win. (Sadly, SQ 790, which is a stalking horse for displaying the Ten Commandments at the Capitol, will likely win despite the efforts of an ecumenical coalition supporting the First Amendment.)

After a two decade campaign to shrink government to a size where it can be strangled in the bathtub, voters are fighting back. Former state Speaker of the House Steve Lewis writes, "For a state with a well-deserved reputation for loathing government, we Oklahomans sure spend a lot of time, energy and money governing ourselves." Not long ago, it looked like Oklahoma was bound to follow North Dakota with an overwhelming victory for the so-called "Right to Farm" amendment, but now it looks like the corporate agriculture's SQ 777 will be defeated. Oklahoma's incarceration rate is #2 in the nation and we are #1 in the world in imprisoning women. But, SQ 780 and SQ 781 make simple possession of drugs a misdemeanor, and allocate the savings from reducing prison sentences to local communities for mental health and drug treatment.

I plea guilty to being biased in favor of optimism, I understand why some liberal friends are less sanguine about SQ 779. Ordinarily, I might not support a regressive tax to fund teachers' salaries, but the combination of drastic cuts in per student education funding, and the over-supply of charters threaten the survival of urban schools that serve the poorest children of color.

A misguided but understandable fear of a pro-charter organization which supports SQ 779, has tempted some liberal educators to oppose it. But the pro-charter Daily Oklahoman editorializes against SQ 779, and it also published a charter school superintendent's explanation of why his organization is neutral on the questio. Regardless, our 779 vote should be based on what's best for students, not the positions of our adult opponents in terms of other issues.

Worse, some voters might believe anti-SQ 779 commercials that are worthy of Trump and falsely claim that the majority of the money will not go to teachers.

Some have doubts about the portion of the money that would go to higher education, questioning the motive of President David Boren who leads the SQ 779 campaign. Boren, admittedly, is guilty of turning the University of Oklahoma into a world-class institution of higher learning.

Suspicion has also been raised about the eight percent that would go to the State Education Department. But, that's the best part of the state question! That money goes to the SDE to fund early education!

So, even as diverse, grassroots coalitions are challenging the Rightwing's dominance of state government, some of the tensions which have characterized the presidential campaign have come into play. The decision to support SQ 779 is in some ways comparable to the dilemma faced by some Bernie supporters, but the choice is clear. And, admittedly, if Trump were to triumph Tuesday, our good work might just become footnotes about lost causes that were forgotten in the wake of the national tragedy.

But, once Hillary is elected and victories are won with these state questions, Oklahoma is likely to be changed from a classic example of the sad story Thomas Frank tells in What's the Matter with Kansas? We could become a case study of Frank's wisdom that is expressed in Listen Liberal!

Before we can take the next steps towards making our state (and nation) the best possible constitutional democracy, we must vote Yes on SQ 779, and SQs 780 and 781, and No on SQ 777!