Standing For Something? Legislature Preview 2012, Part Three

Image of Oklahoma State Capitol

For years now, social conservatives have proposed a litany of extremist legislation and ballot amendments that rile progressives, who spend energy fighting what they deem as ideology-driven and unnecessary initiatives.

The approved amendment banning the use of Sharia law in Oklahoma courts, now blocked by a federal court, is one such example. The amendment, based on a false premise, was passed by voters in a 2010 landslide vote in what can be viewed as collective, fear-inspired hysteria cultivated by a mixture of xenophobia and religious intolerance.

Meanwhile, some legislators, such as state Rep. Sally Kern, add to the conservative argument by equating gay people with terrorism or by making insensitive remarks about African Americans and women. What will Kern say or do this session? Who knows? One thing is sure. Progressives will be there to respond and call for her resignation, which is never forthcoming.

So have progressives here made overall gains in the yearly slog opposing legislative extremism or are they just spinning their wheels? Some extremist bills and initiatives get tabled, for sure, but the reality is progressives don’t connect with the wider Oklahoma electorate the way in which conservatives do right now and any victories are fleeting. The disparity in this “connectedness” seems to grow each year.

Here’s another reality: Social conservatives keep some progressives busy with legislative side shows as the so-called fiscal conservatives whittle away at the tax base and funding for state government and education. As I mentioned in my last post, progressives here have been reduced to constant oppositional agitation.

Let’s look at two ideological bills introduced this upcoming session, both of which will keep progressives busy:

  • State Sen. Ralph Shortey (R-Oklahoma City) has introduced Senate Bill 1418, which argues: “No person or entity shall manufacture or knowingly sell food or any other product intended for human consumption which contains aborted human fetuses in the ingredients or which used aborted human fetuses in the research or development of any of the ingredients.” Shortey has explained he offered the bill after he supposedly found out about a company that has used “human embryonic stem cells in the testing of artificial flavors,” but the use of the word “fetus” in his bill is obviously ideological and meant to frighten people into believing the horrific.

  • State Rep. Mike Reynolds (R-Oklahoma) has introduced House Joint Resolution 1067,which would put a measure on the ballot asking voters to grant personhood status and rights to human fertilized eggs. The bill is part of a national personhood movement, which is trying to make abortion illegal. Mississippi voters have already defeated a similar measure in their state.

Both these bills deserve to be opposed and defeated because they represent a threat to science and women’s reproductive rights, but Shortey’s bill seems ultimately meaningless in terms of any real legal impact, and federal case law would usurp a state vote granting human cells the rights of a person. The question is this: Is there doubt that if the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, abortion would become illegal here? Some states already have trigger laws that would outlaw abortion based on that possible ruling.

So the point I’ve tried to make in my last three posts about the upcoming legislative session, which begins Feb. 6, is that progressives need to step back from the ideological and perpetual tax-cut wars occasionally and find issues they can support in the affirmative. What about a same-sex marriage initiative or a green initiative or some type of proposal to reinvest in education? Although these initiatives have little chance of success here right now, they remain historically accurate, and even some thoughtful conservatives will concede the point. Gay marriage will someday be a reality in all the states. It’s only going to become more inevitable that a cleaner environment and a clean energy supply are necessary for human survival. States that don’t invest adequately in education will become irrelevant.

It’s also likely conservatives will extend their solid majorities in the Oklahoma House and Senate this election year. Consequently, progressives here might look locally for political-involvement opportunities by becoming candidates or supporting like-minded candidates in county, city and school district elections.

As the legislature convenes this year, I urge progressives to consider a larger frame. The point is to stand FOR something, not just AGAINST something.