The battle to improve the circumstances of Oklahoma’s children is largely fought in the Legislature, where lawmakers will appropriate funds and create policies which impact education, health, foster care and other areas that directly effect kids.
Regardless of one’s political preferences, successful advocacy hinges on understanding the political environment at our State Capitol.
Today, that environment is driven by two main forces: the increase in numbers of the Republican policymakers and legislative turnover created by term limits.
In the State House, Republicans gained four seats, meaning they now control that chamber with a super majority of 75 members, compared to 26 elected Democrats. In the Senate, Republicans held onto 42 of the 48 seats. According to Ballotpedia, Oklahoma is one of 31 “trifecta government” states with one-party control over the executive and legislative branches. In these states, twenty-five are controlled by Republicans and six by Democrats.
Just as important to understanding the make up of the Legislature is recognizing the startling number of new faces who will join the House and Senate in 2017. In the Oklahoma State Senate, 13 new members took the oath of office out of the 48 member legislative body. In the House, 32 new representatives were elected from the 101 member body. That means almost 1/3 of our lawmakers will be “freshmen” legislators attempting to learn basic parliamentary procedure, grapple with new responsibilities and political realities, all while trying to drive a constructive policy agenda. With such a large group of new members, groups like OICA will need to work doubly hard to educate lawmakers about the challenges and problems facing many of Oklahoma’s children.
It was in this context that I was happy to join Rep. Leslie Osborn, R – Mustang, last weekend on Your Vote Counts, a segment held each week on News 9 in Oklahoma City. You can find the link on News9’s website (http://m.news9.com/Video.aspx?clipId=12942517&catId=112037).
The discussion ranged from the mission of OICA to what to expect from the new leadership team, in which Rep. Osborn will play a significant role. We both were optimistic with might occur to alleviate the decrease in revenue collections and new laws passed by policymakers regarding the budget. From modifications to tax credits and exemptions, to the discussion for an increase in the Oklahoma tobacco tax, the 149 legislators and our governor will have some tough decisions to make for the best interest of our state.
Speaker-elect McCall and Pro Tempore-elect Schulz will need strong leaders in the various appropriations chair positions and should do everything in their power to include the various perspectives from around the state who have been designated by their districts to be the voices for each at the capitol. I have been impressed with the willingness to delve deeper into the budgets of the larger agencies at this early stage. Speaker Larry Adair during the revenue shortfalls faced in his tenure charged his committee with reviewing agency budgets from the greatest to the smallest. This resulted in a balanced budget which was submitted to Gov. Brad Henry. I am seeing similar willingness from this newer, younger leadership team. I hope this spirit will continue through policy decisions and the best interests for the children of Oklahoma in the new laws considered beginning in February with the new session.
Joe Dorman serves as the CEO for the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy. The mission of OICA is creating awareness, taking action and changing policy to improve the health, safety and well-being of Oklahoma’s children.