On Monday, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) and the Oklahoma Women’s Coalition held our second Women and Children First advocacy training program. It was a great event – we doubled our attendance from the previous year and conducted several panels discussing the best tactics for successful advocacy and communication with lawmakers and the media. I would like to offer a special thanks to our panel of legislators, which included Senators Hicks, Ikley-Freeman and Stanley along with Representatives Baker, Branham, Bush and Hasenbeck. Each shared their advice regarding what advocates should do to help advance policy. All of these lawmakers are active on both the newly formed Women’s Caucus and the Early Childhood Caucus, and we appreciate their leadership.
The primary focus of the day was to watch Governor Kevin Stitt’s State of the State speech and to discuss our new governor’s vision for moving Oklahoma forward. Governor Stitt called upon Oklahomans to meet three objectives: 1) bring people together, 2) set measurable goals for success, and 3) hold ourselves accountable for meeting these goals.
Policy wise, I do not want to be too hard on the governor as this was only his second speech, following his inauguration a few weeks ago. He now has four months ahead of him in the legislative session to lead the state, highlight the issues facing women and children, and encourage lawmakers to pursue policies that would directly benefit them.
Overall, the speech had many positive overtones. The emphasis of the speech was directed at financial matters, with government costs and savings and how to impact policy through the budget. This is certainly needed. With that said, I think it is fair to say that the attendees of the Women and Children First forum would have liked to hear more about women and children.
In the category of children, the Governor used that word three times, one of which was to recognize his own children who were present in the gallery. The other two times were to discuss breaking down silos within educational systems and funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
“Women” received two mentions and both pertained to providing additional support for recovery programs as part of criminal justice reform. With Oklahoma leading the nation in incarcerating females, it is certainly understandable that this would be an area of focus, but opportunities for success for women were not singled out.
When I asked our assembled advocates if they felt the speech hit the mark with our respective missions, none of our attendees felt it did. Having spoken to the governor, I know he feels that women’s and children’s issues are a priority for him. Nevertheless, they received scant attention in his remarks this week, serving as a reminder that advocates must ramp up their efforts to educate policymakers and the public. No one is going to do our job for us, even the governor.
There are almost 900,000 Oklahomans today under the age of eighteen. These people represent the future of this state. If we are to be a “top ten state,” as Governor Stitt hopes for us to be, we need to ensure they have every chance to be healthier, better-educated, and safer than they are today. That will only happen if we properly invest in these young Oklahomans and the services they and their families rely on. I am still optimistic, but we all need to be more engaged. Please do your part and get involved in the conversation!