Dismantling Democracy by State Rep. Mike Brown

State of Oklahoma House of Representatives April 18, 2011

For seven years I have served my district in the House of Representatives, and for seven years I have witnessed the creation of bad public policy and the destruction of public policy that would have helped average Oklahomans. What I have learned in this time is that, with few exceptions, the public policy recommendations of the Republican majority will either directly or indirectly reduce the general standard of living for middle-class working people.

Many are just beginning to notice and many more have believed for some time that their government has been hijacked by special interests, and they are right.

If you take a good long look at the measures being pushed and praised by the Republican administration, you will soon discover that they favor the wealthy over the middle-class and the working poor. They protect insurance companies and big business over injured victims. They create and continue to protect the special tax credits of large corporations while they decrease dollars for public services such as our senior nutrition centers, our roads and bridges, and our correctional officers.

They have effectively pitted groups against each other, such as unions vs. non-unions, public workers vs. private, rural vs. urban, and with these distractions in place they have accomplished numerous goals to dismantle democracy as we know it.

The steps taken by the right to improve public education have been to defund education while simultaneously imposing additional mandates under threat of closure or consolidation.  Their answer to our struggling public education system is private schools bought and paid with taxpayer dollars.

Their answer to economic development in our state is to limit the public’s access to the courts and to limit legitimate damages in civil malpractice cases where the victim suffered permanent and substantial physical abnormalities or disfigurement. They want us to be a state that welcomes unscrupulous business practices at whatever cost to the safety of Oklahomans.

Their answer to our revenue shortfall is to reduce pension benefits while extending retirement ages, to increase fees and borrow money through the use of bonds, to close public prison units and use private facilities with volatile contract rates.

This session I have yet to hear a Republican introduce a bill on the House floor that seeks to improve the lives of the people who go to work every day and perform the services essential to keeping our economy functioning. Instead I hear attacks on teachers and on our state employees who strive to protect the abused and neglected. I hear attacks on injured people who seek legal recourse when they have been wronged.

What will happen to our state when we no longer have a strong middle-class? Without a doubt the gap in wealth between the richest and the poorest is increasing to levels not seen in nearly a century. Middle-class families are not faring well, as their economic boats have been taking on water for years, and many who once felt secure now live paycheck to paycheck and are only a pink slip or medical diagnosis away from slipping into poverty.

What has the Republican Party done to help middle-class families and the working poor? Right now the state gives away each year over $5 billion in tax preferences, and to increase state revenue the ideas from their end is to eliminate the Sales Tax Relief Act, which was created to help offset the cost of grocery sales taxes. Families under certain income levels, along with the blind, disabled and elderly can claim a $40 tax credit. Republicans are pushing to remove this tax credit – not any of the tax preferences doled out to corporate interests and the wealthiest among us.

The attack on the middle-class is occurring now, and people need to pay attention to the actions of their legislators and see who they are representing, special interests or the public’s interests? They need to ask themselves what their vote meant in the last election, what they were asking of their elected official, and if they are better off today for their choice.

by Southwest Laborers District Council on Monday, April 18, 2011 at 4:57pm

*Mike Brown represents District 4 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He lives with his family in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.