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Wednesday, April 8th, 2020Last Update: Tuesday, February 11th, 2020 09:38:01 AM

A Few Modest Proposals

By: Richard Engle

As candidates for office, from statewide to state house, search for votes, they might want an idea or two to reform state government. Too many candidates have little to no experience with government, only knowing that what is being done doesn’t work. Here are some ideas I am convinced would work.

1) School reform that would be acceptable. In Oklahoma we have more school districts than we need. Consolidation has been talked about, but nothing has been accomplished. Those who oppose it are often concerned about the loss of community as the local school is all that keeps some small towns intact. Others are rightly concerned about the impact of long bus rides.

We have two types of school districts. Independent districts start at Kindergarten and go through High School. Meanwhile we have about a hundred Dependent districts that serve students only through sixth or eighth grade. They “depend” on the local Independent district to instruct the children in Junior and High School. Those Dependent districts get 100% of the local property tax and the Independent district is starved of funds needed to educate all the children.

All Dependent districts should be consolidated with their local Independent district with a caveat that (baring approval of the State Board of Education) the Independent district may not close any Dependent school for which it assumes control for a period of five years. In order to make those small local schools viable, the district may have to bring more children in. This would have a positive effect on the small communities. More importantly, it would have a positive effect on the students by creating efficiency and funding for the vital secondary portion of children’s education.

2) True transparency in every part of state government. Our various government agencies are supposed to be accountable to the legislature, but they have been largely doing as their bureaucrats please. The Legislature controls only the portion of funds appropriated directly by the state to the agencies. Funds received from fees, transfers from federal government and other sources is seldom revealed to the Legislature. Every penny that comes into the hands of any agency (including funds that go to trusts governed by agency personnel and/or boards) must be opened to the Legislature and the public. The same must apply to how the funds were expended or retained.

3) Fewer election dates. Few voters know that there are elections most months. School districts and cities often hide their elections and bond issues on dates in which nothing else is on the ballot. Oklahoma should reduce election dates to four per even numbered year and only two in odd numbered years.

As to special elections, of which there have been too many, the primary process is a disaster. The voters must choose among a wide variety of candidates only to find a general election consisting of candidates who may have received far less than a majority of the vote in their own party. I suggest a system by which parties would have to reduce the number of candidates for a special election to only two. This could be done by a convention system as is done in Utah for all elections. The cost savings would be significant and the opportunity for voters to actually impact the nomination would be improved.

4) Reduce the importance of gerrymandering. In times past each state had a bicameral system similar to our federal government – one equal by population and one geographically fixed. A Supreme Court decision ruled that all legislative districts must be equal (as close as practical) in population. Every ten years each district is redrawn to allow the politicians to chose their constituency, rather than the opposite. Two houses of the Legislature helps prevent bad bills from moving forward. There is a way to have all districts of equal population yet have one house elected in a unique manner. I suggest that one house of the Legislature be elected proportional to the statewide vote. If 60% vote Republican, then 60% of one house would go to the Republican candidates, and so forth. Neither party would abandon any district, and the Conservative voters in a liberal district would have a reason to vote even if they knew their candidate had no chance of winning a majority, and vice versa. Every vote would count and there would be no reason to gerrymander any district of that house of the Legislature.

A trip of a thousand miles begins with a single step. No one of these will be a panacea. There is no grand plan that will fix all our woes. We often hear that some proposed reform will not save enough or do enough. This is true. We should not despise the day of small beginnings. We should, however, welcome every small step to save funds, improve efficiency, right size government, celebrate personal liberty, and allow our economy to prosper.

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