Put `least of these' ahead of re-election concerns
Over the weekend I had the opportunity to read the letter former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, former Gov. Frank Keating and former Oklahoma Secretary of State Larry Parman sent members of the Legislature. I do not presume to have the answers to a budget crisis that has been many years in the making. However, as a Christian who believes our care for “the least of these” as described in Matthew 25 is actually how God will judge us, both as individuals and as governments and nations, as a provider of human services who has chosen this profession because of that belief, as an Oklahoman who is proud of how we stand together for our neighbors when there is a need, and as a U.S. citizen who believes in the rights of every
citizen, whether powerful or powerless, I find myself deeply concerned with the voicing of a blanket approach that makes tax increases the ultimate evil as opposed to the failure to stand together for those who cannot stand for themselves.
Perhaps most disheartening was the letter's statement of concern about efforts that focus on taking more money from Oklahoma's “most vulnerable citizens.” Among Oklahoma's most vulnerable citizens are in fact those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including many who cannot care or provide for themselves, and who cannot advocate for themselves loudly or clearly enough to be heard at the Capitol.
Unfortunately, these are not the vulnerable individuals being referred to in the letter lawmakers received. In fact, they do not seem to have been thought of at all, even though it is precisely these individuals whose lives would be deeply affected without new revenue. Their urging for legislators to focus on implementing “efficiencies” instead of adding any new revenue at all serves to provide dangerous semantic cover for making further cuts to services for individuals whose voices are less often heard and who are less able to defend themselves than those the writers are concerned to protect.
I am not writing to express support for raising taxes. If legislators have other streams of revenue to create, I would much prefer that. But when the analogy is made to the hard choices individuals and families in Oklahoma make every day, I would remind legislators that we all cut costs during difficult times, but before our “hard decisions” include setting our children, grandmothers, or other vulnerable family members out to fend for themselves, we would all in good conscience focus on ways to increase our revenue. That, too, is a hard decision.
The authors warn that making such a hard choice might put a legislator's re-election at risk, but to put it bluntly, it is not your job to get re-elected. The job is to work diligently to do what is best for Oklahomans. All Oklahomans.
I'm simply asking lawmakers to return to session, commit to working alongside fellow legislators to get something done on behalf of people who are counting on them, and do so with a mindset of finding a way to work together rather than a predetermined stance that might make some citizens more happy and more likely to vote for them, but that will do so by harming other citizens whose rights are all too easily cast aside.
We are all hoping to see our legislators set aside party lines, political strategies, and other interests in favor of making sure that Oklahoma's most vulnerable citizens truly are protected. I do not believe in big government, excessive control, or subsidizing wasteful spending.
But there is a point at which simply caring for those who literally cannot care for themselves independently has to be something we are all willing to sacrifice for.
Year after year of political gamesmanship on both sides of the aisle is enough! It is not too much for Oklahomans to expect legislators to solve problems rather than rolling them forward each year. It was time two years ago. It was past time last year. It's well past time this year.
And as of today, inaction is already affecting funding for basic services men and women with intellectual and developmental disabilities depend on.
I ask legislators to work together and take real action to create solutions for Oklahomans who need legislative strength and courage more than ever.