Put `least of th­ese' ahead of re-elec­tion con­cerns

Tulsa World - - Opinion - BY RALPH RICHARD­SON Ralph Richard­son, a res­i­dent of Vinita, is CEO of Home of Hope (www.home­ofhope.com).

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.

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