Oklahoma hates big government but loves the money
BY JANET PEARSON Associate Editor
Sunday, August 19, 2012
8/19/12 at 4:23 AM
Why is the Washington Post so interested in Oklahoma political leanings? It's not like the state's conservative bent against big government is front-page news. And surely there are other conservative states that aren't so fond of the feds.
Maybe it's because someone there at the Post delights in pointing out what big hypocrites we are.
I'm guessing most Oklahomans don't much care what the Washington Post writes about us. But sometimes, it's eye-opening to look at ourselves through someone else's eyes.
The latest installment in the Post's Oklahoma series, "Health insurance mandate faces huge resistance in Oklahoma," was published on July 29.
The article pointed out that the Supreme Court's decision upholding most of the Affordable Care Act doesn't necessarily mean Americans will sign up for health insurance in droves. "Nowhere is that more evident than Oklahoma, a conservative state with an independent streak and a disdain for the strong arm of the government.
"The state cannot even get residents to comply with car insurance laws; roughly a quarter of the drivers here lack it, one of the highest rates in the country."
The writer noted that "antipathy" toward federal reform "runs so deep" here that Gov. Mary Fallin even turned away $54 million to implement one facet of the reform law that would help residents obtain health insurance.
So does our resistance to auto insurance mean the same thing will happen with health insurance? Maybe. After all, we don't like the feds telling us what to do, even if it's in our best interests.
It's what we do
But while Oklahomans may harbor a fierce dislike for all things federal, we don't seem to mind pocketing the money the feds send our way. As a letter to the editor of the Post noted a few days later, on the same day the above article was published, "there was an article stating that the House was ready to take up drought-relief legislation; in other words, more bloated farm subsidies. And who is pushing this legislation? An Oklahoma Republican (Rep. Frank D. Lucas). Am I the only one to see the hypocrisy here?"
Drought relief is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the federal help Oklahomans have sought and received over the years. In last Tuesday's Tulsa World, it was reported that Gov. Mary Fallin is seeking federal disaster relief for the hundreds of Oklahoma homeowners and businesses affected by the recent wildfires. On the same page of that edition, a report noted that more than 705,000 Oklahomans - one out of every five residents - was on Social Security in 2010, and that nearly 800,000 Oklahomans received Medicaid benefits in 2009.
That article also reported that more than 585,000 Oklahomans received Medicare benefits in 2009. The two programs combined accounted for about 41 percent of all health-care spending in the state.
That's not all the federal largesse making its way here, as the Post's astute observers found. In an article it published last year on April 10 about the frantic budget process aimed at averting a possible government shutdown, the Post again traveled to Oklahoma for insight, and found that a "jaundiced view of the federal government is common here ... even though the region's surging economy is built to a large degree on a foundation of federal spending."
The article went on to note that in the Oklahoma City area, 7 percent of the work force are federal employees, "more than double the U.S. average."
"Meanwhile, federal spending on roads, a huge Federal Aviation Administration center and a sprawling Air Force base not only keeps more than 20,000 civilians employed but also is helping to nurture entire sectors of the area's increasingly prosperous and diverse economy."
The Post said the state "gets back $1.35 for every dollar its residents and businesses pay in federal taxes," citing Tax Foundation figures. "That's the 15th most generous return among the 50 states."
While several officials quoted in the story struggled to defend Oklahoma's apparent hypocrisy regarding federal spending, one was surprisingly candid. "On one hand, you have this fairly heavy concentration of federal employees and spending here," said Cindy Rosenthal, a University of Oklahoma political scientist and mayor of Norman. "On the other hand, there is a lot of sentiment that the federal government is too large, too intrusive and probably too wasteful."
The area's congressman, Rep. James Lankford, came up with this creative rationale. Some federal workers, he told the Post, have complained to him about the "inefficiency they see up close and personal." (I'm guessing the inefficiency they cited was in no way connected to their own bailiwicks.)
It wasn't lost on the Post that the area's economic success "is due in no small part to its location as a crossroads for three major interstate highways, which were built with federal money. ... And the state's booming energy sector as well as many of its farmers benefit mightily from federal subsidies."
Don't you just hate it when the liberal media are right?
Chances are most Oklahomans don't share that thought but instead feel it's perfectly justifiable to accept certain federal funds while viewing other spending as not justifiable. That's not an outrageous stance; obviously some expenditures are more defensible than others. But can't everyone make the same argument?
And then we also try to have it both ways. Oklahoma's conservative leadership acquiesced to accepting federal stimulus funds, after vociferously opposing the idea (and even voting against it in some instances), because the money was used on needed highway infrastructure they felt was an appropriate use of federal funds.
And just about everybody, including our leadership, seems OK with 800,000 Oklahomans currently receiving Medicaid services. But for some reason the governor and many others are reluctant to add more Oklahomans to the Medicaid rolls, as called for in the federal health-care reform law. Surely that's not just because it's President Obama's idea. Right?
Our flimsy rationales and policy hair-splitting may satisfy us when it comes to federal spending, but we're not fooling anyone else.
Original Print Headline: For and against big government
Janet Pearson 918-581-8328