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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers

February 12, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

Stillwater News Press. Feb. 10, 2019.

— Up for a challenge

It really shouldn’t be understated how dangerous confirmation bias has become in the modern digital age. It all stems from an unwillingness to look at both sides of any issue.

Confirmation bias is the result of only seeking information that backs up a previously held belief. It doesn’t have to be an extreme belief, but even an inkling of an idea can be magnified when it bounces around a self-made echo chamber.

The examples are endless in the landscape of social media. How many people held to their original perception of the D.C. rally with the Catholic school boys even after more video released? Why did so few care that the press secretary of the United States shared a manipulated video to strengthen an argument? Why are people still so vehemently anti-vaccination in the face of measles outbreaks? How do we ignore historic lessons on the dangers of nationalism or the flaws in socialism?

Are we really becoming more extreme, or are we just not challenging ourselves to step outside of our comfort zones? A healthy dose of cynicism might do us some good, but we shouldn’t slip into conspiracy theories, either.

Some of the common complaints we get as a news organization have to do with the op-ed page, and it comes from both sides. Why would you run that cartoon or that column? “That cartoon was too liberal.” ″That columnist is too conservative.”

We often think that if enough people are upset on either side of the political spectrum, then the page is just about right.

It’s almost impossible to browbeat someone into changing their attitudes, but it is possible to alter our behaviors so we look at things more logically.

See how it feels to turn off social media for a week. Read an article you might not normally read. Listen to a speech from someone from an opposing political party. You might surprise yourself.

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Tulsa World. Feb. 12, 2019.

— The governor shouldn’t just be an interested observer into the ways of state government

Gov. Kevin Stitt has proposed a broad reorganization of Oklahoma’s executive branch of government.

He wants the legal authority to hire or fire top officers in state agencies, and the Legislature seems inclined to agree.

First on the agenda are five large state agencies — the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Office of Juvenile Affairs and the departments of transportation, mental health and corrections.

But Stitt has even bigger plans, direct control over some 120 state agencies.

In general, we agree that governors ought to have control over the state bureaucracy. We’ve seen Republicans and Democrats elected governor on promises to shake things up, only to be frustrated by their predecessors’ appointees on the boards and commissions that actually control agencies.

That system creates a backward-looking, entrenched bureaucracy. Balking agency heads can simply ignore policy initiatives from the governor’s office and wait for him to go away. Thus, the governor becomes an interested observer in the operations of state government, feckless by design.

While we support Stitt’s initiative in principle, we note with concern that eliminating the controlling boards and commissions could easily endanger transparency in state government. Currently, the big agencies have to approve their budget requests and policy changes in open meetings, where the public can take part and ask questions. Eliminate the controlling boards, and you could decrease the public’s scrutiny of the process.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is an interesting case study here. Voters approved eliminating the Oklahoma Human Services Board in 2012 and made the DHS director directly responsible to the governor. The result has been better, more professional leadership for the agency. But it also decreased ordinary citizens’ ability to observe and critique the agency’s actions.

Before the Legislature moves forward on giving the governor more power, it needs to design assurances that a more responsive system is not a less transparent one.

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The Oklahoman. Feb. 12, 2019.

— Caution advised with changes to Oklahoma’s JNC

Patrick Wyrick, whose nomination to be a judge for the western district of Oklahoma was approved last week by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, was named to the state’s highest court in February 2017 by former Gov. Mary Fallin. She chose Wyrick from among three nominees provided by the Judicial Nominating Commission, a panel that vets prospects for the Supreme Court, the Court of Criminal Appeals and the Court of Civil Appeals.

The JNC was created in 1967 via a voter-approved constitutional amendment, following an ugly bribery scandal involving some justices, who at the time were elected. The commission comprises 15 members — six are elected by Oklahoma Bar Association members, six nonlawyers are appointed by the governor, and three nonlawyers are appointed at large by legislative leadership and the commission.

The JNC has come under criticism in recent years, largely due to state Supreme Court rulings conservatives in the Legislature found troubling. The court’s 2015 ruling that a Ten Commandments monument violated the state constitution, for example, led a group of House GOP members to call for the impeachment of the seven assenting justices.

Several efforts have been made to change the current nominating process. These have included requiring partisan elections for justices, allowing the governor to nominate candidates and letting the Senate confirm them, reducing the size and altering the makeup of the JNC, and requiring the JNC to send the governor five names instead of three.

During his campaign, Stitt said that if elected he would look to appoint anti-abortion justices to the state Supreme Court — while other GOP candidates shared his worldview, he was the first to say he would have that litmus test. When he was asked later in the campaign how he would go about putting that into practice, Stitt didn’t have an answer. He has said he would like to have more than three names from which to choose.

Critics say the JNC’s leadership tends to be heavy with trial lawyers and those who have an activist predisposition. Yet as we have noted, alternative methods to selecting judges have their problems, too. While a survey from 2013 showed public support for direct election of these justices and judges, that would likely increase the clout of similarly disposed interest groups.

Some tweaking to the JNC might be worth considering, but caution is advised. We would be leery of wholesale changes driven strictly by ideological differences.

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