Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers
Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:
Tulsa World. May 13, 2018.
Shortly before adjourning, the Oklahoma House of Representatives gave final legislative approval to a measure to allow monuments or replicas of the Ten Commandments on public property in the state. Gov. Mary Fallin signed House Bill 2177 on Friday.
If you feel like you’ve heard this story before, you essentially have.
In 2007, Gov. Brad Henry signed legislation authorizing a privately funded monument to the Ten Commandments on the state Capitol grounds. But in 2015, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that the monument violated Article II, section 5 of the state Constitution, which forbids using state property directly or indirectly for religious purposes.
Backers of the monument asked Oklahoma voters to remove Article II, section 5 from the state Constitution, and the idea was rejected by 58 percent of the vote.
The latest effort comes with the idea that the Ten Commandments would be packaged with other historically significant documents — such as the Magna Carta and the Mayflower Compact. That’s an interesting thought, but not a new one. It’s very close to the argument that was tried in 2015 and rejected by the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
“As concerns the ‘historic purpose’ justification, the Ten Commandments are obviously religious in nature and are an integral part of the Jewish and Christian faiths,” the court said in its 2015 ruling.
We support the Ten Commandments and, before the Supreme Court ruling, argued in favor of the state Capitol monument. We think most Oklahomans respect the Ten Commandments, try to live by them and would want their government to do the same.
But it seems to be decided law, and the people of Oklahoma have essentially endorsed the Constitution’s critical language on the issue. The new law seems no more constitutional than its predecessor, and only sets the state up for another court defeat.
The Oklahoman. May 15, 2018.
Oklahoma government has long been hindered by politicians’ preference for placating parochial interest groups at the expense of the broader citizenry. This problem came to the fore once again with legislation that would have allowed communities to block improvements to the state highway system.
Senate Bill 86 would have required the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to pay for an economic impact study for any highway construction project that would bypass any municipality in Oklahoma. Those studies, which would be “in addition” to any study already required by state or federal law, would cost ODOT an estimated $50,000 to $100,000 apiece, and would focus only on the bypass’ economic impact upon the bypassed community.
The bill would have then granted the local municipality effective veto power over any bypass project and prevented state officials from adding a bypass to the state’s eight-year road plan.
Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed the bill. Thanks to reforms enacted in 2005, she noted, it is now the practice of the state “to allow the engineers and professionals at ODOT to make transportation project decisions based on sound data and not by political interference.”
For those who don’t recall the pre-2005 era, it was not unusual for major road projects to be funded in areas with low traffic counts because a local legislator was politically powerful, even as congestion and deterioration became worse elsewhere. We don’t need a return to those days.
SB 86 was filed because ODOT may build a U.S. 69 bypass around Muskogee. Between 20,000 and 26,000 vehicles a day travel U.S. 69 in Muskogee, causing traffic congestion and delays.
The bypass would benefit freight transportation in Oklahoma and nationally by allowing more efficient delivery of goods. But it also would impact many Muskogee businesses along the existing route. Those businesses are understandably worried, and legislators representing Muskogee filed SB 86 in response.
But there are problems with alternatives to a bypass. While ODOT is also considering a proposal to widen U.S. 69 to six lanes through Muskogee, the construction would create additional traffic disruptions on a highway where delays are already a problem, and the expansion would involve destroying some of the same businesses now concerned about potential loss of customers should a bypass be built.
Moreover, a traffic study showed a six-lane expansion would only meet traffic needs through 2040. Millions could be spent on an expansion project that would be completed only a handful of years before another option would become necessary. The six-lane expansion could therefore be a far more expensive approach in the long run than simply building a bypass.
The concerns of towns impacted by highway bypass decisions should be considered, of course. And officials from Muskogee have already appeared before the state transportation commission and produced a petition of opposition signed by 3,800 people. ODOT also plans to hold at least two more hearings for Muskogee residents.
There’s no doubt a bypass will help some and harm others. But the key question is whether a bypass helps more people than it harms. SB 86 would have empowered a small group of citizens at the expense of the majority and politicized road planning. Fallin was right to veto it.
Muskogee Phoenix. May 15, 2018.
Rex Eskridge will retire in July after 49 years of dedicated service to the citizens of Muskogee.
Eskridge served the community as a police officer and worked his way through the ranks to become Chief of Police.
“Our officers today actively seek knowledge, training, better ways to make our community safe,” Eskridge said in media release. “I’m proud of how our current officers are progressive and active in our community. We’ve seen a drastic drop in violent crime and homicides compared to when I became chief in the early 1990s.”
Eskridge’s dedication to making Muskogee a safer place to live and work is admirable.
During his tenure as chief, the department has made strides in technology and citizen interaction.
One instance illustrates this point. An officer-involved fatal shooting occurred here not long after violence flared in Ferguson, Missouri, following a fatal shooting.
The shooting here did not spark riots or violence.
Two things stand out. The Muskogee Police Department was one of the first departments in Oklahoma to have body cams. The footage from the fatal shooting left little doubt that the shooting was justified.
The department also handled the aftermath with marked professionalism. The department’s response to the shooting became a textbook example in officer training by the Force Science Institute.
Being Police Chief is a tough job.
Eskridge deserves our appreciation for his dedication and his service to both his officers and Muskogee’s civilians.