By Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Speaker of the House T.W. Shannon has been crystal clear about his determination to assert a 2013 version of “states’ rights” in efforts to prevent federal control over state policy.
Late last week, House Democrats unleashed a strong rhetorical assault on a new committee Shannon established to advance some of his – and the Republican caucus’ – priorities.
The highest-elected official of African-American descent in state history demonstrated his seriousness in the matter before the start of the session, when he formed the new States’ Rights Committee to consider issues of federalism from the state’s perspective.
Then, last week, the Lawton Republican personally made the case before the committee for his House Bill 1911, a proposal to require state government managers to anticipate reductions in federal revenues for their agencies. In the end, the speaker’s bill gained comfortable 9-1 support, including yes votes from several Democrats.
In a vote divided along partisan lines, a second measure advanced from the committee asserted that religious organizations should not be forced to include coverage abortion-inducing drugs in health care policies.
Deliberations over the first two of several measures was cordial but hinted at conflict on the panel, where Republicans enjoy a comfortable majority, as they do in the House as a whole. However, discussion of the results took a more negative turn as the day’s committee session continued.
On Friday, House Democrats responded to last week’s deliberations with a harsh press release, asserting majority Republicans had “entertained as fact internet myths and tinfoil hat fantasies” which legitimized “a sector of the House Republicans powerful enough to be awarded their own committee within which only their beliefs are given a platform.”
Rep. Kay Floyd, a freshman Democrat from Oklahoma City, said in the caucus release, “We tried reasoning with the bill authors using sound legal and financial arguments against the language in the bill. These proposals actually expand the scope of government, reduce individual rights, and incur additional costs across the board, but ironically the only response we received was the authors talking about their anger at the intrusion of government in their lives.”
Democrats contend the full package of “states’ rights” legislation, which aims to assert state prerogatives against federal control, would among other things politicize medicine and military policy “by forcing people to choose whether they will follow federal or state law in the course of doing their jobs.”
Rep. Ed Cannaday of Porum commented, “They can ignore facts, but they cannot ignore that states cannot deprive people of their civil liberties and due process. With the Speaker of the House presenting his own bill in this committee, then it is clear this committee is legitimate because his bill gave it legitimacy.”
Rep. Mike Shelton, another Democrat from Oklahoma City, said, “The State’s Rights Committee is going to live up to all the hype. By the end of session, Oklahoma will be the punch line for jokes on late night television.”
The minority party legislators said they would “continue to push back on these proposals presented within the State’s Rights Committee and, if needed, on the House floor.”
Within a few hours, Speaker Shannon’s press operation struck back with a statement saying Democrats “showed their continued contempt for states’ rights and personal freedom and echoed their belief in big government and servitude to the federal government.”
State Rep. Tom Newell of Seminole commented, “The behavior of the Democrat members of the State’s Rights Committee has shown their lack of concern for the citizens’ individual rights and their lack of knowledge of the functions of government on all levels.
“Unfortunately, this continued push for big government and a society where the people are expected to stay quiet and pay their taxes shows the far-left, socialist values that have become the foundation of the modern Democrat Party. Racking up debt and taking away rights in the name of a false definition of liberty has become the mantra of their party from top to bottom.”
State Rep. Leslie Osborn of Mustang, spokeswoman for the caucus, reflected, “A mandate from local, state or federal government should be a concern to the citizens. When a suspect mandate is passed down by the federal government, we, as elected representatives, have a duty to be a line of defense for the people. The States’ Rights Committee is doing important work for the people of Oklahoma.”
Lewis Moore of Arcadia, chairman of the new panel said it “is a legitimate committee, and individual freedom and state sovereignty is a legitimate concern of House Republicans. Maybe mocking the concept of individual liberty makes House Democrats feel better, but I take very seriously the encroachment of the federal government onto our natural God-given and Constitutional rights as citizens.”
You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at Patrick@capitolbeatok.com and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.