By Patrick B. McGuigan | Oklahoma Watchdog
OKLAHOMA CITY – Gov. Mary Fallin’s announced “agenda” as chair of the National Governors Association focused on jobs and workforce education, rather than the “flexible federalism” that characterized her earlier work
for the group.
Fallin touted “workforce training,” educational improvement and international competitiveness in her Aug. 4 speech at the NGA meeting in Milwaukee. Her comments reviewed data about the shift in training needs for American workers over the past five decades. She called for “dialogue” among education, business and government leaders, and posited a need “to more closely align K-12, universities, community and technical colleges and workforce training providers with future labor demands.”
She also touted use of data collection and information systems to “prioritize changes in state education and workforce training systems” to identify and meet “future labor demands.”
Fallin’s speech to her peers, in the closing session of the three-day NGA meeting, was deemed “America Works: Education and Training for Tomorrow’s Jobs.”
Fallin shared with her colleagues a chart demonstrating what she characterized as a “mismatch” between educational preparation and market needs in Oklahoma. She plans to fashion a national initiative through NGA to identify “specific policy levers and budgetary strategies” to match educational results with “the needs of our emerging workforce.”
Despite Fallin’s long-standing support for parental choice in education and her party’s vigorous defense of Oklahoma’s Henry Scholarships for special-needs children, her prepared remarks for the NGA session in Wisconsin included no references to school choice as a method to improve educational quality, student performance and competitiveness.
The provided text of Fallin’s NGA speech did not include references to “flexible federalism,” although that was her emphasis in meetings with President Obama and other U.S. officials during her time as NGA vice-chair.
Speaking of Fallin, Democrats have yet to find a candidate to challenge her in 2014. Michael McNutt of The Oklahoman reports state Democratic Party chairman Wallace Collins has traveled to Tulsa and other cities to meet with party activists interested in finding a plausible hopeful.
The late start might not be a problem, if relatively recent experience is any guide. State Sen. Brad Henry, D-Shawnee, did not jump into the 2002 race for the chief executive’s job until November 2001. He sought to replace Gov. Frank Keating, a Republican then finishing his second term.
Henry went out to snag the party nomination. In November 2002, he narrowly defeated U.S. Rep. Steve Largest, R-Tulsa, with independent candidate Gary Richardson — a former U.S. Attorney in the Reagan years — gaining nearly 15 percent of the statewide vote.
Then, in 2006, Henry won re-election easily, crushing U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, R-Oklahoma City, and gaining 66.5 percent support statewide.
However, the Democratic party’s registration edge has steadily eroded over the past decade. The Republican surge of the past 10 years – despite Brad Henry’s electoral successes – included the 2010 election as he left office. That year, Republicans captured every statewide elective office.
A complicating factor for Democratic prospects might be the departure from electoral politics of moderates such as Henry and former U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, each of whom had mixed records on abortion and other cultural issues, and fiscally conservative records in governance.
Within the next year or two, if trends continue, Republicans are likely to secure a plurality advantage among registered voters.
Fallin has nearly 70 percent approval among voters — rivaling Henry’s ratings at this point in his first term — and is building a multi-million war chest for the 2014 campaign.
Contact Patrick B. McGuigan, Oklahoma City bureau chief for the Watchdog.org network, at [email protected] and follow us on Twitter @capitolbeatok