By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer
This is one in a series of articles in advance of Tuesday’s election.
It is estimated the state has spent tens — if not hundreds — of thousands of dollars during the past few years defending ideologically driven laws that cannot pass constitutional muster.
Despite declining revenues resulting from the economic downturn that began in 2007, some state lawmakers have continued to push through legislation sure to draw legal challenges.
Candidates competing for the Senate District 9 seat in the Oklahoma Legislature, while recognizing the realities, advocated against wasting money to defend such laws.
Sen. Earl Garrison, a Muskogee Democrat who is seeking his third term in office, said pushing through laws to score political points is wasteful. His Republican challenger, Barney S. Taylor, suggested legislators should exercise more discretion when picking a battle.
“It is our right to stand up for our values, no matter what they may be, however, running legislation for political style points is a waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Garrison, who believes the role of government is to serve the people it represents. “Our time is best spent trying to solve the very real problems we face, such as funding core services.”
Taylor, who hopped into the race after it became clear Garrison was going to draw no opponent, used his opposition to State Question 759 as an example of why ideologically driven legislation should be kept at a minimum. The ballot issue would ban affirmative action in state employment, education and contracting, practices which opposition groups say is illegal already or never been practiced in the state.
“While I do believe that at some point and time we must move past it, I question if now is the time especially given the somewhat murky status of it with regard to constitutional law at the moment within the federal courts,” Taylor said. “Given the fact that it is almost certain to draw a lawsuit, why now? It is simply the wrong time and the wrong place.”
Both Garrison and Taylor agreed an ideologically driven legislative agenda should take a back seat to educational issues. Garrison said as a “good steward” of taxpayers’ dollars, he would rather see “this money spent providing services for the good of us all.”
“By the consent of our citizens, we are tasked with being good stewards of their tax dollars,” Garrison said. “I intend to continue fighting to ensure that these core services continue to be adequately funded.”
Taylor said he is “not one to duck tough social issues,” but he recognizes the sensibilities of choosing the right battles.
“While I realize that in this day and age lawsuits are unavoidable, we don’t have to have something on the ballot every time that is going to draw a lawsuit,” Taylor said. “Sometimes you just have to realize that you have to pick your battles — sometimes its just not the time and place for a fight.”
Garrison and Taylor will face off Tuesday, when voters go to the polls to choose a president, congressional and legislative representatives, and weigh in on the slate of state questions and judicial retention ballots.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot @muskogeephoenix.com.