EVERY new year brings resolutions, those well-intended promises that often wind up amounting to nothing. We prefer to offer new year’s wishes instead. What follows is a collection of what The Oklahoman’s editorial board hopes to see happen in 2014.
• Here’s to the Legislature producing a session in which none of its bills winds up being challenged in court. This year the U.S. Supreme Court rejected two Oklahoma laws dealing with abortion. In both cases, it was clear the laws would be challenged as unconstitutional as soon as they were signed by the governor. Also this year, lawmakers approved a bill that included a future income tax reduction and funding to make repairs to the Capitol building. Opponents warned during debate that it would eventually be struck down because it combined two unrelated topics. They were right.
• Fewer Oklahomans on food stamps, and not just because of a change in federal eligibility rules. Roughly 630,000 Oklahomans per month were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps. If fewer Oklahomans need food stamps in 2014, it would mean the state economy is growing stronger. Fewer children on food stamps (43.5 percent of SNAP recipients are kids) might translate into better work in school: No one works well on an empty stomach. The number of Oklahomans enrolled in this program has grown through the years. We hope the curve bends in the other direction this year.
• We continue to hope that President Barack Obama will approve construction of the northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. The project, which would move Canadian tar sands to Cushing, and from there to the Texas Gulf, has been vetted upside down and sideways. It would be good for the economy. But Obama hasn’t signed off on it, choosing instead to placate environmentalists who oppose any energy proposal that doesn’t involve renewable sources such as wind or the sun.
• A state ban on text-messaging while at the wheel — for drivers of all ages — remains on the wish list. Oklahoma is one of just 11 states that hasn’t banned the practice for all drivers (we do ban it, for a certain amount of time, for new teen drivers). This proposal is supported by law enforcement, cellphone providers and other groups. Indeed there is no organized opposition, yet efforts to pass such a law have gotten deep-sixed the past several years.
• Perhaps 2014 will see Republicans gain control of the U.S. Senate. If the GOP puts forward solid candidates in November, it has a chance to flip the balance of power. A half-dozen red state Democratic incumbents are carrying with them on the campaign trail the weight of having voted for Obamacare. National Journal’s Stephen Shepard and Kevin Brennan suggest the seven Senate seats most likely to switch parties are held by Democrats. Winning six of those, and not losing races where it’s vulnerable, would give the GOP control the Senate.
• We hope some congressional Democrats will embrace self-preservation. Despite rhetorical claims to the contrary, Obama has made clear he won’t listen to good ideas about improving health care if that requires changing even one iota of his health care law. So here’s hoping political survival instinct prompts more Democrats to abandon the president and join Republicans responsibly seeking to repeal and replace Obamacare. If Democrats don’t care about the millions of people facing higher costs and reduced health care access under Obamacare, surely most at least care about protecting themselves from the voters’ wrath.
• More and better attention to the health and mental health of Oklahomans. We need to drive down our obesity rate, which is among the highest in the country and contributes to a variety of other issues such as high blood pressure and diabetes. We also have about 620,000 adults who suffer with mental illnesses. Mental disorders are the third-leading cause of chronic disease among Oklahomans. These problems contribute to the state’s high rate of children in foster care, its high suicide rate and its high incarceration rate. Mental health problems cause so many other problems and so much despair for those affected.