Oklahoma voters will decide several ballot issues next week that critics say pander to extreme conservatives and would move the state further to the right. State questions on Tuesday's ballot would make English the state's official language, prohibit Oklahoma courts from considering international or Islamic law when deciding cases, and allow residents to opt out of the new federal health care reform law. The three questions are the product of a Republican-controlled Legislature, which circumvented Gov. Brad Henry — a Democrat — to take them to the ballot. Critics say Republicans are trying to beef up voter turnout among certain conservative groups by appealing to biases on immigration, Islam and the reach of Washington in a state where President Barack Obama failed to win a single county in 2008. Republicans have said some of the measures are designed to protect citizens from the reach of the federal government. "I see them as a type of pandering actually,” said Richard Johnson, head of the political science department at Oklahoma City University. "These measures are a feel-good way of expressing pent-up frustrations. "There is a realization that some of these things may or may not work, their constitutionality may be dubious, but it makes you feel like you've done something.”Comments
Official languageState Question 751 makes English the state's official language, mandating that all official state business be conducted in English, with exceptions for American Indian languages and when federal law requires use of other languages. The law also prohibits lawsuits against the state or its subdivisions for failure to use languages other than English. The author of the official English bill, Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, has said that English and the melting pot process it makes possible, "has made the United States the most successful multiethnic nation in history.” The measure has drawn opposition from several groups, including the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma, which says the question discriminates against new citizens who want to do business with the state. "Government forms are difficult enough when English is a citizen's first language,” the League wrote in its voter guide.
International lawState Question 755 would prohibit state courts from considering or using international law or Islamic law — known as Sharia — when deciding cases. Republican Rex Duncan, the sponsor of the measure, called it a pre-emptive strike designed to close the door on activist judges "legislating from the bench or using international law or Sharia law.” Orvil Harris, 79, a Muslim, called the question an attack on Islam and said that he is prepared to file a lawsuit challenging the measure if it passes.
Health reformState Question 756 would allow voters to opt out of the new federal health care reform law. The question's House author, Rep. Mike Thompson, R-Oklahoma City, said a constitutional amendment would help protect Oklahomans from the government's attempt to insert itself into their lives and that the federal health care overhaul would make health insurance more expensive. Opponents say federal matching dollars may be in jeopardy if the plan is adopted, "creating a major budget crisis in the state.”