We've been fans of U.S. Rep. Dan Boren for a long time. Bright and dedicated, Boren, D-Muskogee, has served our state with distinction during his four terms in the House of Representatives. His moderate voice will be missed when he steps aside in November.
But Boren's assessment of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision is a head-scratcher. Speaking in Tulsa this week, he said the ruling is “one of the worst decisions in the history of the Supreme Court. Absolutely devastating to democracy.”
Devastating to democracy? The ruling allowed corporations and unions to spend as much as they want on the political process, provided they don't coordinate with candidates or campaigns. Liberals in particular bemoan the potential for corporate sway to drown out individual voices. This is based on their presumption that all corporations have a conservative bent, which isn't true. On the other hand, unions are overwhelmingly liberal.
Washington Post columnist George Will wrote recently that through March 31, 86 percent of the money donated to the eight leading super PACs supporting Republican presidential candidates had come from individuals, not corporations. Will made another great point: “This media and liberal anxiety (about Citizens United) was not conspicuous in 2004, when George Soros spent $24 million supporting Democratic candidates.”
Boren laments the outsized role of money in politics. Fair enough. But placing limits on what can be spent or said in campaigns, and by whom, isn't the solution.
Roger Clemens' acquittal this week on charges of lying to Congress was the latest in a line of swings and misses by federal prosecutors in high-profile cases. After an expensive 10-week trial in Washington, D.C., the jury needed less than 10 hours to find Clemens not guilty on six counts of perjury. The charges stemmed from his 2008 testimony before a House committee where he said he never used performance-enhancing drugs. The feds spent seven years investigating former slugger Barry Bonds and came away last year with a guilty verdict on just one count of obstruction of justice. The jury couldn't decide whether Bonds had lied to a grand jury about steroid use. An investigation into possible PED use by multiple Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong ended recently without any charges brought. These constitute a lot of taxpayer money spent, with very little to show for it.
Smile for the camera
Expect a decision by the district attorney in Cleveland County to have a ripple effect across Oklahoma. The office has decided that unless there is a legitimate “law enforcement purpose,” it won't release mug shots of people who get arrested and booked. These photos have routinely been released to the media for years. The Cleveland County decision follows a 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld a Tulsa judge's decision in 2011 that the U.S. Marshal's Service didn't have to provide the Tulsa World with mug shots it had requested of six people indicted by federal grand juries. Federal law allows mug shots to be withheld if releasing them could be considered an unwarranted invasion of privacy. “I think the application is clear in Oklahoma,” said David Batton, assistant district attorney in Cleveland County. Given that it's unclear what constitutes a legitimate “law enforcement purpose,” and that bureaucrats much prefer operating in the gray instead of in black-and-white, the public — who pay for those booking cameras, by the way — can bank on fewer and fewer mug shots being released in the future.
Copying a bad idea
The mayor of Cambridge, Mass., likes what New York's Michael Bloomberg is trying to do to save people from themselves, and has decided to follow suit. Bloomberg, citing U.S. obesity rates, wants to prohibit that city's restaurants, food carts and other licensed food service establishments from selling soft drinks larger than 16 ounces. Cambridge Mayor Henrietta Davis this week proposed the same thing and asked her city's health officials to look into the idea. Progressive home to Harvard and MIT, Cambridge is filled with bright people, but apparently they aren't smart enough to make dietary choices for themselves. Davis says she's all for free will in society, but that “with a public health issue, you look at those things that are dangerous for people, that need government regulation.” This is the liberal orthodoxy in full bloom — no matter the question, more government is the answer.
‘Rights' run amok
We applauded the Legislature's decision to eliminate the Oklahoma Human Rights Commission and let the state attorney general handle discrimination claims. The wisdom of that decision became apparent when National Review Online reported that the New Mexico Human Rights Commission found Elane Photography, an Albuquerque photography studio, guilty of discrimination because the owners declined to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. That case is now being appealed in court. NRO also noted that Hands On Originals, a T-shirt business in Lexington, Ky., faced similar challenges. The Gay and Lesbian Services Organization of Lexington filed a complaint with the Lexington Human Rights Commission after Hands On Originals declined to make shirts for a gay pride parade. The idea of the state micromanaging private businesses and trampling on religious liberty that way is deeply troubling, and one more reason to eliminate “rights” agencies that have outlived their usefulness.
Pot, meet kettle
State Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, accuses The State Chamber of attempting “to intimidate judges, just because they ruled against the members of the State Chamber,” referring to the group's planned judicial rating report. That's ironic. In 2011, Reynolds filed legislation to remove three judges from office when he didn't like their rulings: District Judge Tom Lucas, District Judge Thomas Bartheld and U.S. District Judge Vickie Miles-LaGrange. He also sought to require partisan elections for the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and intermediate appellate courts. In Reynolds' mind, privately funded judicial ratings are unethical intimidation, but using the power of public office to flagrantly threaten judges makes you a statesman. Reynolds' actions are erratic yet consistent. He's always willing to use the powers of public office to bully and intimidate others over policy disagreements. If Reynolds wants to target abuse of power, he should look in the mirror.
Why not pay for it?
Lawmakers refused to approve $42 million in bond financing to build a new office for the state medical examiner's office this year, which would be a key step in helping the ME regain its national accreditation. If bond financing is so bad, why not simply pay for it? Since the office recently had to use refrigerator trucks to hold bodies after the agency's 42-year-old cooler broke down, it's clear the state can't afford to dawdle much longer. Out of a $6.8 billion state budget, $42 million is a drop in the bucket. It was recently announced $16 million was left on the table because of the collapse of this year's tax-cut agreement. Why not earmark that money for the examiner's office? Then lawmakers would have to come up with only $26 million more — a shift of just 0.3 percent of the total state budget.