AS wildfires burned in Colorado Springs this week, Sam Porter waited for a call for help. Porter, head of the disaster relief ministry for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, is accustomed to such calls.
He oversees a program that trains church members — “anywhere from Boise City to Broken Bow, from Altus to Miami” — to help after disasters. His roster of volunteers stands at about 5,000.
The Red Cross and Salvation Army are easy to spot following disasters. Keeping a lower profile are Southern Baptists who do everything from cook meals to wash clothes to help flood victims remove mud from their homes.
An Oklahoma laundry team recently spent two weeks in Fort Collins, Colo., helping those affected by fires there. They work in a 32-foot trailer, built following Hurricane Katrina, that houses five washers and six dryers.
Porter expected he could be asked to help with meals in Colorado Springs. The Oklahoma BGC has 17 mobile kitchens. The largest can turn out 25,000 meals per day, with 35 to 40 people working; the other units can do 3,000 to 5,000 meals per day.
The entire operation is funded through offerings from the state's 1,800 Southern Baptist churches. A former pastor, Porter said the ministry is a perfect outlet for many looking to contribute to the church in some way.
“Maybe they can't sing. Maybe they can't teach a Bible class,” he said. “But when they realize they can do something with their hands — running a chain saw or preparing food in a convection oven — they see they can make an eternal difference in someone's life.” Amen.
Doing less with more?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Oklahoma spent $7,896 per student in 2010, compared with $10,615 nationally. Predictably, this has fueled calls for increased education spending, although proponents notably don't say how the extra money should be used. That's an important detail. Utah ($6,064) and Idaho ($7,106) both spend substantially less per pupil than Oklahoma. Yet the average ACT score in Idaho was 21.7 in 2011. Utah students averaged 21.8. In Oklahoma the figure is 20.7. ACT found only 35 percent of Oklahoma students are prepared for college algebra, compared with 47 percent in Utah and Idaho. ACT participation rates are high in all three states. Student poverty likely explains part of the discrepancy. Still, compared with Utah and Idaho, Oklahoma is actually doing less with more. As policymakers ponder school funding requests, they should ask, “What are Utah and Idaho doing that we aren't?”
Let it go
Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid seems consumed by the death of his cousin, New York Times journalist Anthony Shadid, this year in Syria. Anthony Shadid died of an asthma attack. Ed Shadid spoke about his cousin's death again last weekend at a convention in Washington, D.C., saying Anthony called his wife before leaving for Syria and told her that, “If anything happens to me, I want the world to know The New York Times killed me.” Shadid had alluded to the manner of death at his cousin's memorial service, and again in April when Anthony was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame. The councilman should heed the plea of Shadid's widow, Nada Bakri. “I do not approve of and will not be a part of any public discussion of Anthony's passing,” she said on her Twitter account. “It does nothing but sadden Anthony's children to have to endure repeated public discussion of the circumstances of their father's death.”
How can some states manage their budgets when the federal government fails to do so? Good question. And one that Oklahoma state Treasurer Ken Miller says he was asked this week at the Conference on Budget and Fiscal Coordination in American Countries, held in Mexico. Miller, a Republican, was invited to “discuss best practices for efficient operation of state government.” The trip was not made at state expense. A treasurer's office press release said Miller's advice was to build a revenue structure that's diversified, recurring, stable and “profit-friendly.” Good counsel. As for the question posed above, Miller said the state's fiscal condition relative to the federal government's “is due in large part to a conservative philosophy, a restrictive constitution, bipartisan political cooperation and a thriving energy industry.” Must Washington travel to Mexico to learn how to get its house in order?
State Rep. Mike Reynolds was active in the effort to oust one of his Republican House colleagues. Although it's almost unprecedented for a legislator to campaign against members of his own party, Reynolds reportedly knocked doors for the opponent of state Rep. Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond. Cooksey has voted to cut taxes and supported anti-abortion measures, yet Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, and other critics claimed she wasn't a true conservative. Hmmm. The Oklahoma Constitution newspaper, which describes itself as being to the right of Rush Limbaugh, found that Cooksey voted conservative 90 percent of the time during the 2012 session. Reynolds voted that way just 73 percent of the time. Apparently, Reynolds believes we need more lawmakers who vote like Marian Cooksey and fewer who vote like ... well, him. Voters agreed; they re-elected Cooksey.
Oklahoma Labor Commissioner Mark Costello recently went to Wisconsin to campaign for Gov. Scott Walker in the recall election. We're sure many Wisconsin natives were saying, “Mark who?” More recently, Costello cut a radio ad for Republican candidate Paul Blair, who challenged state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond. Although Blair fell short, we bet he won't forget Costello's support — but Jolley might not either, and he chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. Maybe Jolley is a very forgiving fellow. But if not, we recommend Costello be happy if the Department of Labor budget pays for a single chair to sit on next year. Costello's focus on campaigning, even in other states, is just one more reason to make labor commissioner appointive instead of elective. In the meantime, Costello should keep in mind the saying: If you shoot at a king, you'd better not miss.
Making other plans
Some Democrats in Congress who are seeking re-election apparently figure their chances will be enhanced if they stay away from the Democratic National Convention. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill is the biggest name among a group who have declined invitations to the convention. Among those joining McCaskill on the no-show list are Sen. Joe Manchin and Rep. Nick Rahall, both of West Virginia. No surprise there — in that state's Democratic presidential primary this spring, an imprisoned felon picked up 40 percent of the vote. The Associated Press says at least 10 incumbents and front-running challengers are taking a pass on the September convention. Not coincidentally, they're all from conservative-leaning or tossup states where, as AP put it, President Barack Obama “could be a drag on down-ballot Democrats.” You think?