Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth

Looking a Gift Horse in the Mouth - March 8, 2015

State Representative David Perryman

For the better part of the 16th century, writer and musician, John Heywood, managed to remain in favor with the royal courts of England. During the reign of Henry VIII, he fared better than most of Henry’s wives and after the death of Henry, he continued to entertain and amuse the Courts of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.

Today, Heywood is best remembered for scores of witticisms and epigrams such as “Haste makes waste,” “Two heads are better than one,” and “Beggars should not be choosers.” In fact, it is likely that Benjamin Franklin’s perusal of John Heywood sayings gave the Philadelphia printer inspiration as he penned Poor Richard’s Almanac.

Heywood’s admonishment that “one should never look a gift horse in the mouth” has distinct application to the gist of House Bill 1440 considering the massive number of hours donated by volunteer school board members across this state. 

The Bill, by a freshman Republican, is a proposal to subject local school board members to term limits.  During the committee hearing, the author stated his belief that Oklahomans have spoken and by their vote to limit the terms of legislators, they want all elected officials at all levels to be term limited.

However, comparing school board members to legislators is like comparing apples to oranges.

First, legislators draw a salary, and as stated above, school board members are community minded volunteers who serve totally without pay or other compensation.

Second, many schools struggle to find a sufficient number of interested citizens willing to fill all positions on the school board.

Third, every single voter in the school district is eligible to vote in every single board election to fill every single seat on the board.

While the first and second reasons are convincing, a short history of the politics behind term limits illustrates the phenomenon of “love your own senator” and why the 1990 vote to limit the terms of legislators has absolutely no relevance to school board elections.

By 1990, Edward King Gaylord and his son Edward L. Gaylord of Daily Oklahoman fame had spent a third of a century, and a considerable amount of their extensive financial resources, engaging in the personal assault of Oklahoma State Senator Gene Stipe.

Stipe perpetually enjoyed overwhelming support in his District, a fact that maddened the Gaylords to no end. They used the power of the press to convince Oklahomans that term limits were necessary to limit the terms of their legislators.  However, since voters have the unfettered ability to retire their own elected officials at the end of each term, the real impact of term limits is to prevent someone else’s legislator from serving more than twelve years.

That background illustrates how foolish it is to use term limits to remove school board members from office when willing volunteers are hard to come by and 100% of the school district patrons are eligible to vote to fill 100% of the seats.

So here Oklahoma sits with a $611.3 million funding gap, the legislature is on a never-ending quest to cut taxes and is now persisting in trying to remove school volunteers from office.

Two John Heywood epigrams from a 1546 collection are: “The fat’s in the fire” and “This really hits the nail on the head.” It is and it does.  

Thank you for allowing me to serve as State Representative.  If you have questions or comments about this issue or any other matter, please contact me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 800-522-8502.