If You Don't Like the Constitution in Oklahoma

If You Don’t Like the Constitution in Oklahoma - September 9, 2018

State Representative David Perryman

Oklahomans like to attribute the saying, “If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, wait a minute and it will change,” to favorite son, Will Rogers. We could use a similar phrase about the state’s Constitution.

When the Oklahoma Constitution was approved by territorial voters on September 17, 1907, it was the lengthiest governing document of any government in the United States. During the intervening 111 years, Oklahoma voters have chosen to amend it more than 150 times.

To put that in context, the 229 year lifespan of the United States Constitution has only produced 27 amendments and 10 of those were adopted concurrently with the original Constitution.

There are a couple of reasons for this disparity. Amendments to the U.S. Constitution normally address weighty social issues such as the abolition of slavery or voting rights and to become effective require the ratification of three-fourths of the state legislatures.

On the other hand, amendments to Oklahoma’s Constitution normally address issues that are pursued for the economic benefit of the proponent. For instance, in 2012, a group of corporate interests convinced citizens of Oklahoma that a constitutional amendment was needed to prevent the state from taxing our grandmothers’ cooking recipes and educator’s teaching certificates. So convincing were the television advertisements that were financed with hundreds of thousands of dollars donated by multimillion dollar corporations, that voters gave billion dollar tax breaks exempting the “intangible property’ property of those corporations from taxation.

On November 6, voters will see five more state questions designed to change the Oklahoma Constitution. Those are:

State Question 793 deals with whether Optometrists and Opticians can operate businesses in retail establishments;

State Question 794 deals with the Constitutional rights of crime victims;

State Question 798 provides for the election of Governor and Lt. Governor on the same ticket starting in 2026;

State Question 800 creates a new reserve fund, the “Oklahoma Vision Fund” designed to receive a portion of gross production tax revenues; and

State Question 801 allows local building fund revenues to be used for school operations.

We’ll explore the pros and cons of each of these Ballot Questions over the next few weeks but what is disappointing is that there are two much needed issues that did not make the November ballot.

Oklahoma needs a non-partisan redistricting commission to prevent the party in power (regardless of whether they are Democratic or Republican) from preserving their power by gerrymandering legislative districts after each census. We also need to be able to elect our county courthouse officials on a non-partisan ballot. It is ludicrous to think that a County Tax Assessor, Treasurer, Sheriff or Clerk needs to be elected in a partisan election.

Finally, in the interest of accuracy, it was Mark Twain and not Will Rogers who first expressed the witticism about the changing weather. Questions or comments, call or write David Perryman at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.