If You Build It They Will Come

If You Build It They Will Come - May 6, 2019

State Representative David Perryman

Kevin Costner was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers at the 2019 Western Heritage Awards last month in Oklahoma City. Mr. Costner has written, directed, produced or starred in a number of great movies that bring our nation’s history into perspective. Some are favorable portrayals and some, like the subjugation of native peoples in “Dances with Wolves,” portray periods of American history that are not so glorious.

Costner’s accepted the honor by opening his heart and speaking directly to Oklahomans about how genetically he was on track to be an Oklahoman and how that commonality has affected his life. His speech was touching and impacted my life. All Oklahomans should allow it to impact theirs. The speech can be accessed online through a number of sources, including YouTube.

Mr. Costner explained that his father was from the panhandle of Oklahoma. Guymon to be exact. His grandfather, Walter, was one of eleven children. He was a farmer/rancher and was 19 when he married his lifelong sweetheart, Tig, who was only 14. Tig told the story about how Walter worked hard. He sold cattle in a banner year and had in storage 50,000 bushels of wheat. At 11 o’clock one morning Walter went to the bank and took every penny with him. His plan was that even if there was not a good crop of wheat or cattle for the next four years, the family would still be taken care of.

Walter knew the banker. Walter knew the teller. There was no wink, no nod, no whisper: “Don’t do it, Walter.” In perhaps the biggest betrayal that his family has ever been subjected to, an hour later, at 12 noon, that bank closed, never to open its doors again. It was the Great Depression. The 50,000 bushels of wheat spoiled waiting for the price to go up. It never did. The Dust Bowl rolled over a generation.

Costner’s family, along with thousands of others, left with whatever they could carry, to carve out a new life. Costner said that “California wasn’t always very welcoming back then and making a go of it wasn’t easy if you were an Okie.”

Unfortunately, a recent article in the Journal Record reported that, “More people have moved out of Oklahoma in recent years than have moved in from other states, an indication of better job prospects in other parts of the country.” The first half of that sentence is a fact and the last half of the sentence only paints half the picture. Low paying jobs ARE a key factor in the outflow of population but other factors include an underfunded educational system; a lack of access to health care, particularly in rural Oklahoma; public policy that is based on trickle-down economics and an attitude among the state legislature that hinders anyone from success through hard work.

As Oklahoma approaches the 2020 Census, we would normally say that the worst thing that could happen to Oklahoma would be for it to lose another congressional district. Unfortunately, that fear has been displaced by a fear that Oklahoma will continue to block federal health care funds, continue to underfund education and continue to favor wealthy campaign contributors while stepping on the backs of Oklahomans who struggle every day to feed, clothe and educate their families.

Kevin Costner doesn’t just do westerns. He also starred in another one of my favorite films, “Field of Dreams”. It is about love, and family connections, risks and rewards, and includes a little bit about baseball. One of the immortal lines from that movie was, “If You Build It, They Will Come.” When will our state realize that if we allow it to be torn down, they will go.

Questions or comments, please call or write 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

Not Our First Rodeo

Not Our First Rodeo - August 12, 20

State Representative David Perryman

My great grandparents were looking for better conditions…All of them. Each one’s story was a little different. They had come from places like New York City and Chicago; Indiana and Missouri; Arkansas and Iowa. While those were their birthplaces, few of their parents had been there long. All but a few of my ancestors were moving, looking for new land, new places and new opportunities.

My great grandparents and their parents before them were like most of yours and were migrating away from poor living conditions and hardships, looking for a place to give their children a better future. People don’t move from places where they are comfortable. People don’t “pull up stakes” and say goodbye to parents and grandparents if their “stakes” are fancy.

But the hardships of that era and the decades afterwards did not dissipate just because they had moved to a new location. According to James C. Milligan’s “History of the Oklahoma Farmers Union” an Oklahoma farmer’s income at the turn of the last century was around $250 and Milligan reported that government officials estimated that a bare subsistence level of living was around $600 for a family of four. The massive economic power of great railroads and large financial entities made it impossible for farmers to better themselves.

Merchants charged substantially higher prices for goods bought on credit and heavy interest rates resulting in credit that often added as much as 50% to the purchase price of the goods. Poverty was epidemic. A significant segment of the state’s population was destitute. They organized the Grange, engaged in economic planning to survive and in 1890 formed the People’s party (commonly known as “Populists” and eventually succeeded by the Socialist Party), garnering nearly one in five state voters. In some rural areas, the membership was upwards of 50% of the population.

Organizing produced positive results and many Oklahomans found themselves able to remain in Oklahoma to pursue agriculture as a way of life. While there was a recurrence of interest in a socialist organization in 1928 and into the Great Depression, it seemed that in good times, there was little interest in that political party.

Last week, according to Rich Lowery, a national opinion writer, “It’s begun. We are having a debate over socialism.”

What Lowery did not recognize is that today, young people are striving for stability in their futures and finding less opportunity than a generation ago. Frustratingly, those of us who are less affected by current economic conditions have a tough time understanding the situation.

A case in point was another national editorial last week. This one by Cal Thomas ridiculed “Millennials” as seduced by socialism and unaware that freedom didn’t just “drop from the sky.”  Thomas threw around terms like “shared wealth” and “free stuff” and “pampered” and “spoiled rotten.” He went so far as to say they “have likely not had to sacrifice much for their country.”

I am not a socialist and am not promoting socialism, but to stick our heads in the ground, call names, breed hatred and contempt, and outright ignore conditions that are weighing heavily on the minds of more than one-third of the country’s population is pure foolishness. It is with great confidence that I would venture to assert that in the 1890’s, there weren’t many Oklahoma farmers who set out to be socialists, but instead reached the conclusions they did because of an overwhelming economic and social struggle for survival.

Likewise, I cannot imagine Oklahomans who were faced with the credit crisis and poverty conditions and droughts of the Great Depression had any real adoration for the teachings of Karl Marx.

Instead, it seems much more logical that a large segment of our society is facing dire straits to make sense of life and the job market.

Just like miners carried a canary into the coal mine as an early warning system to detect carbon monoxide, there are gauges to indicate the availability of economic and social opportunities in our nation. Early symptoms are poverty and mental health problems, high incarceration rates, mountainous college debt and a lack of access to health care. When those issues affect an ever growing number of Americans, it is past time to take notice and do something about it.

Our country has been at this crossroads before. This is not our first rodeo. Most of us would like for the opportunities that were available to us to be available for Americans of all races, young and old. It seems that making that happen would be the logical way to suppress socialism and preserve our country.

Questions or comments call or write David Perryman 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@okhouse.gov.

Migratory Patterns, Then and Now

Migratory Patterns, Then and Now - August 6, 2017

State Representative David Perryman

In a hollow, deep in the heart of the Ouachita Mountains on an October Sunday afternoon 56 years ago, more than 25,000 Oklahomans patiently gathered at a remote junction for the formal opening of a road. The striking size of the crowd was because it was not just anyone who would be cutting the ribbon.

The President of the United States was paying a visit. While the official purpose of the ceremony was the dedication of a north-south highway across mountain ranges that predominately run east and west, the family of U.S. Senator Robert S. Kerr maintains that the real purpose of President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 visit was to return a favor to Kerr who had stood solidly with Kennedy and delivered a bloc of votes on a Medicare bill that was very important to JFK.

Regardless of the backstage story, without the strong friendship between Kennedy and Kerr, Oklahoma would not have been front and center on that fall day as the crowd watched the tandem rotor helicopter come over the mountain peak at Big Cedar. President Kennedy climbed down from helicopter and walked next to the crowd, he saw hope in the face of Oklahomans who were only a couple of decades removed from the most difficult economic times that they and their families had ever faced.

But things were better. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and the infrastructure improvements that had followed had provided jobs even in rural Oklahoma. President Kennedy recognized this in his speech. 

He began, “I am proud to come to Oklahoma. During the campaign last year I met many citizens of this State, but not in this State. I met them in Alaska, where many Oklahomans had gone in the thirties to build a new life. I met them in the valleys of California, where many citizens of this State had gone in the thirties to build a better life.” President Kennedy lamented those hard times that had driven Oklahomans to other states in search of ways to support their families.

The President also recognized that because of the leadership of men like Robert S. Kerr, Carl Albert, Mike Monroney and Tom Steed, Oklahoma’s future had changed. Because of infrastructure improvements that had been promoted and championed by these men and the priority that they placed on allowing federal dollars to be invested in our state, Oklahoma’s future would allow our best and brightest as well as our children and grandchildren to provide for their families here and not migrate to other states.

He said, “Now the citizens of Oklahoma stay in Oklahoma. Now they recognize the opportunities that are to be found in this State – and Oklahomans, instead of leaving, are coming home. President Kennedy credited the reversal of the migration to the commitment and determination of Oklahomans to build Oklahoma for them and their posterity. The message was clear.

The reverse of that message is just as clear…to send Oklahomans to other states, we only need to ignore infrastructure needs, and starve education and health care. When visionary men and women are removed from the equation and Oklahoma’s policy decisions are based solely on the benefit that laws will provide to corporate interests, it is just a matter of time that Oklahomans will leave Oklahoma for the exact same reason that Oklahomans migrated to California and Alaska in the 1930’s.

The outward migration of Oklahoma educators is simply a symptom of a much larger problem. A state government that no longer meets the needs of its people is no longer a government of the people and Oklahoma has reached that point.

To make up for quality teachers that are leaving the state or leaving the profession or both, the State Board of Education recently announced that in July 2017, more than 220 Emergency Certifications were issued as compared to fewer than 80 in the same month last year. For fiscal year 2017,there were a record number of 1200 emergency certifications issued reflecting an increase of about 9% over the previous year. To put those numbers in perspective, just five years ago Oklahoma issued just 30 emergency certifications all year long.

Like education, rural hospitals, ambulance services and clinics are foundering because Oklahoma’s policy decisions leave hundreds of millions of dollars of federal health care dollars on the table. Those dollars are the life-blood of health care and are vital to the medical and medical related industries in our state.

It is imperative that we look toward the future. It is imperative that we understand the value of investing in ourselves, our children and our grandchildren. As a state, our collective tomorrows depend on it.

Thank you for allowing me to serve in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. It is truly an honor. Call or write with any questions, 405-557-7401 or David.Perryman@OKHouse.gov.