Oklahoma lawmakers spar over how conservative to be

After sweeping into power in November’s election, state’s ultra-conservative Republicans take aim at moderate House leader

Sean Murphy  |  editor@dallasvoice.com

OKLAHOMA CITY — As Republicans in control of the Oklahoma House opened two days of meetings to set their 2011 agenda this week, their incoming leader was taking shots from the chamber’s ultra-conservative wing because he has put the state’s struggling economy at the top of his agenda rather than social issues.

Oklahoma State Rep. Kris Steele

Members of the House GOP meet Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 6-7. in Bartlesville, and Kris Steele, who will be formally elected as House Speaker next month, believes the Legislature next year should concentrate on economic development and plugging holes in the state budget.

More-conservative Republicans want legislators to tighten access to abortion, relax regulations on firearms and attempt to restrict immigration.

“There’s going to be some fireworks within the caucus,” said state Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, who acknowledged some of his GOP colleagues have privately questioned whether Steele is too liberal to lead the House.

For the first time in state history, Republicans in Oklahoma will control the House, Senate and the governor’s mansion, after Oklahoma voters in November ushered in huge gains for the GOP, including all eight Democrat-held statewide seats on the ballot.

Steele, a soft-spoken minister from Shawnee, said House Republicans are still united — but cracks are obvious among the 70-member-strong Republican majority as they hammer out their agenda for the legislative session that begins in February.

This week’s meetings haven’t gone unnoticed by Oklahomans wanting action on social issues. But moderate House Republicans fear an inordinate amount of attention on social issues will create a House divided and divert attention from the budget and a struggling Oklahoma economy.

“I’m seeing people every day who are concerned because they don’t have a job or health insurance,” said Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, an emergency room physician in far northeast Oklahoma. “They could care less about right-to-carry [firearms]), abortion, gays. They’re worried about their health care and putting food on the table.”

State Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, agrees.

“I would ask my ultra-conservative friends — do they understand that we are in the bottom of median family income, that we lead the nation in incarceration of female prisoners, that some of our nonviolent, criminal statutes are some of the most oppressive in the nation?” he asked. “We have serious issues in the state that are challenging us, especially when the budget situation is as bleak as it’s been in the history of this state.”

For his part, Steele says he’s never wavered on his commitment to expanding gun rights, restricting abortion or targeting illegal immigration. He said he supports a measure to allow for open carrying of firearms that Democratic Gov. Brad Henry vetoed last year, and that he will not thwart legislative attempts to further restrict abortion or address illegal immigration.

“Just because I’d like to pursue initiatives to create a business-friendly environment in Oklahoma and give us the opportunity to foster job creation and job opportunities for Oklahomans does not mean I’m any less committed to my stance on pro-life issues or Second Amendment rights or states’ rights or any of those things,” Steele said. “I think we can take a balanced approach and pursue an agenda that ultimately accommodates both arenas.”

Republican Gov.-elect Mary Fallin said she agrees with Steele that the state’s budget and fostering a good business environment should be the top priority for lawmakers when they return to the state Capitol in February.

“We’ve got to focus on getting Oklahoma’s economy back on track, creating the very best business climate possible,” Fallin said. “We’ll certainly consider the other ideas that the Legislature has, and that’s not to take away from their ideas, but just says these are the important priorities I believe will get Oklahoma back on track.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 10, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

BREAKING: Senate may vote on DADT today

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced this morning that he’s likely to bring the Defense Authorization bill containing a repeal of “don’t ask don’t tell” back to the Senate floor sometime later today, according to the above video posted by Wonk Room. It remains unclear, however, whether there are enough votes to break a Republican-led filibuster. And even if the 60 votes are there to proceed to debate on the bill, that doesn’t guarantee its passage. Roll Call reports:

But even if he does have the votes, Reid could be forced to drop the issue altogether once his Caucus comes to terms with the tax cut deal. With less than two weeks until the Senate is expected to adjourn, Republican opponents could drag out the DADT debate for days, eating up time needed to pass the tax cuts and continuing resolution before Christmas.

From Aubrey Sarvis, executive director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network:

“We expect Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will try again today to take up the defense bill that includes repeal. Reid is actively reaching out to his Republican colleagues to reach an agreement on how to proceed. We also know from Hill sources the President is actively working today’s vote with key Republican senators. Today the Senate has an opportunity to make the nation’s defense funding and our service members a higher priority than tax cuts for millionaires.”

UPDATE: Equality Texas has sent out an Action Alert asking people to call Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and urge her to vote for DADT repeal. The number is 202-224-5922.

—  John Wright

Polis, Progressive Caucus Push Pelosi on ENDA


Nancy Pelosi has by now grown accustomed to being the Republican and Tea Parties' enemy number one. With the House Speaker's lethargic approach to Employment Non-Discrimination, however, she's increasingly finding herself being criticized by progressives, including those in her own party.

Out and proud Rep. Jared Polis, as well as fellow Congressional Progressive Caucus members, co-chairs Rep. Lynn C. Woolsey and Rep. Raul Grijalva, all Democrats, have started what will hopefully be a chorus of Congressional opposition to ENDA with a letter urging Pelosi to enact ENDA.

Rather than focusing completely on that old, worn out equality argument, however, the letter takes aim at ENDA's economic necessity in a time of financial uncertainty. It's a shrewd move.

"As our economy works to recover, now seems the right time to thrust the American workforce into the 21st century with legislation that addresses discriminatory workplace practices," reads the missive, obtained by the Washington Blade and currently being circulated for signatories.

"Already struggling with an unemployment rate of over 9 percent, the American worker should not need to contend with an employer’s personal discomfort or bias against the sexual orientation or gender identity of an employee."

The signatories conclude on a surprisingly accusatory note, telling Speaker Pelosi, "Turning a blind eye to harassment and discrimination against the LGBT community has too long been a stain on our otherwise proud record of worker protection."

It's unclear whether Polis and other progressive Democrats will be able to push Pelosi further than she's gone — which isn't very far, especially considering that Pelosi has said ENDA won't be approached until after DADT's repeal, an seemingly far-off goal — but at least they're trying.

Read the entire letter, AFTER THE JUMP…

    The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
    Speaker of the House
    US House of Representatives
    H 232, the Capitol
    Washington, D.C. 20515

    Dear Madam Speaker:

    Members of the Progressive Caucus thank you for unrelenting support for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community and for making American jobs a top priority for the 111th Congress. Now is a dire time for the American worker and we believe, H.R. 3017, the Employee Nondiscrimination Act is a vital piece in our economic recovery. With the support of the Democratic leadership and the demonstrated commitment of the Administration, we believe this Congress will finally shut the door on employee discrimination.

    For nearly 20 years progressive members of Congress have been fighting to end discrimination and create a fair and equitable workplace for the LGBT community. In a metaanalysis conducted by the Williams Institute, statistics revealed a persistent and unacceptable trend towards open harassment, unfair hiring practices, unwarranted firings and unequal pay. As a caucus concerned with open-minded and progressive views, we take exception to this blatant mistreatment.

    As our economy works to recover, now seems the right time to thrust the American workforce into the 21st century with legislation that addresses discriminatory workplace practices. Already struggling with an unemployment rate of over 9 percent, the American worker should not need to contend with an employer’s personal discomfort or bias against the sexual orientation or gender identity of an employee. States that have adopted anti-discrimination laws report higher employee satisfaction and company morale. Unfortunately, there are only 20 states and the District of Columbia with these policies in place and 12 that also encompass thetransgender community.

    Employment, promotions and retention should be based on merit and merit alone. For the individual this means a safe and productive work environment where there is a focus on results not a preoccupation with their choice in partner or gender identity. Employers, too, should set their sights on an egalitarian workplace that encourages a sense of community and teamwork. In fact, 94 percent of Fortune 100 companies have antidiscrimination policies protecting lesbian and gay employees and 60 percent protect transgender employees. The best companies hire, promote and retain the best talent, all of which is only made possible by creating a supportive and accepting environment.

    ENDA will put the LGBT community on an even footing with every other employee. Turning a blind eye to harassment and discrimination against the LGBT community has too long been a stain on our otherwise proud record of worker protection. It is imperative to shine a light on this issue and add yet another achievement to this exceptionally accomplished Congress.

    We look forward to working with you and to enact ENDA in the 111th Congress.


    Raul Grijalva, CPC Co-Chair


    Lynn Woolsey, CPC Co-Chair

    Jared Polis, CPC Member

Image via TalkNewsMedia's Flickr.

Towleroad News #gay

—  John Wright

HRC Attends The Congressional Black Caucus Conference

The following comes from HRC’s Associate Director of Diversity, Donna Payne:

The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) held it’s 40th Annual Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C., on September 15th-18th. The CBC represents all of the black members of Congress. For over 10 years, HRC’s political and diversity departments have participated in attending the conference.

This year, our work became a collaboration with the National Black Justice Coalition’s inaugural program – Out on the Hill, which was designed to organize around public policy priorities that have the ability to move black communities to a conversations that includes the entire community, including the black LGBT community. The event worked in conjunction with the CBC Conference so that people could show a strong black LGBT presence at the conference workshops. This is an important collaboration for the LGBT community to support, because many of us have experienced a denial of our presence within our communities.

The inaugural NBJC event hosted a White House briefing, which included presentations from key White House officials and representatives such as Michael Blake, the Associate Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement about African American administration initiatives, and Jeffrey Crowley, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy on the national HIV/AIDS strategy. The session was led by Brian Bond, the LGBT Liaison and Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Engagement.

HRC participants at NBJC activities were Marc Nichols from our Business Council, Ashly Smith from the HRC D.C. Steering Committee, John Isa and Mary Snider from our Board of Directors and myself, Associate Director of Diversity and a founding board member of NBJC, Donna Payne. Our new HRC Diversity Assistant for the HBCU Program, Lauren Waters, worked with HBCU students attending the program so that they were up to date on HRC resources and outreach.

For the first time, the CBC workshops included a panel discussion given by the Arcus Foundation entitled:  Breaking Down Barriers: Creating a Progressive Black Agenda for the 21st Century. The discussion included 6 panelists who discussed ways in which the black community can develop a progressive movement from a perspective that is inclusive of the needs and concerns of black LGBT people and other vulnerable communities. Historically, it is the first time that an open panel on African American LGBT concerns has been supported by the CBC. The workshop, overflowing with attendees, was highlighted by the address of Congresswoman Maxine Waters. For so many of us, this speech was the perfect capstone for a truly historic event.

Human Rights Campaign | HRC Back Story

—  John Wright

House GOP homophobe caucus introduces resolution condemning Prop. 8 decision

On Sunday, during the “Face the Nation,” while Tony Perkins was getting annihilated by David Boies, the right-winger did manage to eek out that there would be a resolution introduced in the House condemning the Prop. 8 decision. And, there was.

Yes, even as public opinion continues to move in the direction of support for marriage equality, House GOPers were on their usual homophobic warpath.

Chris Johnson has the details on H.Res 1607:

The introduction of the non-binding measure is one of the most prominent moves against the ruling from Republicans, whose response has largely been muted, or in some cases supportive of the decision.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) is sponsoring the resolution, H. Res. 1607. The measure is pending before the House Judiciary Committee.

The resolution offers findings faulting U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision for engaging in improper conduct during his consideration of the case. It says Walker “failed to conduct himself in an impartial manner” and “attempted to illegally broadcast the trial in disregard of the harassment such broadcast would invite on witnesses supporting Proposition 8.”

This thing won’t go anywhere. But, it does expose the caucus of the true, unwavering homophobes in the U.S. House. Here’s the full list of co-sponsors. It’s really a conglomeration of some of the worst of the worst right-wingers in the House:

Aderholt [AL-4], Akin [MO-2], Bachmann [MN-6], Bachus [AL-6], Chaffetz [UT-3], Fleming [LA-4], Franks [AZ-2], Gingrey [GA-11], Hoekstra [MI-2], Jones [NC-3], Jordan [OH-4], King [IA-5], Lamborn [CO-5], Latta [OH-5], Marchant[TX-24], Pitts [PA-16], Sensenbrenner [WI-5]

If the Republicans take control of the House in November, Rep. Lamar Smith will be the chair of the Judiciary Committee. That’s one very good reason why we need to help our friends and allies in the House win in November.

And, does anyone actually think (besides all the gay staffers working for the Homophobe caucus) that this crowd really likes and cares for “gay people”? That’s what Rep. Smith said:

“Those who support traditional marriage recognize that gay people can be loyal friends, dedicated community leaders, and beloved sons and daughters,” he said.

“And those with religious objections to same-sex marriage distinguish between the conduct, which they consider inappropriate, and the person, whom they may cherish and appreciate.”

I don’t want to be cherished and appreciated by people who think I’m not their equal. And, I sure don’t want people like that running the U.S. House.

If marriages do actually start taking place in California after the stay finally is lifted on August 18th, these members will have whipped themselves into a homophobic frenzy by the time Congress returns in September.


—  John Wright