It was the moment that left no doubt in my mind: the fix was in. Not only would this not be a year for reform but it would be the worst legislative year of my eleven.
Midway through the legislative year, following the conclusion of a House session, a leading appropriations officials remained on the floor of the House excitedly and gleefully proclaiming the results of an upcoming poll release.
“You are going to be very happy with the results,” the official proudly told one of the Legislature’s most liberal members.
As best as I can determine, the tax increase advocates in the Legislature and the same individuals who controlled our appropriations process had commissioned the poll using one of the state’s leading political polling firms.
The poll didn’t survey Democrats; only Republicans voters were polled. It purported to show that Republicans in Oklahoma supported tax increases.
The poll was quickly circulated to the Republican members of the House.
At first glance, the results appeared to give Republican House members political cover to abandon their long standing commitment to the taxpayer and to increase taxes. After all, if Republicans want higher taxes, doesn’t that make it permissible — even moral — to abandon the now obviously mistaken ideals of small government?
At second glance and with a level of observation not likely afforded by many legislators, the survey appeared to be of the “push poll” variety.
It seemed to use “Would you rather…?” questions that put prodigious social pressure on the respondent to appear reasonable and open minded.
“Would you rather kill kittens or pay just a little more in Oklahoma’s already low gas tax?”
Of course, the respondent mustn’t be perceived as supporting kitten genocide. Logic suggests they will give in to the social pressure from the poll taker and choose to increase taxes — even if they believe kittens are plotting to take over the world.
This is an exaggerated example, but the concept is the same.
Considering the structure of the poll’s push questions, an in-depth analysis of the results actually showed a surprisingly high level of public opposition to tax increases in Oklahoma.
Unfortunately, I fear this level of analysis escaped many legislators. The push poll became an important tool that the tax increase ideologues used to leverage support from the Republican members of the House.
I had never seen anything like this. Our appropriations leaders were not responding to the will of the legislators; they appeared to be actively expending resources to drive opinion!
Those who controlled the appropriations process were not focused on reform, nor did they desire to pull back overall state spending from its record high levels. This clear bias had a stifling effect on the dialogue in the Legislature and effectively closed down any meaningful remaining efforts for reform.
That unprecedented release of the push poll pretty much killed any of my remaining optimism regarding the potential of this legislative session because it was now clear there was only going to be one outcome: tax increases.
More on this next week.