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Chicken-Fried News: 2018 takeout

Chicken-Fried News throws an entire year into the deep fryer and burns it to a crisp.

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INGVARD ASHBY
  • Ingvard Ashby

Fallin away

The queen is dead; long live the king. Mary Fallin’s eight-year reign of terror over the state is over, and her successor Kevin Stitt is a political outsider who campaigned on his version of “drain the swamp” but has surrounded himself with insiders during his transition to the Governor’s Mansion.

Oh, Gov. Fallin, your tenure began with such promise. You wanted to eliminate the state’s income tax in favor of an even more regressive sales tax. This pursuit culminated in 2016 with a .25 percent reduction in the state’s income tax to the tune of $147 million in lost revenue for the state. The gross production tax was reduced during Fallin’s tenure, and research from NonDoc in 2016 showed the oil and gas sector paid only $4 million in corporate income tax in 2015, in stark contrast to the  $315 million paid by the state’s other industries.

It should be noted that the same year, Fallin declared Oct. 13 as Oilfield Prayer Day, in which Christians were called to “thank God for the blessing created by the oil and natural gas industry and to seek His wisdom and ask for protection.”

The resulting budget shortfall forced counties across the state to go to four-day school weeks, resulted in a lengthy and costly special session that we’re not sure it even officially ended — it just bled into the next Legislative session — and set the stage for 2018’s teacher walkout.

Fallin initially campaigned as a compassionate conservative, one that would push for prison reform. We finally got some justice reform in 2016 after a state question (which the Legislature actively tried to roll back), but only after the state became home to the second-highest incarceration rate in the country. During Fallin’s term, the state looked for new ways to put people to death and is positioning itself as the testing ground for death by nitrogen gas.

Somehow, the GOP managed to hang onto the Governor’s Mansion despite the fact that Fallin was the least popular governor in the country. Kevin Stitt used his lack of history in elected office to his advantage, campaigning as an outsider that would use to business background to get the state on the right path.

Stitt wasted no time in naming prominent GOP insiders and business people to his transition team — including Marc Nuttle as its leader. Nuttle stepped down from his position as board member from a South Carolina-based nonprofit that is part of the U.S. Islamophobia Network and routinely makes disparaging remarks about Muslims, LGBTQ+ people and liberals, according to Oklahoma Watch.

Nuttle — a Norman attorney and longtime GOP insider — remains in his position with the transition team as Stitt’s initial cabinet picks include a few holdovers from Fallin’s administration, proving that time is a flat circle.

Stitt science

One of the key aspects of Governor-elect Kevin Stitt’s transition team, which is named Oklahoma’s Turnaround, is that they want Oklahoma to be a Top 10 state. While the team pushes for increases from near dead-last rankings in infrastructure, education and job growth, Stitt is making sure the state can be No. 1 in preventable illnesses.

The Daily Beast ran the headline “Kevin Stitt is an anti-vaxxer,” and while Stitt and his communications team will follow up to say that his family has fully vaccinated all of his children in coordination with his doctor’s orders, his position is only strengthening the personal choice loophole that allows parents to trust a former Playboy playmate and reality television host Jenny McCarthy for their medical advice.

There’s also the problem of Stitt’s own words, which contradict his stance.

“I believe in choice,” Stitt said at a Tulsa political forum in February 2018. “We’ve got six children, and we don’t vaccinate; we don’t do vaccinations on all of our children. So we definitely pick and choose which ones we’re going to do. It’s got to be up to the parents; we can never mandate that. I think there’s legislation right now that are trying to mandate that to go to public schools; it’s absolutely wrong.”

Stitt’s own website says that his children has been given “various” vaccinations. Various is a funny way of spelling “all.” It should be noted that there was a mumps outbreak at University of Oklahoma this year, and there is a mystery “polio-like” disease spreading among Oklahoma children.

The scary thing is that Stitt’s support of parental choice was also supported by Democratic governor nominee Drew Edmondson, indicating that maybe the state’s ruling class has a bunch of their investments tied to a company that produces the iron lung.

King Kyler

For the second straight year, a record-setting Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback has pulled a below-average University of Oklahoma defense to the College Football Playoff, but the manner in which Kyler Murray did it couldn’t have been more different from Baker Mayfield.

Both quarterbacks ended up at Oklahoma after starting their college careers in Texas (Mayfield at Texas Tech, Murray at A&M), but Murray’s Heisman season came without the boisterous bravado and crotch-grabbing of Mayfield. That’s not to disparage Mayfield; Chicken-Fried News is squarely in the “do what you need to do as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone” camp of allowing athletes to get in their proper mind frame.

Whether it was hyping himself for an undermanned Kansas team or planting a flag at midfield of Ohio State, we always felt the media attention on Mayfield was overblown. The most controversial moment for Murray came when he made an underhanded dis of Texas before their rematch in the Big XII Championship, which only ingratiated himself with OU fans even more.

It’s been fun to watch Murray live out his dream of playing college football and do so at such an elite level after he was drafted in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Oakland Athletics and given a multimillion-dollar signing bonus.

Although pursuing a career in baseball over football is likely the better choice for his long-term health, it’s hard not to wonder how his game would translate to the modern NFL, where rule changes have allowed offenses to flourish and made it possible for 5-foot-11-inch Murray to have success.

Murray’s breakout season will potentially set the stage for more athletic and undersized quarterbacks to make their impact on the gridiron and make the days of another two-sport star like Florida State Heisman trophy winner Charlie Ward going undrafted in the NFL the ancient past.

For children

INGVARD ASHBY
  • Ingvard Ashby
We imagine that after Oklahoma’s war on education, which came to a head with teacher walkouts in the spring, Democrats in the state Legislature welcomed the newly elected teachers-turned-legislators with a warm hug, sigh of relief and general thanks to God Almighty.

Long before an estimated 30,000 teachers marched at the state Capitol for 10 days in April, educators met with their state representatives and urged them to enact legislation that would increase school funding. While Gov. Mary Fallin signed into law the biggest teacher pay raise in Oklahoma’s history on March 29, educators felt their voices had yet to be heard.

With the desire to see increased funding for education and the value of the teaching profession spread statewide, teachers placed their names on ballots in unprecedented numbers.

The names of 65 teachers and education professionals from every county in Oklahoma graced ballots on Nov. 6. Seventeen members of the Educator Caucus were elected, bringing the total number of lawmakers who are educators to 26, the highest number in the state’s history.

While citizens hoped the increased representation would mean higher-quality education in the Sooner State, we had no idea it might also mean the preservation of public education.

Kiddos going to school on federal and state tax dollars is somehow apparently controversial, as was made clear by a letter sent to newly elected lawmakers by Canadian County Republican Party chairman Andrew Lopez in late November.

“If you are a teacher who has entered the Legislature with the sole purpose of increasing funding for education, your representation of your district is compromised by your claim to be a representative of a special interest group,” Lopez wrote in his letter.

And just like that, elected teachers went from respectful game-changers to the sole hope for children who wish to remain educated in Oklahoma.

Safe place

Welcome home, ladies! While we’ve been around in Oklahoma since humans have been around in Oklahoma, it has taken centuries to become recognized lawmakers in the state. On Nov. 8, history was made in the Sooner State, where for the first time in Oklahoma’s history, the state’s citizens elected its first female Democrat to U.S. Congress.

Kendra Horn, 42, defeated incumbent Steve Russell by winning 50.7 percent of votes to represent U.S. House District 5 beginning in January. She attributes her win and the win of her sister candidates to voters’ desire for change.

“We’ve seen the desire for change on a national level and in Oklahoma,” Horn said. “Women rose to the occasion, offered common-sense solutions and won based on those solutions.”

But the question remains: Does female representation mean Oklahoma is now a safe place for ladies to walk alone at night?

To this, criminal justice and sociology experts answer in unison, “Of course not!” Oklahoma, and let’s face it, the world, is light-years away from that. But hopefully, more women in office will mean fewer instances of sexist, possibly dangerous behavior in the state.

One such instance occurred two years ago when nut job/Return of Kings founder Roosh Valizadeh managed to convince local nut jobs they should meet at Harkins Bricktown Cinemas 16 to discuss Valizadeh’s mission to reclaim masculine authority in a world turned backward by feminism. Valizadeh’s beliefs include banning women from voting and legalizing rape. Thankfully, the meeting was canceled and as of October 2018, Valizadeh’s online movement is “going on hiatus.”

An equally appalling instance of both outward misogyny and national embarrassment came when State Sen. Joseph Silk, R-Broken Bow, said he wanted to abolish abortion and make it criminally punishable with sentences of life in prison or the death penalty. Silk authored Senate Bill 13 in November, hopefully causing women legislators to prepare for a showdown in January.

Selfie sufficient

INGVARD ASHBY
  • Ingvard Ashby
The term “selfie stick” first entered the national lexicon in 2014 and quickly became the most popular Christmas present of 2015 before fading from use because people realized that they didn’t like drawing attention to the fact they were being narcissistic.

Luckily for the stockholders of selfie stick manufacturers, David Holt began his term as mayor in 2018.

The job of mayor in Oklahoma City actually does not have as much power as one might think. The position’s biggest pull comes with being the tiebreaking vote for any deadlocked city council decisions, but the job is important for being a public face for the city’s policies.

The retirement of longtime city manager Jim Couch probably had more impact on the implementation of city policy than the start of the Holt administration, but Holt has done his best to be the city’s own hype man.

If you go to any public event, whether it is a block party in Capitol Hill or a glitzy event celebrating the opening of the Oklahoma City Streetcar, chances are that you will see Holt with his selfie stick in tow for a Twitter post.

By all accounts, Holt is a likeable guy who has the city’s best interest at heart, but the biggest question might be whether he upgrades his selfie stick or hires a campaign worker to take photos for his inevitable gubernatorial run in a few years.

Oklahoma divided

Last year reflected not only the will of the people but also their divide. Across the nation, voting results revealed that urbanites voted blue and rural folk voted red, which to many came as no surprise. What was surprising, however, was that red counties that were red in 2016 became redder and blue counties that voted blue two years ago voted Democrat more this year.

“A common assumption is that if you’re a Democrat you’ll vote Democrat and if you’re a Republican you’ll vote Republican,” said University of Central Oklahoma political science department chair Louis Furmanski in a recent interview with Oklahoma Gazette. “But until recently, that wasn’t really the case. While Oklahoma is a Republican state, we haven’t demonstrated this much attachment to our political parties for some time.”

To sum all of that up, hipsters who hated Trump in 2016 did so with a vengeance in 2018, and by the same token, country folk who donned “Make America Great Again” hats two years ago wore those same hats to the polls this year but brought extra hats and guns with them.

In 2016, The Enid News and Eagle took a risk by publishing its endorsement of Hilary Clinton. Months later, the paper reported a loss of advertisers and a decrease in subscriptions. Somehow, the publication managed to stay afloat, and this July, it once again displayed bravery and integrity by publishing a little bit of the hate mail it received.

“I simply do not understand why your publication is so anti-Trump,” the letter to the editor began. “Is President Trump perfect? No, he is not, but it looks to me like he is getting a lot of positive things done for America. Either you support America or you don’t, and it looks to me like your publication does not support America.”

Ouch. We applaud you, Enid News and Eagle. Hate mail is common in the land of the free and divided.

Thunder rolls

Remember this offseason when Paul George’s decision to re-sign with the Thunder was collectively dismissed by the national media? Nearly in unison, sports reporters whined, “Why are they spending so much money to reunite a team for another first-round playoff loss?”

After starting the regular season 0-4, the Thunder’s critics seemed like they might be right, but since the insertion of switchable defender Jerami Grant into the starting lineup, the Thunder have the Western Conference’s best record and the NBA best defense.

To be fair, when George re-signed, Carmelo Anthony was still on the roster. Anthony is a future Basketball Hall of Fame member, but the evolution of the game has made it harder and harder to keep a defensive liability such as Anthony on the floor. During last season’s postseason loss to Utah, the Jazz targeted Anthony in pick-and-rolls and made him unplayable. General manager Sam Presti made one of the more surprising offseason trades in not only finding someone to absorb Anthony’s $20 million cap hold, but also get something of value for him.

Although Dennis Shroder wore out his welcome in Atlanta, he is overqualified as Russell Westbrook’s backup and routinely closes out games for the Thunder. Combined with former lottery pick Nerlens Noel’s decision to bypass a larger contract for a minimum offer from the Thunder and the find of undrafted rookie Hamidou Diallo, the Thunder has enough talent on its bench to allow Westbrook and George to rest.

George has also responded with the best season of his career. He has averaged over 25 points per game and shooting 38 percent from three on almost nine attempts per game while being in considering for defensive player of the year. It appears to be on the rare cases where both team are happy with a trade: Victor Oladipo has blossomed into an all-NBA player with the Pacers and Domantas Sabaonis is one of the most skilled big men in the league.

The Thunder as it is currently constructed is the NBA’s top defense adjusted for pace and is without ace defender Andre Roberson. The team struggles to consistently score from the outside, but in the playoffs, when defenses and scouting reports tighten, they appear to be in position to clamp down and make a run to challenge the Golden State Warriors.

Convenience price

INGVARD ASHBY
  • Ingvard Ashby
Oklahoma hurtled into the late-20th century by updating its woefully outdated alcohol laws in 2018. It’s the year we finally said goodbye to low-point beer. Can you believe it?

We held the number 3.2 over our heads like a point of shame for so long that it is hard to believe it is gone. We don’t have to apologize to outsiders any-more or explain why it takes five beers just to get a buzz.

Oklahoma had already started to nurture its craft beer scene, but the new alcohol laws allowed onsite taprooms to sell beer and create a true destination for the type of people that insist you have not lived until you drink every conceivable version of an IPA. We get it; they taste hoppy.

The modernization of alcohol laws also brought wine into grocery and convenience stores, which is a great thing for the average consumer not concerned with selection and a bad thing for your locally owned liquor store that now has to compete with the likes of Walmart and Target while also having to install coolers. There’s no doubt that some liquor store owners will be forced out of business due to the law change, but it also ends the days of a liquor store being able to stay in business just because it was a liquor store.

It’s the price most consumers will pay for convenience, especially if it means there are more Trader Joe’s locations in the state.

Unfinished business

Last year, the number of untested rape kits across the country made national headlines that trickled down to local news coverage.

A story about the subject was published by Oklahoma Gazette in October and described how Gov. Mary Fallin issued an executive order creating a special task force that would investigate the backlog of untested kits.

While an executive order might seem like a tough move, rape survivor Danielle Tudor said it came only after years of persistence and pressure and even once the task force was created, the fight was far from over.

Task force members showed resistance toward testing the kits, citing a lack of funding as a roadblock.

“If we had the money, we could submit them all for testing immediately,” said Victim Services Unit chief Melissa Blanton of the Attorney General’s office. “But right now, it's an issue of prioritizing and determining which ones are most important, which cases can be prosecuted, which cases have a reason to move forward now.”

Tudor said testing the rape kits is a matter of priority more than a matter of policy.

“We can get the funds,” she said. “It comes down to whether or not we care about this enough to try.”

Do Oklahomans care? It doesn’t look that way to us.

Over the summer, it was revealed that 120 law enforcement agencies refused to respond to deadlines Fallin issued for agencies to submit total counts of untested rape kits to the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Task Force.

A whopping 7,270 rape kits have yet to be tested. Nothing says “Welcome to the new year” quite as well as the staggering load of injustice Oklahoma will be carrying with it into 2019.

Scott blew it

INGVARD ASHBY
  • Ingvard Ashby
At the zenith of the Swamp Thing’s dominance as the grand champion of government fleecing, whacked-out Trumpist paranoia and royalty-class air travel on Emirates, Chicken-Fried News briefly considered renaming itself This Week in Scott Pruitt. Pruitt’s accomplishments as an exemplar of waste and Big Energy toadying was simply and quite literally breathtaking, and on July 5, when he became too embarrassing even for President Donald Trump, it felt like an end of an era — a noxious epoch when the staff wondered daily if an unmarked black van would back up to CFN World Headquarters and functionaries in ninja gear would start tossing out 55-gallon drums of dioxin.

Like dioxin, everything Pruitt did as Environmental “Protection” Agency administrator stank to high heaven, from his attempts to use his influence to get his wife Marlyn a Chik-fil-A franchise in Broken Arrow to his goon squad forcibly ejecting AP environmental reporter and former Tulsa World staffer Ellen Knickmeyer from the EPA building to his deregulation of ammonium nitrate manufacturing facilities.

Pruitt was such a font of great material/raw sewage that it would be quite understandable, dear reader, if you thought the CFN News Team actually missed Oklahoma’s former attorney general. Well, whenever a junior staffer starts waxing rhapsodic over the Pruitt era, we stuff him in a closet and remind him that Sen. Jim Inhofe will have to either retire or crawl back into the primordial ooze someday, and who do you think is going to run for his seat?

The horror. The horror.

Instant town

Up until about two years ago, almost nothing existed just south of the Kilpatrick Turnpike between Pennsylvania Avenue and the Broadway Extension except a nondenominational church in an old Silo electronics store and a lot of open fields. It was pretty cool — a last vestige of a time when getting from Quail Springs Mall to Interstate 235 felt a lot like crossing the prairie in a covered wagon, but with air conditioning and without the smallpox and cannibalism.

Then, like downtown Oklahoma City in 1889, a small city seemingly sprang up overnight. Chisholm Creek is now home to a medical facility, Yokozuna, Hopdoddy, Ganache Patisserie, both Fuzzy’s and Torchy’s taco shops, a drive-thru Starbucks Coffee, Uncle Julio’s, residential apartments and, coming soon, a Costco.

Now, because Chisholm Creek exists within Oklahoma City’s limits, it’s unlikely to become its own city, even if it feels like one. But look at Nichols Hills — it exists as a separate island of both hoity and toity with its own police force to keep you driving 25 miles per hour and ticket your car if you park on the street in front of your house. Never say never, Chisholm Creek; it might be handy to deploy CCPD to break up the bare-fisted rumbles between spontaneous arrivals at Hatch and those savvy brunchers who used the Nowait app.

Costco OKC

INGVARD ASHBY
  • Ingvard Ashby
After negotiating a $3 million economic development incentive from Oklahoma City Council, Costco Wholesale Corporation filed permit applications to build a 160,511 square-foot retail warehouse and 8,126 square-foot fuel station on 16.49 acres at 13200 N. Western Avenue. When completed, the store will be the metro’s first Costco. The company estimates it will be open by April and employ between 150 and 200 people at a starting hourly wage of $13.50 and an average hourly wage of more than $23. Nearly one in three Oklahomans are obese according to the United Health Foundation’s most recent annual report, so you might argue that easier access to bulk food is not exactly something to celebrate, but we at Chicken-Fried News can’t wait for Costco to open because of certain circumstances that require us to buy our paper towels 1,200 rolls at a time. (Don’t ask.)

Streetcar desire

Many years ago, Chicken-Fried News’ editor-in-chief was living in Silicon Valley, a place not unlike Oklahoma City except for its proximity to elephant seals and the kind of property values that reduce most people to blithering idiots when scrolling through Zillow. On occasion, he would venture up El Camino Real to San Francisco, a place known to Oklahomans for both actual trolleys and trolleys that appear on boxes of mingled rice and pasta.

One morning, having made a stop at Tower Records in Palo Alto, he continued to drive up “the royal road” to San Francisco to give the clutch on his 1981 Honda Accord a workout. As he crested one of the city’s famous hills, he found himself nearly in a head-on collision with a streetcar. He swerved quickly, narrowly avoiding certain death but crashing headlong into feeling like a hayseed country yokel.

As of Dec. 14, when the new downtown streetcars began regular operation, Oklahoma City became a lot more like San Francisco, sans hills, but the realities are the same. We must now steer our F-150s with more caution than one might take at a monster truck rally. We must be mindful of the new streetcars’ concrete platforms and the tracks that can send a bike rider or Lime pilot headlong into the plate-glass window of Stella Nova. We must be aware of sudden stops and, of course, never tailgate, because who are you trying to intimidate anyway?

But most of all, we must ride these things. They are the result of good public policy, and we want more of them. If not, then CFN’s editor-in-chief will spend more time driving on Oklahoma City’s streets, and we must think of the children.

Left behind

Does pro-choice mean no voice? Opponents of charter schools nationwide would certainly say so. While charter schools have publicized arguments to the contrary, a study published by Duke University researchers Helen Ladd and John Singleton in January revealed that, overall, the creation of charter schools that receive public and private funding hurt the public schools in their districts and leave our most vulnerable population in the dust.

The study revealed that charter schools are more likely to siphon public school funding and increase segregation. Those findings are telling for what the climate of education is like in Oklahoma, where 29 public charter schools exist in all 77 counties.

However, the mere existence of John Rex Charter School in Oklahoma City serves as an argument for charter schools.

The school’s diversity is rich; recruitment is seemingly without bias; learning options are plenty, creative and modern; classrooms are spacious; and students receive one-on-one attention from their teachers.

But can the same be said for the district’s 97 non-charter public schools? They, like the rest of the state’s public schools, are overcrowded and underfunded.

In our effort to create charter schools that change traditional education, let us not forget about the children who still receive just that.

Still smoking

INGVARD ASHBY
  • Ingvard Ashby
After Oklahoma voters passed State Question 788 (on the left-hand side) to legalize medical marijuana on June 26, Oklahoma State Department of Health rushed to kill the buzz, adding amendments that never appeared on the ballot like banning smokeable marijuana and requiring dispensaries to hire full-time pharmacists. The proposed amendments sparked outrage and a lawsuit alleging the board violated open meetings laws by discussing the issue behind closed doors. (The lawsuit didn’t specify whether board members stuck a rolled-up towel under said closed doors first.) Oklahoma State Department of Health general counsel Julie Ezell resigned in July, reportedly after admitting to emailing herself fake threats from nonexistent MMJ advocates. She has been charged with preparing false evidence and computer crime. Soon after Ezell resigned, NonDoc published a text message exchange between Oklahoma State Board of Pharmacy director Chelsea Church and Ezell in which Church seemed to offer Ezell a job with a pay raise in exchange for an amendment requiring pharmacists in dispensaries. Church lost her own job less than a week later and the amendments vanished in a puff of … well, you get the idea. We won’t ask what Church and Ezell were smoking because if they’d had any stoner friends, they’d know to use code words when texting about potentially illegal activities, especially on state-issued cellphones

Hazy math

Advocates for marijuana legalization, meanwhile, rolled their own scandal in August when Green the Vote board members Isaac Caviness and Dody Sullivan admitted to artificially inflating the number of signatures they said they had in support of putting State Question 797, which would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older, on the November ballot. While they initially claimed to have 132,527 signatures, they had approximately 75,000, or about 49,000 less than required by law. Sullivan admitted they’d been inflating the count in a Facebook live video in August, just days before the deadline to turn in the petitions. The revelation caused infighting among advocates and left the prospect of legalizing recreational marijuana in Oklahoma uncertain. We won’t ask what Caviness and Sullivan were smoking because, numerically speaking, it is probably best if everyone goes on pleading the Fifth about 420 for the foreseeable future.

Health unconscious

INGVARD ASHBY
  • Ingvard Ashby
In 2017, the state Legislature was forced to execute a $30 million bailout of the Oklahoma Health Department, which was supposedly insolvent and forced to lay off 198 employees. At the time, it was a jaw-dropping disaster and a colossal example of austerity government gone haywire.

Except none of it was true.

Six months after the bailout, a multicounty grand jury found that Oklahoma Health Department had been sitting on a slush fund that allowed it to spend money like Donald Trump at a Moscow real estate auction.

“Any claims that OSDH was insolvent, incapable of making payments or defaulting on payroll were simply not true," the grand jury reported. "Mismanagement and poor budgeting certainly abounded. But in terms of cash, OSDH had more than enough to close FY18 without the special appropriation.”

Unfortunately, because there was no statute to cover mismanagement, lying, cover-ups and what are known in the criminal code as “dick moves,” there were no indictments and the 198 people who lost their jobs were not given those jobs back. Now, if Governor-elect Kevin Stitt starts slashing budgets, someone should check to make sure the various secretaries of state agencies aren’t doing Scrooge McDuck backstrokes in mountains of cash while their employees are shown the door.

Russell tearier

Two weeks before the Nov. 8 midterm election, NewsOK ran this headline: “Kendra Horn is likely losing to Steve Russell. Can she catch up?” Now, a headline like that might be interpreted as an attempt to depress turnout, but that would imply some editorial favoritism toward Russell, the 5th District Republican incumbent, and Chicken-Fried News would never, ever infer such a thing from NewsOK.

But then, after a Russell campaign conspicuously lacking in vigor, a churlish performance at a debate in which Russell seemingly refused to make eye contact with Horn and polling by (gasp, choke, wheeze) “independent, non-partisan pollster” SoonerPoll had Russell ahead by 10 points, the night ended with Horn up and Russell down. National media scrambled to explain the blue spot in the middle of Oklahoma that they mostly ignored during the midterms.

Russell put out an IdentiKit statement of concession after national media called the race for Horn, but then, after four days, he went on Facebook to post a screed titled “Breaking the Silence,” like he was Greta-freaking-Garbo or something. He chalked up much of the defeat to the increase in millennial voters since 2010 rather than the fact that his representation of the 5th District was absolutely what you’d expect from a gun manufacturer. He also complained about negative ads directed at him by Horn and Michael Bloomberg but did not refute any of their claims.

“I am optimistic about the potential of our country’s future but saddened by its self-indulgence and lack of respect for one another,” Russell wrote.

Once Russell comes home, we should all send him avocado toast laced with tears via Postmates.

Newsbreaks

INGVARD ASHBY
  • Ingvard Ashby
After a lengthy courtship that began in May 2017, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tribune Media called off their wedding Aug. 9 after best man/Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai expressed reservations over the unholy corporate matrimony. If the union had gone through, Sinclair would have had a virtual Brady Bunch of television stations in the Oklahoma City media market to run the Boris Epshtyn Trumpist Propaganda Minute: KFOR, KAUT, KOKH and KOCB.

Now, Lacey Lett and Lucas Ross don’t have to interrupt the good times on KAUT’s Rise and Shine for Epshtyn’s gloomily Orwellian commentaries, which are “must-run” segments on all Sinclair-owned stations, and KFOR will not have to reduce its local news hole in service to a tone-deaf apparatchik.

Elsewhere in the Oklahoma City media landscape, ownership of The Oklahoman and Oklahoma Gazette, two of OKC’s preeminent news publications, changed hands in the fall of 2018. (We like to think we’re the preeminentest pub of all, but that’s really for readers to decide.) The Oklahoman’s new owner is New York-based GateHouse Media, described in The Oklahoman’s own coverage of the sale as “the fastest-growing publishing company in the country … operat[ing] in more than 570 markets across 37 states.” Not mentioned in The Oklahoman’s story, however, were the 37 staffers laid off in the process.

“Employees reported being alerted via email yesterday to a mandatory meeting,” Poynter Institute reported. “They sat through a 35-minute presentation about the sale and upcoming changes before being informed of the layoffs. Publisher Chris Reen addressed the staffers and said those who'd been laid off had just been notified via email, and their firings were effective immediately. The entire room then checked their phones, as the meeting disintegrated.”

In December, GateHouse announced that the paper’s executive editor, Kelly Dyer Fry, would also be taking on the duties of publisher. In an announcement to the newsroom, Fry told reporters they were going to “take [their] paper back,” which sounds a lot like Sarah Palin’s “take our country back” dog whistle but makes a lot less sense. Take it back from what, exactly? The brink?

Gazette, meanwhile, went to Peter J. Brzycki, an Oklahoma native and publisher of civic news site OKCTalk.com, and retained all of its roster, from the editor-in-chief to our large staff of Juilliard-trained foot masseuses and Chicken-Fried News cabana technicians. (Just kidding, a layoff of five Gazetteers would leave CFN to be written by tumbleweeds.)

If it sounds like we’re gloating, we absolutely aren’t. We are living in exceptionally perilous times, and the increasing tendency to operate news sources like sub-Subway fast food chains is a menace to democracy and objective truth. As amusing as it might be to read a city council story that has been crowd-sourced to someone from Papua New Guinea on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or written entirely using an iPhone 3’s predictive text feature, we don’t want to have a monopoly on independent, intellectually honest, locally based journalism. That’s not good news.

Bird infestation; Lime disease

Banged shins across the city have lamented the arrival of fleets of Lime and Bird “dockless” electric scooters. These rentable scooters can be located throughout the city using a mobile app. Look for one wherever the hell the last person that rode it felt like leaving it, whether tipped over in a formerly prize-winning flower bed or right smack-dab in the middle of the guldang sidewalk. Or if you’re walking around minding your own business, one might come right to you, possibly piloted by a nearsighted tourist who has had seven shots of Wild Turkey. (We’re not sure exactly who this is for, but WATCH OUT! THERE’S ONE BEHIND YOU RIGHT NOW!)

In October, Lime and Bird were named in a class-action lawsuit filed in Los Angeles on behalf of nine plaintiffs who say they sustained injuries including damaged teeth, torn ligaments and broken wrists, toes and fingers while either riding the scooters, tripping over them or being hit by them. While city lawmakers attempt to figure out how to better regulate these things, we should all remember to look both ways before crossing any flat surface or even, in some cases, before standing still.

Dead wrong

INGVARD ASHBY
  • Ingvard Ashby
The crafty faithful might prefer to think of it as a DIY project of biblical proportions, but Washington, D.C.’s Museum of the Bible issued a statement in October confirming that five of the Dead Sea Scrolls fragments on display are probably modern forgeries. In 2017, the museum, founded by Hobby Lobby owner Steve Green, was legally ordered to return more than 5,500 artifacts U.S. prosecutors said had been smuggled illegally out of Iraq and pay a $3 million fine. So, comparatively, losing five more artifacts seems like one of your lesser plagues, more “raining frogs” than “death of the first-born.” God, who we remember from Sunday school seemed to have some pretty clear thoughts on things like lying and stealing, could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Nonesuch knockoffs

As the saying goes, imitation is the highest form of flattery. Nonesuch elevated the Oklahoma City restaurant scene on a national level with its recognition from Bon Appetit as the best new restaurant in the country in 2018.

The tasting menu devised solely from fresh and foraged Oklahoma ingredients by chefs Colin Stringer, Jeremy Wolfe and Paul Wang is a revelation in flavor and sense interpolation.

As we look into 2019, we wonder how long it will take for someone to attempt a low-rent version of what Nonesuch is offering. Instead of mushrooms carefully foraged from the forest, it’s a dish made with the weird green moss growing in an alley in Midtown.

Do you like the pickle platter at Nonesuch in which local ingredients are eaten with a toothpick made from the branch of a local juniper bush? The knockoff version will offer Lake Hefner catfish with wood from an office building torn down during the Pei Plan.

The food won’t be as good as Nonesuch, but you’ll be able to get a table. Tickets to Nonesuch are sold out through April.

Ripped ticket

At Chicken-Fried News, we’ve become accustomed to cheering little victories because in this era of rhetorical diarrhea and the ever-looming threat of the president’s head suddenly popping off on the South Lawn and unleashing a squadron of orange, screaming banshees, you celebrate the good things in life.

Like, for instance, the failure of State Question 798, which would have amended Oklahoma’s constitution to allow governors and lieutenant governors to be elected on one ticket starting in 2026. In this scenario, Toby Keith could have run for governor and put absolutely anyone on the underticket — Jim Traber, for instance — and if Keith won, then Traber would be a heartbeat away from the Governor’s Mansion. The Chicken-Fried News Team would then climb into the escape pod we keep in the basement, point it at the Crab Nebula and bid our farewells.

This was, of course, an attempt at consolidating political power. Under our current and uncharacteristically reasonable system, different parties can inhabit the governor and lieutenant governor offices — in theory, of course. Considering the state’s penchant for making terrible decisions during elections, it was a pleasant surprise that SQ798 went down in defeat by nearly nine points. This saved us from future elections in which candidates we don’t like show up together at tandem-stupidity campaign events. Having them arrive one at a time is much more manageable.

Gunfight

INGVARD ASHBY
  • Ingvard Ashby

Oklahoma’s gun laws allow for concealed carry with a license, perfect for a bad man to be stopped by a good man and asked if he has a few extra bullets to spare. But nothing will ever be good enough for the National Rifle Association’s Russian-compromised leadership, which is cheerleading a bill pre-filed for the 2019 legislation by State Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, who spent his formative years with his missionary family in Romania and then, in an unfortunate turn of events, came back.

Senate Bill 12, authored by Dahm, would allow any adult to carry a gun — no training, no background checks, no problem, except when some hothead at a bargain steakhouse gets a tough flank steak and an underdone baked potato breaks out his Ruger and ruins everybody’s Saturday night. Don’t think that will happen? Well, you know that neighbor of yours who sliced off the “McCain” on his “McCain/Palin ’08” bumper sticker after Barack Obama became president? Keep an eye on him.

While many people have been, funnily enough, pushing for stricter firearm laws in the wake of [insert name of most recent mass shooting here], some Oklahoman lawmakers apparently watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and think, “Eh, needs more guns.” Last year, Gov. Mary Fallin vetoed similar legislation after it passed through (God help us all) both the House and Senate, but Governor-elect Kevin Stitt might have a different interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. To clarify, the Second Amendment is the one that grants “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” because of the necessity of maintaining “a well regulated militia” and is (hopefully) not to be confused with a Yosemite Sam mud flap.

Earlier this year, Oklahoma City residents suddenly were “two wheels good” as Bird and Lime scooters appeared on sidewalks throughout the central neighborhoods. Sure, there was a lot of fist shaking and “Get off my lawn and/or street” sentiments, but nothing beats downtown Oklahoma City parking issues like pulling up to a food truck park and not having to fight the bros for a space.

Well, if Governor-elect Kevin Stitt signs Dahm’s SB12, which is likely to happen because, um … Stitt already said he would, Chicken-Fried News predicts that Silicon Valley startups will take advantage of the new legislation and start dropping guns on every street corner. Holstered in brightly colored metal racks with QR codes on the grips, pistols from companies with names like Active Shooter and FunGunz will be available for our state’s perpetually triggered hotheads to execute frontier justice on the fly. What we lose in street festivals, public safety and due process we will gain in app-enabled felony machismo.

Peak poke

Oklahoma City’s food scene has come a long way since being the “cafeteria capital of the country” in the 1950s and ’60s, but its adaptation to national trends was highlighted this year with the introduction of poke across menus in the city.

It wasn’t that long ago that the idea of eating raw fish was still foreign to most Okies, but as sushi gained a foothold, its Hawaiian-influenced cousin poke flexed its muscles in 2018 with the opening of Okie Pokie, which is one of three standalone poke concepts planned for 23rd Street alone.

Poke is one of the fastest-growing restaurant trends in the country, even in landlocked states like Oklahoma, thanks to modern shipping techniques that provide affordable access to fresh fish.

Seemingly every restaurant group in the city added poke as a full-time item or special on its menu during the year, and we even got the opening of Poke Loco on N. Pennsylvania Avenue, where poke and mini doughnuts are sold under the same roof. That’s the equivalent of a restaurant in 2008 selling fro-yo and roasted Brussels sprouts.

Medical marijuana dispensaries and CBD stores only outpaced the rate of poke restaurants, which leads to the question, Have we reach peak poke?

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