The Legislature has been back in town for about a month, facing a different set of circumstances than in recent years. Money is a little tighter, meaning the recent windfall of energy-generated taxes from businesses and individuals will have to be spread a little thinner.
The good news is new Speaker Chris Benge, R-Tulsa, is a decent guy who seems willing to sit down with his Democratic counterparts to make the government work. Jari Askins is also the type of lieutenant governor who could bring everyone to the table to find a middle ground, rather than championing the winner-take-all approach of years past.
This being an election year, anyone holding an office will be committed to keeping voters happy: i.e., raises for state employees and teachers, tax cuts, etc. The problem is there isn't enough money to do all the things for which state agencies and schools have asked.
The national political scene could also color the election landscape. It appears Sen. Barack Obama's way with words is attracting more and newer voters to campaign events and the polling place. His civility is reminiscent of campaigns by former Oklahoma Govs. George Nigh, David Boren and Henry Bellmon. Oklahoma would do well to find more leaders of this style.
Ironically, Obama and Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn have joined forces to try to bring wasteful government spending under control. Coburn surprised many hard-right Republicans and left-wing Democrats by working with Obama on what was commonly called the Coburn-Obama Transparency Bill. The act, which was signed into law in 2006, requires the Office of Management and Budget to create a Web site so citizens can see who's getting all federal funds. The act will bring more accountability and transparency to governmental grants and contracts. It is something we should have on a state level, and if we could get a couple state senators or representatives to do the same, we'd all be better off.
Compromise and cooperation would benefit our state's higher education system, too. We have too many colleges and college presidents offering too many of the same programs. The same can be said of public school systems. Imagine if we could get leaders from these institutions to voluntarily sit down and merge their programs to avoid wasteful duplication and focus on creating pockets of innovative excellence. Millions of dollars could be saved and reinvested to attract some of the most brilliant minds to teach at our schools and universities. Our goal should be programs that put Oklahoma on the map as a leader and innovator.
If conservative Coburn and liberal Obama can find common ground, then elected officials in Oklahoma should be able to, as well. Oklahoma would do well to stop talking about which party is best and focus more on how both parties can collaborate to achieve efficiency that improves lives. The truth of the matter is governments work best when adversarial attitudes are replaced with cooperative intentions and the goal of finding common ground. Chest beating, name-calling and stalemates accomplish nothing. Cooperation and compromise yield progress.
Orza is dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University.