Some Oklahoma Republicans and pundits are predicting gains for the GOP in the 2010 statewide elections because of President Barack Obama's unpopularity here. This should raise concerns about the state's cultural environment.
Will the so-called "Obama effect" lead to a Republican governor and wider GOP majorities in the Oklahoma House and Senate after the 2010 elections? Much will depend on the economy's condition, but there's little doubt Obama remains unpopular here.
U.S. Sen. John McCain carried every Oklahoma county in the 2008 presidential election and overall won two-thirds of the vote. Polls show Obama has low approval ratings in Oklahoma compared to national ratings. Oklahomans showed up in large numbers at town halls and many voiced displeasure with Obama.
Why? Nothing has changed for the worse, as was feared by some.
Obama pushed a stimulus program through that has helped this state. He is not pushing tax hikes on the middle class or stricter gun control laws. He's helping to bail out banks and car manufacturers, both of which represent the epitome of capitalism. And, although many Oklahomans remain against health care reform, our medical system remains the same. It's ludicrous to label him, as some have done, a socialist.
It's easy to understand why former President Jimmy Carter said racism underlines much of the personal animosity against Obama. This holds especially true in Oklahoma, which hasn't suffered the dire economic problems of many states. In the absence of logical arguments for the intense animosity, it becomes clear racism is one factor, although obviously people can oppose Obama's policies without an ounce of bigotry in their bones.
Ultimately, as a leading anti-Obama state " and also a state with draconian anti-illegal immigration laws and controversial politicians ranting against homosexuality " Oklahoma now seems like a place without tolerance to much of the nation and world. That's a major part of the state's current cultural image, which can affect economic development.
A larger issue is what will happen to Oklahoma if the Obama effect leads to a state government completely dominated by Republicans starting in 2011. What if Republicans win the governor's race and other statewide elections, such as attorney general, and widen their majorities in the House and Senate? What if the state doesn't have a Democratic governor, like Brad Henry, willing to veto some of the bills produced by a growing right-wing faction in the Legislature?
Here are a few predictions:
The state Legislature and Republican governor will support religious intrusion bills that oppose the teaching of evolution in schools and make it even more difficult for a woman to obtain an abortion.
The Legislature and Republican governor will support more tax cuts, especially for the rich and corporations, which will then lead to reduced social and health services for the state's neediest citizens.
The Legislature will still underfund education, but this will worsen under a Republican-dominated government.
The so-called tort "reform" legislation passed last year will be modified, making it more difficult for people to sue for damages.
If elected, will the Republicans' current leading candidate for governor, U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, veto more extreme measures sure to get legislative approval? It seems unlikely, given her political stances.
What will Oklahoma become if the Obama effect becomes a reality?
Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and author of the Okie Funk blog, www.okiefunk.com.