There are three state questions on the ballot this November that symbolize the deep ideological morass that has come to define Oklahoma's current political climate.
State Questions 751, 755 and 756 will probably pass by landslides as voters vent some anger or make larger political statements. But is it really worth the trouble?
SQ 751 is a measure that "requires that official state actions be in English," although it doesn't specify what "official" means and leaves it up to the Legislature to define it. The measure grants exceptions for Native American languages and federal law.
The main problem with the measure is this: It's redundant. By default and historical precedence, English is the language used in official state actions. What's the point?
If the measure passes, Oklahoma will join 30 other states that have made English their official language, and so the state certainly won't be the first to do so. But it could also send a signal the state doesn't want to help non-English speaking immigrants as they adapt to a new language and culture. The measure follows stringent anti-illegal immigration legislation here, but it seems so innocuous and open-ended that it calls into question its own legal viability.
SQ 755 is measure that "forbids courts from considering or using international law" and "forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law." The question defines Sharia law as "Islamic law. It is based on two principal sources, the Koran and the teaching of Mohammed."
Again, what's the point? Can anyone imagine a judge here pulling out the religious text of Islam to back up a decision to sentence a meth cook to noon prayers? The measure "makes courts rely on federal and state law when deciding cases," but that's what courts are already duty-bound to do. Why specifically mention Sharia? It explicitly criticizes Islam. What's the gain here, except to take a cheap shot at one of the world's largest religions?
SQ 756 is the "Oklahoma Health Care Freedom Amendment." Any measure with "freedom" in the title is probably going to pass by a landslide, right? The question, if passed, would prohibit "making a person participate in a health care system." This is the opt-out measure created in response to the recent federal health care reform bill.
Federal law will trump state law. What's more, lawsuits have been filed against the federal law? Why not wait and see what happens? Why take up space on the ballot?
Some political observers might argue that SQ 744 and 746 are ideological as well, but at least there's a point to them. SQ 744, if passed, would raise per-pupil funding here to the regional average. SQ 746, if passed, would require voters to identify themselves before voting. People can actually argue about these questions because there's something to argue about. The measures actually make something happen.
SQs 751, 755 and 756 represent the ideological posturing that has come to dominate the political discourse in the state over the last several years. It may make people feel good to vote in favor or against the measures, and they may create voter enthusiasm in certain political camps, but there's really no point beyond that.
So how about a state question forbidding tornadoes, hail storms and blizzards in Oklahoma?
Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and author of the Okie Funk blog.