Young Republicans debate; Whirled gets it wrong (again)

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Last night I represented the opposition in the sales tax debate sponsored by the Young Republicans. Clay Bird, the Mayor's chief policy adviser, represented the position "vote yes on everything." Councilor Chris Medlock, having just voted with the rest of the Council to endorse the whole thing (despite serious reservations about governance issues), was representing the viewpoint, "I support 2 and 4, am undecided about 1 and 3." So most of the evening it was those two against little ol' me. Chris did give voice to his concerns about oversight and governance, but rather than oppose the package he would try to fix it after the vote and take a "leap of faith" that the missing safeguards wouldn't be necessary.

Some remarkable things came out of Clay Bird's mouth. Toward the end of the debate, he attacked the Tulsa Beacon, which ran a critical article on the front page this week. He called it a comic book, expressed the wish that people not take it seriously, said that in the Whirled at least they label their editorials as such. (At which remark, I laughed out loud. See below.)

Bird also had an interesting remedy for our status as a "donor county" -- we send more tax money to the state capitol than we get back in services. The legislature won't fix the problem, so we should raise our own taxes to build and fund facilities for state functions like higher education. We will still be sending and receiving the same amount of money from the state, but because we're also taxing ourselves more.... Somehow that makes us not a donor county any more, according to Clay Bird, the Mayor's chief policy adviser.

Bird explained his about-face on the issue of putting the arena and the higher education facilities on separate ballot items. He supported separating them until "Councilor Neal showed me the light." (That provoked some laughter from the crowd.)

Bird confirmed the possibility that TV Guide may pull out of Tulsa, as Citgo is doing. I wonder -- are they serious about moving, or do they think we'll come up with some cash to keep them here?

Bird also claimed that if we don't approve Proposition No. 2, thousands of American Airlines jobs will go away... eventually, when AA stops flying MD-80s.

In his closing remarks, Mr. Bird observed that the split on this issue doesn't run on partisan lines. He noted that Republican opposition to the tax came from the conservative wing of the party, and expressed a wish for a different local party that he could join. He said he considers himself a national Republican and local independent. He considered himself a part of a progressive pro-development party, and the opponents are all anti-development. Afterwards I asked him if he thought the "Chamber, Developers, and Establishment Party" would be a good name for the group he wants to join. He said, "Something like that, yeah." It should be remembered that it was conservative Republican support that won Bill LaFortune the nomination for Mayor.

Clay has actually hit upon the basic division in Tulsa politics, a division that joins people from both national parties in two large factions. The first is a well-organized faction whose party organ is the Tulsa Whirled and which uses the Tulsa Metro Chamber as a taxpayer-funded promotional organization. This faction controls most local government offices and runs the city in their own interest, and have done so for decades. The second faction is not organized at all, and is led by people who have seen up close how the system works and believe that city government should serve all the people, not just the special interests. But I'll save a detailed discussion of political power in Tulsa for another day.

Both Chris Medlock and I were misrepresented by the Whirled in this morning's paper. Chris made a joke about his middle-of-the-road position -- "I'm trying to see if I can straddle the fence without getting hurt." The Whirled reported it as, "After the council meeting, Medlock told an audience at a forum sponsored by the Tulsa Young Republicans that he was 'trying to ride the fence so I don't get hurt.'" Not only were the words wrong, but the wrong impression was conveyed. The reader would get the impression that Chris was worried about his political standing, and that was motivating his stand on the issues. He was just making a joke to break the ice.

The Whirled correctly reported a couple of things:

Bates, meanwhile, said he was disappointed to see the Republicans elected to local offices advocating raising taxes.

Republicans comprise majorities on both the City Council and the Tulsa County Commission, the latter of which approved the ballot measures.

Bates said the four proposals would not build a foundation for the future or take care of the city’s current needs.

So far, so good. But then the Whirled ends the story with a purported quote from a different part of the debate. I believe the Whirled misquoted me. At the very least they omitted a significant bit of context. The Whirled wrote, "'I’d rather spend it on things that would improve my family’s quality of life — not on things that are going to improve somebody else’s,' he said."

Here's what I said, in the context in which I said it. Clay Bird brought up the small amount of money each family would have to spend each year to pay for this tax and improve the quality of life for all of us. I mentioned that this summer, because the city pools are closed, I paid $150 so that my family could join a neighborhood pool. The vote yes folks want to take more than that amount every year from our family so they can spend it on an arena so they can see Cher. I would rather keep that money and spend it on things that will improve my family's quality of life, rather than being forced (by means of a tax) to spend it on something that someone else wants. I don't think I have the right to tax my neighbor, so I can have his money spent on my desires. Taxes should go to serve the welfare and interests of the general public, not the desires of the politically connected few.

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This page contains a single entry by published on August 15, 2003 6:50 PM.

James Lileks on old highways and downtowns was the previous entry in this blog.

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