Five thoughts on election eve

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Some thoughts as we prepare to go to the polls:

(1) If you're just finding this site, as you do some last minute learning about the issues on tomorrow's ballot, welcome! To help you find the information you need, there's a search box on the right side of the home page.

If you just want an overview of the issues, read "Why Vote No?" That article is brief, and I've provided links to related entries, grouped by topic. Don't overlook the links at the end of the article, which deal with overarching issues like real vision, governance, economic development, and downtown.

I don't have articles beyond August 30 indexed on the "Why Vote No?" page, so I've reconfigured the home page to go back two full weeks, for now. Scroll down to see all the recent stuff.

If you've got an honest-to-goodness question that you need answered before you vote, e-mail blog at batesline dot com, and I'll try to respond as quickly as my job and personal life allows.

When the campaign ends, you'll find more variety here, as I originally intended, but you can be sure I'll keep writing about our city, our region, and the future.

(2) Before you vote, read the ballot carefully. Ultimately that is the only binding contract between the citizens of Tulsa County and the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners for this tax increase.

The tax is collected at the rate specified on the ballot, for the duration specified on the ballot, and must be spent for the purpose specified on the ballot. Note that very broad purposes were chosen, which gives the Commissioners great latitude. The ballot resolutions reflect the Commissioners' current intent, but those can be amended with only 48 hours notice. Projects, procedures, restrictions -- and, of course, promises -- it only takes two commissioners of the three to sweep away anything that isn't on your ballot.

(3) As you vote, remember that your ballot is secret and sacred. No one can know how you vote.

I have spoken to and received e-mail from hundreds of Tulsa County residents who deliver the same basic message: "I'm against this tax, and I appreciate what the opposition is doing, but because of my job, I cannot come out publicly against it." People are afraid to display yard signs, to sign petitions. Employees, public and private, are afraid of losing their jobs. Politicians are afraid of angering donors and being targeted for defeat (with good reason). Businessmen are afraid of regulatory harassment from city or county agencies, afraid of losing business from the big companies backing this package, afraid of being turned down for loans. I heard that workers at one downtown company were told by an angry CEO that they'd lose their jobs if they opposed the package. American Airlines mechanics were taken off the line to assemble "YES" signs.

It could be that every YES sign in every yard is there because the occupant of the home is a wholehearted supporter of all four new taxes. But I wouldn't be surprised if some companies or government agencies planted signs on every employee's lawn. "No one will be forced to have a sign in their yard. If you object to having a sign, please notify HR and add your name to the no-sign list," also known as the early layoff list.

This is not wild paranoia. Companies and government agencies have been known to track employee behavior away from work and discipline any deviance. My family lived in Bartlesville in the late '60s, a Cities Service family in a Phillips town. Back then Phillips had a company basketball team, a frequent contender for the Amateur Athletic Union crown. Of course the players weren't paid for playing (they were amateurs after all); they worked for the company. Some of these players had jobs monitoring non-Phillips service stations and noticing if a Phillips employee bought gas, oil, or tires from other than Phillips, an act subject to disciplinary action.

Just a hunch, nothing more, but it wouldn't surprise me if some companies and agencies backing this plan are monitoring the yardsigns their employees are displaying.

I suspect similar fears are skewing the polls. When someone calls, verifies your name, and asks your opinion, how do you know it's a real pollster?

If you have been treated in this way, and you resent it, you can fight back at the polls. You may not be able to speak publicly, but no one can know what you do in the voting booth. A resounding defeat of these packages will be the first bold step toward restoring open, honest public discourse in this region.

(4) Even if you like bits of this, for the sake of honest and honorable government, turn it down and send it back to the County Commission with a resounding message.

As parents, my wife and I know our young children have not developed enough discernment and judgment to be trusted with unlimited choice. To protect them from danger, the choices we give them are limited. As they mature we expect to give them greater latitude to choose for themselves. It's responsible parenting to limit a young child's choices, but when politicians treat the voters in that manner, it's insulting.

The politicians unreasonably limited our choices, our ability to define our vision of the future, by not allowing us to choose projects for common and higher education without also choosing the downtown sports arena and Expo Square. Judge Wiseman ruled that what the Commissioners did with this ballot was not unconstitutional logrolling, but that still doesn't make it right. They demonstrated their contempt for the desires of the people of this county. How can we expect them to listen to us after we give them a billion dollars when they don't want to listen to us now?

If we turn this down, they can come back with another sales tax package in six months. They could come back with bond issues much sooner.

If we approve this mess, it will only encourage them.

(5) If this thing fails, it won't be because of marketing or packaging. Can we stipulate to this before the ballots are counted? The usual bunch had full control over how this package was put together and when it was put on the ballot. They had over half a million to spend (I'm sure the number has grown since the last ethics filing) -- a hundred times the opposition's resources. A healthy reaction to a defeat would be for prominent yea-sayers to admit that the projects and the process are bad in substance, not just perception.

Thanks for your attention.

[I'm "postdating" this message so that it will remain at the top of the blog through the time the polls close tomorrow.]

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 9, 2003 7:00 PM.

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