What's at stake?


Convincing people to care about a City Council primary election is a tough sell. Folks don't perceive local issues as important, and they're bombarded with national and world news. This year's primary is overshadowed by a presidential primary. Even granting the importance of local government, a lot of folks figure they'll let the hardcore voters separate the wheat from the chaff in the primaries, and they'll get interested when the general election comes around. It's a partisan primary, so Republicans assume that an election which will be decided in the Republican primary must be a win-win scenario -- no danger of a Democrat getting in -- so they can sit this one out.

That would be a huge mistake. You need to show up and vote today. Here's why:

This election is the latest battle in a protracted conflict, one that goes back at least 30 years. The question at the heart of the conflict: Will Tulsa's city government be run for the benefit of all its citizens or only for the benefit of a favored few?

Will we have a Council willing to hold the bureaucracy and the administration accountable, willing to ask tough questions, or a Council which passively accepts whatever they're told, a Council that says it's not our place to question?

Will we have a Council that will protect the investment that homeowners and small businesses have made in their properties, or a Council that will unfairly tilt the zoning process in favor of those with lots of money and lots of clout?

Will we have a Council that will work for smaller, more efficient and effective government, or a Council that will use soaring budgets as a pretext for raising taxes?

Will our Council continue to give our tax dollars to the Metro Tulsa Chamber for economic development? Tulsa doesn't have a normal Chamber of Commerce. A normal Chamber of Commerce is paid for by business and works to help grow business and fights against the tax and regulatory burdens that chase our businesses out of state. Tulsa's Chamber of Commerce is more interested in growing its own empire. Tulsa's Chamber president has made a tax increase his top priority. As Tulsa lost 25,000 jobs, Tulsa's Chamber of Commerce rewarded its economic development staff with a trip to Hawaii. Tulsa's Chamber of Commerce admits to having no idea how to get high-tech jobs back to Tulsa. Tulsa's Chamber of Commerce regards itself and is treated as a branch of government; the Mayor even gives his "State of the City" address at a Chamber function, not in a public forum. Tulsa's Chamber of Commerce serves the interests of a favored few, not the interests of all of Tulsa's businesses large and small. Will we have a Council ready to fire the Chamber for incompetence in economic development?

Will we have a Council with the vision to look beyond the way we've always done things, or a Council aggressively defending the status quo?

Will we have a Council willing to deal assertively with County government, and take the initiative in the implementation of the city's Vision 2025 projects? Or will we have a Council that will kowtow to the County Commission's every whim?

Will we have a Council who will work for better economic conditions for all Tulsans? Or will we have a Council that will put our City's assets at risk for risky businesses like Great Plains Airlines?

We have a couple of good Councilors, but that is not enough. We need Chris Medlock and Sam Roop back on the Council, but we need to send them enough reinforcements to form a majority of independent, tough, intelligent leaders on the Council.

We came close in 1998 and 2000, but Susan Savage used an iron fist in a velvet glove to keep the Council in their place, and her political machine got rid of Anna Falling in 2000 and was mobilized in 2002 to take out most of the reformers on the Council and to keep others from being elected.

I remember Primary Night 2002. I won a clear majority in a crowded District 4 Republican primary, but my victory was spoiled as I saw Roscoe Turner, John Eagleton, Todd Huston, and Bonnie Henke go down to defeat. For me, winning the general election would not mean reinforcing a solid, reform-minded Council, but joining Sam Roop and Randi Miller -- if they survived reelection -- as a tiny minority trying to keep the flame of reform lit.

This is important: The battle lines do not follow strict partisan boundaries -- most of the good guys are grass-roots Republicans, but there are some reformers, like Roscoe Turner, who are Democrats. And on the other side you've got Republicans-in-name-only (RINOs), Chamber Pots, or Redicklicans, if you prefer, people who think being pro-business means giving their campaign contributors whatever they want, and they're joined by like-minded Democrat crony capitalists. There are some shades of gray, but for the most part the battle lines are clearly drawn.

This year we have three rematches from the 2002 primaries. The primary is the election in all three cases -- Turner vs. Patrick in 3, Eagleton vs. Randy Sullivan in 7, and Huston vs. Christiansen in 8. If we fail to capture any of these three seats, we have no hope of a reform-minded majority on the City Council.

City primaries are low turnout elections. Victory will belong to whichever side is most motivated to go to the polls. These elections are often dominated by our oldest generation, a group which, on the whole, is given to two habits. First, they read the paper every morning, and for the most part they trust what they read. Second, they show up at the polls every time there's an election. The Tulsa Whirled tells them that Randy Sullivan has "keen intelligence" and a "pleasant demeanor", and they don't know otherwise, even though his fellow councilors know that he's intellectually lazy and quarrelsome.

If reform-minded Tulsans -- people who read the Beacon and BatesLine and who listen to KFAQ -- turn out en masse today, we could dominate this election and ensure a victory for the forces of fairness, reform, and common sense. Please, for Tulsa's future, set aside a few minutes today to go to your polling place and vote.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 3, 2004 1:11 AM.

City Council primary endorsements: a summary was the previous entry in this blog.

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