November 2007 Archives

From The American Magazine, a sad story about eminent domain. Dr. Joseph Erondu, an immigrant from Nigeria, opened a dental clinic in Gaslight Square, a rundown neighborhood in St. Louis. After years of being a lone bright spot in a neighborhood known for drugs and prostitution, he heard the magic words: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help."

Erondu was later thrilled to learn that the city was planning to redevelop the area--until he learned that he wasn't welcome in the new Gaslight Square. St. Louis wound up acquiring his land using eminent domain, forcing Erondu to rebuild his practice from scratch in another neighborhood. Perhaps as a result of the stress, Dr. Erondu fell ill while his new practice was being constructed. He died on June 23rd, 2005, the same day the Supreme Court handed down its infamous Kelo decision.

Erondu's property loss is a story that has been repeated across Missouri and across the United States. Entrepreneurs purchase property in a marginal neighborhood and struggle to build a viable business, only to have the city take their property and give it to a wealthier business with better political connections. Every time that happens, it sends a powerful message to future entrepreneurs that they should think twice before setting up shop in low-income communities.

That's just one of the ways in which urban renewal policies designed to help the poor do just the opposite. Many urban planners argue that the power of eminent domain is needed to combat "blight" in urban areas. But closer examination shows that eminent domain only shifts the problems of poverty to another neighborhood, while destroying the social fabric that is essential for a genuine revitalization of poor neighborhoods. States that truly care about the welfare of their urban poor should prohibit the use of eminent domain for private urban redevelopment projects.

The author of this article, Timothy B. Lee, has coauthored a policy paper outlining the history of eminent domain and its uses and abuses for the Show-Me Institute, a free-market-oriented public policy think-tank based in Missouri.

(Via Eminent Domain Review.)

Technical trouble

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The lack of posting the last few days is the result of business busyness, lousy access to WiFi at my hotel, and, most recently, the apparent failure of my laptop hard drive. (Can anyone suggest a good data recovery service? I had a fairly recent backup, but not recent enough.)

UPDATE: The drive (a Seagate 40 GB drive) seems to be OK, but not the laptop. I put the drive in a USB enclosure and was able to power it up, connect it to another computer, and copy critical data off of it. When I tried to reinstall it in my ancient (5 year old) Dell Inspiron 4000, the BIOS still couldn't see it. The BIOS had also stopped seeing the aftermarket DVD+RW I bought a while back.

Here's what I think happened: Thursday during a break at the convention I was attending, I headed over to the WiFi hotspot to check e-mail. I had the laptop set up to standby when the lid is shut and restart when the lid is open. I put it back in the backpack, thinking I had the lid shut all the way. It must have bounced open just enough in my laptop backpack to restart, and surrounded by all that nice padding, it overheated and something fried. When I pulled it out to use it during a session, it was already restarted when I opened it, and there was an I/O error dialog box in the middle of the screen. The laptop was non-responsive to my inputs. When I reset it, it refused to recognize the DVD+RW. So I popped that out and tried again, and it refused to recognize the hard drive. The BIOS init process seemed to hang at about 95% on the progress bar.

This laptop, which I bought for $700 second hand in June 2002, has had a new video cable, a new and bigger hard drive, new and more memory, a new motherboard, a new DVD drive, and a new keyboard installed at one time or another. Plus I bought a WiFi card and a USB-2/Firewire combo card to make up for the absence of those features. In other words, I've spent as much keeping it running as I paid for it in the first place. Still, it's been a good machine, it's been with me all over the country and across the pond, and it's been cheaper to pay the incremental costs over time than to buy a new machine in one fell swoop. Plus, I haven't yet faced the problem of reinstalling everything.

So if I do buy a new laptop, should it be another Dell? And should I stick with XP, go with Vista, or chuck it all and make this one a Linux machine?

This week's column in Urban Tulsa Weekly continues the effort to get our Tulsa County Commissioners to find out for themselves exactly how much Vision 2025 funds are on hand, how much is likely to be on hand in the next couple of years, and how much has been obligated. At the heart of the debate is informal county financial adviser (and frequent bond vendor to the county) John Piercey, to whom county officials defer all questions about Vision 2025 finances. Be sure to read Brian Ervin's news story on the topic from last week's edition, and my column from two weeks ago.

Also in this week's issue: Brian Ervin looks into Rev. Victor Orta's recent flight on Pre-Paid Legal's private jet down to company HQ in Ada. Some think it might have to do with his legal challenge to HB 1804, and U. S. Chamber of Commerce plans to go on the offensive against immigration enforcement efforts like HB 1804.

UPDATE: Fixed all the broken links. I think.

This Thursday night the City Charter amendment process comes to its biennial conclusion Thursday as the City Council votes on whether to send seven proposed amendments to the voters at next April's general city election.

Here in a nutshell are the changes -- links will bring up a PDF of the proposed amendment from the Tulsa City Council website:

  1. Specify state law as the basis for determining whether someone is a "qualified elector" for the purpose of running or voting for city office
  2. Four-year councilor terms, coinciding with mayoral terms
  3. Moving city elections to the fall of odd-numbered years
  4. Three-year staggered terms for city councilors
  5. Appointive City Auditor
  6. Non-partisan elections
  7. Pegging councilor salaries to one-half of the mayor's salary

I've been a supporter of fall elections in odd numbered years for a long time. It puts the vote when people expect an election, it gives candidates longer days and better weather for going door-to-door to meet the voters, and it puts newly elected officials in office with six months to find their feet before a budget is due, rather than one month.

The only other proposal that should be sent to the voters is clarifying the definition of qualified elector to match state law.

Although I like the idea of Minneapolis-style multipartisan elections with instant runoff voting, the current proposal for non-partisan elections creates as many problems as it fixes. It should and probably will be defeated on Thursday.

Council terms should be kept to two years for the sake of accountability to the voters. And while I'm sympathetic to the amount of hours councilors put into their jobs, and I think some of our best councilors have been those who were either retired or self-employed and could devote almost full time to being a councilor, I suspect that something would change for the worse if we paid full-time salaries.

Our city auditor should remain an elective office. Right now, the auditor is independent of all other officials and is directly accountable to the voters. The proposed change would make the auditor unaccountable to the voters and at least indirectly dependent on the mayor, who would appoint all members of the committee that would choose the auditor.

UPDATE 2007/11/30: The City Councilors agreed with me -- or at least a majority did on each issue. They approved the fall elections and the clarification of the definition of qualified elector.

Imagine a world where opinions are censored without the censored being aware of it. You write passionately and publish your views and as far as you know, your opinions are out there for the world to consider.

Except that they aren't. Nobody but you can read what you wrote.

Such a world exists at SFgate, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, according to a new blog called Investigate the Media. This blog was set up by a frequent commenter on Chronicle articles at SFgate. He discovered that he could only see certain of his comments when he was logged in under his username. From another SFgate account or when not logged in at all, the comments were shown as deleted. The coding trick involves the "cookie" that is created on your computer when you log in to the SFgate website. The motivation?

Why would SFGate do such a thing? Because ever since public input was first allowed at SFGate, many commenters who had their comments deleted would come back onto the comment thread and point out that they had been silenced for ideological reasons -- i.e. they weren't sufficiently "progressive" -- or because they had pointed out ethical lapses at SFGate and the Chronicle. Or any number of other reasons that the Chronicle did not want known. So, to pacify these problematic commenters, the SFGate moderators came up with a very clever and underhanded coding trick to prevent deleted commenters from ever finding out that they had been silenced.

A commenter adds:

What refined censorship. The censored don't know they've been deleted, so when they never get feedback of any kind to their comments, they are slowly demoralized and stop posting altogether. It's fiendishly clever and completely dishonest to all readers, left and right, though most of the left probably would approve.

Meanwhile, like a kangaroo court, the San Francisco Chronicle runs a kangaroo court of public opinion where citizens are misled into thinking that they have been heard. It's like a Monty Python skit but nefarious instead of funny.

Via Little Green Footballs.

This week in Urban Tulsa Weekly, I tackle the teardown trend, infill development, and the concept of Neighborhood Conservation Districts as a means of ensuring that new infill construction is compatible with existing development.

I have two photo credits in this issue: A photo from the statehood procession reenactment from the big statehood centennial celebration in Guthrie, which graces the table of contents, and a photo of the prime example of out-of-scale and out-of-character infill development which accompanies the column. A hat tip to forum member "yayaya" for tipping everyone off to this monstrosity. You can see more pictures on my Flickr set page, Tulsa Midtown McMansions.

Here are some supplemental links on the topic of teardowns and neighborhood conservation districts (NCDs):

For any OKC readers who were offended by a recent entry about the Oklahoma River, let me say that neighborhood conservation is an area where Oklahoma City is decades ahead of Tulsa.

From an e-mail sent from Jeremy Burton at ORU:

Today, a letter was sent from Richard Roberts to the Board of Regents of Oral Roberts University tendering his resignation as President of Oral Roberts University effective today, November 23, 2007.

The Board of Regents will meet Monday and Tuesday, November 26 and 27, 2007 to determine action in the search process for a new president.

Executive Regent Billy Joe Daugherty will continue to assume administrative responsibilities of the Office of the President, working together with Chancellor Oral Roberts, until the Regents meeting.

In his letter of resignation to the Board, Richard Roberts said, "I love ORU with all my heart. I love the students, faculty, staff and administration and I want to see God's best for all of them."

Via Tyson Wynn, who has the AP news bulletin.

UPDATE: Michael Spencer rejoices:

I think we all have to give a round of applause to the ordinary folks at Oral Roberts University who said "Enough is enough." Richard Roberts- while far from being the worst offender in this collection of Tetzels- exemplified everything that is wrong with the Tulsa/TBN version of Charismatic evangelicalism. Smarmy, unscrupulous, self-serving and slick: Roberts' departure should encourage the "little people" in abusive ministries everywhere to blow the whistles and tell the truth.

MORE: ORU alumnus Greg Bledsoe has started a discussion thread about the lawsuit and resignation over on the forum and invited fellow alumni from around the world to join in. He provides his own legal and ethical analysis of the situation and also reproduces an anonymous alum's post wondering whether Richard Roberts suffers from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Bubbaworld isn't so sanguine about the resignation:

Undoubtedly supporters of "change" at ORU will welcome the exit of Richard Roberts and proclaim a "new day" for ORU amid high hopes for a bright future. Unfortunately, the university and the Roberts family are so intertwined that they can not survive without each other. They are like conjoined twins sharing a common heart and brain. No amount of surgery to separate them will permit either to survive and that is where ORU finds itself this holiday season.

I hope he's wrong, for ORU's sake and Tulsa's sake.

And Stan Geiger says that before Sen. Charles Grassley worries about the way private colleges spend private donations on their presidents, he should take a close look at the way public colleges spend on their execs.

Be tankpool

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Christine celebrates Thanksgiving with the extended Happy Slip family:

Happy Thanksgiving Day to you and yours!

This may sound like an urban legend, but it's the real deal.

From now through Thanksgiving Day (November 22), AT&T, Verizon, Sprint Nextel, and T-Mobile customers can send a text message of thanks to American troops abroad, free of charge.

Just text your message of thanks to 89279, and it will be delivered to an American serviceman overseas. You'll get an acknowledgment that your message was received, and you may even get a few replies. You can see some of the recent messages others have sent above.

Learn more by visiting I first read about this in Amanda Carpenter's recent column on TownHall.

Tickets range from $49.50 to $167 for Celine Dion, the first big name act to be booked for the new BOk Center.

Don't be shocked. Bubbaworld told you so:

Honestly folks, when you voted for the Vision 2025 proposal to, among other things, construct Tulsa's new playground for the rich and faux-rich did you actually believe that you would be able to afford to attend the "big name events" that would be held there?

You mean you did not learn anything from the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, a venue for events often beyond the financial means of the vast majority of taxpayers whose dollars built it also?

In case you missed it from Monday's KFAQ Mornings with Gwen Freeman and Chris Medlock, here's an MP3 of their interview with former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton. Bolton is discussing his new book, Surrender Is Not an Option.

About UN reform, Bolton said that efforts at marginal reform will never work, and the only way that wholesale change will occur is if UN contributions are made voluntary. Instead of a mandatory assessment funding all UN activities, which creates "an entitlement mentality" in the UN bureaucracy, nations would be able to pick and choose which UN programs are effective enough to deserve funding.

Bolton also discussed Iran's nuclear threat -- could be several years away, could be less than a year. Bolton says regardless, he doesn't believe in "just-in-time non-proliferation" -- ruling out the military option until Iran is on the verge or actually has nukes. He didn't use this phrase, but his counsel could be summarized as Barney Fife's watchword: "Nip it in the bud."

Medlock asked which is the greatest nuclear threat, Iran or North Korea. Bolton believes its the Norks and mentioned Israel's September 6th air strike on a site in Syria that may have been a joint North Korea-Syria nuclear project. Iran he described as the "world's central banker for terrorism."

In response to the idea that we could use deterrence to keep Iran in check, as we did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War: "You have people who prize life in the hereafter more than life on earth, they're not subject to classic theories of deterrence."

Bolton also discussed the Bush Administration's push for a Palestinian state, and the dangers of an administration's eighth-year search for a Legacy: "That's a dangerous period, because you can achieve a 'legacy' by giving away the store."

About Pakistan, Bolton said that America's priority has to be the security of Pakistan's nuclear stockpile. A revolution or even a period of chaos could put nuclear weapons in the hands of Al Qaeda. It's not a case, he said, of white hats for democracy vs. black hats in the military. He pointed out that Benazir Bhutto, head of the largest party in Pakistan, has the title "chairperson for life."

Regarding Iraq, Bolton said that an early pull-out would send the wrong message to both our adversaries and our allies.

Regarding the presidential campaign, it's his hope that his book will help keep national security issues in the forefront. He doesn't see anyone saying anything sensible on the Democratic side. He thinks all the top tier Republican candidates have demonstrated good judgment on foreign policy.

Gwen and Chris did a great job with the interview, and Bolton, contrary to his fierce reputation, was relaxed and pleasant to listen to.

Those who've accused Councilor Roscoe Turner and north Tulsa residents of unjustifiable complaining about the closing of Albertson's at Pine and Peoria need to listen to the podcast of Saturday's Darryl Baskin show. The guest at the beginning of the show was Steve Whitaker of John 3:16 mission, and the topic was "food deserts."

Not desserts. Deserts.

There's a big one in Tulsa. Whitaker said a food desert is defined as an area where it's more than three miles to the nearest full-service grocery. Tulsa has a six-mile wide band without supermarkets that goes all the way across the city.

There are no full-service grocery stores in the City of Tulsa north of Admiral Place. There's a Piggly Wiggly on Admiral east of Harvard, a Warehouse Market at 3rd & Lewis, and another Warehouse Market at 66th & Peoria in Turley. Beyond that you have to go to Owasso to shop.

A food desert makes life harder for those already on the margins of poverty. There are no supermarkets within walking distance. There might be a convenience store, but prices are higher, and the store isn't likely to carry produce or much in the way of healthy food. Driving is getting more expensive as fuel costs rise. Public transit is rarely available when people are off work and can go shopping.

Whitaker and Baskin wondered why, since everyone has to buy food, no one has filled the vacuum left by Albertson's departure.

I read an explanation recently -- can't remember where -- that made a lot of sense. Even though everyone has to buy food, lower income people tend to buy basics and items on sale. In other words, they buy items with low markups. In supermarkets in middle class and upper income areas, shoppers buy more expensive, high-markup items which subsidize the basics. If everyone that shops at a particular grocery buys only the low-markup items, the grocery won't be able to afford to stay in business.

UPDATE 2007/11/30: I took a little drive up Peoria and back down Lewis to check on grocery locations. There are no supermarkets on N. Peoria until you are beyond Tulsa city limits and in unincorporated Turley, which has a Warehouse Market. There is a greengrocers called "Week's" at Apache and Lewis, but I don't know if it's open out of season. At Pine and Lewis, the old Safeway (the newer old Safeway on the northwest corner) is split between a RentQuik and a Save-A-Lot. Although the Save-A-Lot doesn't have a sign out front, banners in the store visible through the windows showed the name. There's a big Supermercado on Lewis just north of I-244. I didn't stop to investigate, so I don't know what hours these stores keep or how their prices and selection compare to stores in my neighborhood.

Talk Radio 1170 KFAQ has added a forum to its website. Actually, it's a blog on Typepad, with brief entries each simply stating a topic and inviting comments.

In related news, the TulsaNow website and public forum have changed address, as the domain was inadvertently allowed to lapse. The new domain is

During the late campaign for a Tulsa County sales tax increase to pay for river projects, we were often told by the tax increase's proponents about the low-water dams that Oklahoma City funded with its MAPS tax, and how this investment had brought jobs in the form of a Dell Computers call center. I've read about plans to run a water taxi service from the hotel cluster at Meridian Ave. to near downtown along the river.

I was in OKC this past Saturday morning for the Oklahoma Republican Party executive committee meeting and afterwards decided to have a closer look at their river, the North Canadian, aka the Oklahoma River.

The Oklahoma River, looking east from Exchange Ave. in Oklahoma City,100_5959This picture was taken from beneath the south end of the Exchange Ave. bridge looking east. Clicking the photo will take you to a set of seven pictures, all taken from the south bank of the river between Penn and Exchange.

Despite the fact that it was in the 70s and sunny and about 2:00 p.m. on a Saturday, I encountered only about eight other people using the trails. I read that there was a boat parade that evening, but I can't imagine where they had enough water to float a boat.

Anyone have an explanation for this?

I've uploaded some of our photos from Friday's centennial reenactment of Oklahoma's statehood day in Guthrie, the territorial capital and first state capital city. I have more to upload later tonight or tomorrow. There are three sets:

Oklahoma Centennial procession, GuthrieOklahoma Statehood Centennial - Procession: This set begins with the Jack Love group gathering at the State Capital Publishing Company at 2nd and Harrison (now home to a publishing museum). Jack Love was one of the first Oklahoma Corporation Commissioners and, in fulfillment of a campaign promise, he hired special railroad coaches to bring 60 girls from Woodward to Guthrie for the inauguration, and then had carriages to bring them to the Carnegie Library where the swearing-in took place. A gun was fired to signal that President Roosevelt had signed the statehood proclamation, the cavalry fired their guns in the air in reply, and the procession headed down Oklahoma Street to the library.

For the reenactment, Jack Love's group was made up of schoolchildren from around the state and their parents. We had to be properly attired in Edwardian dress, and it took some doing to find all the pieces: Some of it -- my suit, my son's jacket, my daughter's pinafore -- we rented from Top Hat at 41st and Yale; other pieces we bought. My wife had a skirt and blouse made, and she took a plain hat and adorned it with a feather boa. My daughter's dress was rented from Theater Tulsa's collection, and our school's drama department had a top hat we could borrow. Because I couldn't find the kind of shirt collar I needed, I took a tuxedo shirt with a standard collar and flipped the collar inside out. I'm not sure how authentic we were, but a four or five people were impressed enough to stop and ask us to pose for a picture.

(In case you're wondering, the 22 month old was with Grandma and Grandpa. The day would have been too long for him.)

Reenactment of the wedding between Mr. Oklahoma Territory and Miss Indian Territory
Oklahoma Statehood Centennial: inaugural reenactment: The second set is at the Carnegie Library: the reading of the statehood proclamation, the mock wedding between Miss Indian Territory and Mr. Oklahoma Territory, and the swearing-in of the new state's first officers. Mr. Oklahoma Territory was appropriately melodramatic in declaring his proposal of marriage to Miss Indian Territory. I hope to find that speech online somewhere -- it's an interesting spin on the debate over whether Oklahoma should have been admitted as one state or two.

Many of the reenactors were state officials, including the three Corporation Commissioners representing their 1907 counterparts. Oklahoma Historical Society chairman Bob Blackburn narrated, and Lt. Gov. Jeri Askins spoke briefly. (Gov. Henry was strangely absent.) Our group was seated very close to the action, on the lawn of the library. Afterwards we stayed there to watch the parade.

Steiguer Bldg, Guthrie, Oklahoma
Rooflines of Guthrie: The third set is a collection of roofline photos of Guthrie's 1890s buildings. I loved the contrast between the red brick and terra cotta and the cloudless blue sky. The day could not have been more perfect, with temperatures in the 70s.

Other Flickr photographers have posted plenty of photos of the parade and the rest of the day's festivities:

If you find other blog posts or photosets about the Guthrie centennial celebration, please post links to them in the comments.

Todd Seavey sends a couple of witty darts in the direction of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's popularity bubble and in the process introduces a useful phrase into the political lexicon (which I've highlighted in bold):

A vote for Huckabee might as well be -- well, a vote for some other Arkansas governor. Just enough centrism to govern, not enough principle to make a difference. Huckabee is the sort of politician that makes one fear that mass democracy, after enough decades of refinement, will almost always produce de facto committees in the form of individuals....

Regarding Huckabee's philosophy of "verticalism":

But Huckabee does not -- because he cannot -- explain exactly what it is that he wants us to move vertically toward. "Upward to freedom" makes sense. "Upward to totalitarianism" even makes sense, bad idea though it may be. "Upward to a grab bag of focus-grouped ideas, some left, some right, none daring, that might play well in a Midwestern state like Iowa and get me on the ticket later as a southerner" is hollow. Don't fall for this Rorschach approach to politics, America. We already have one Clinton in the race.

Meanwhile, Greg Kaza, the head of the Arkansas Policy Foundation, that state's free market think-tank, writes at National Review Online that Arkansas has just had its biggest tax cut in history: a 50% cut in sales taxes on groceries. That cut didn't come under former Governors Bill Clinton or Mike Huckabee. How, Kaza asks, "did the tax survive two decades that included Clinton's "Bridge to the 21st Century" and Huckabee-style 'compassionate conservatism'?"

The long answer, however, was a failure to cross the fiscal T's, as in taxes, and dot the visionary I's, as in imagination. This is where freshman Democratic governor Mike Beebe comes in.

Beebe, raised by his working mother, a waitress, had the imagination to make a phase-out of the grocery tax his main issue in the 2006 election. And this year he turned that idea into reality. The governor skillfully navigated the grocery-tax cut around legislative critics who preferred an earned-income tax credit that excluded the middle class. He would also base the tax cut on a budget surplus of nearly $1 billion that Mike Huckabee did not use to reduce taxes.

The story also notes that it was a Democrat in the Arkansas legislature that led the charge to eliminate the state grocery sales tax.

It's not good for the GOP if a Democratic governor is better at cutting taxes than a Republican governor.


It couldn't have been a more beautiful day for a celebration. We were in Guthrie for the Centennial celebration of Oklahoma's Statehood Day. Here we are after witnessing (and participating in) the reenactment of Gov. Haskell's swearing in on the steps of the Carnegie Library.

More words and photos later this weekend.

Guthrie Carnegie Library, Nov. 16, 1907

100 years ago today at 9:16 a.m. local time, President Theodore Roosevelt signed a proclamation declaring Oklahoma the 46th state of the United States of America. Word was received by telegraph in Guthrie, the territorial and state capital, at the local newspaper office. Dr. Hugh Scott, secretary to Frank Frantz, the last territorial governor, dashed out of the building and fired his pistol in the air to signal that Oklahoma was now a state. Wagons hired by Corporation Commissioner-elect Jack Love took 60 girls from his hometown of Woodward from the newspaper office to the Carnegie Library (seen in the photo above), where Charles N. Haskell was sworn in as first governor. A parade wound through the streets, culminating in a free barbecue at the city's park.

We'll be busy celebrating today, but I hope to post a report and some reflections late tonight.

(Photo and historical details from the Oklahoma Statehood Day Media Room.)

I received an e-mail from Nageena Shahnaz Miftah, the wife of Jamal Miftah, responding individually to the seven people who spoke at the recent "press conference" (really a rally) held at the Islamic Society of Tulsa for the purpose of denouncing State Rep. Rex Duncan and other legislators who declined to receive a Koran from the Governor's Ethnic American Advisory Council. The seven speakers were there to condemn Duncan and the others as intolerant and bigoted.

Jamal Miftah was confronted at IST's mosque in a threatening way, called anti-Islamic, and then expelled from the Islamic Society of Tulsa's mosque, all because of an op-ed piece he wrote condemning those who commit terrorist acts in the name of Islam. The incident took place a year ago Saturday on November 18, 2006.

I suspected that the Miftah family would find it sadly ironic that this mosque would be the site of a condemnation of bigotry, and that turned out to be true.

I've added Mrs. Miftah's comments to my earlier entry about the press conference and about the latest information about the Governor's Ethnic American Advisory Council. Click that link to read what she has to say.

Steve Roemerman has posted a first-hand report from one of the Tulsa City Council's town hall meetings about street maintenance and how to pay for it. (The City Council meetings are not in any way connected to the Sharon King Davis - Dewey Bartlett, Jr., headed committee appointed by Mayor Kathy Taylor.)

Steve is a member of the city's Sales Tax Overview Committee, which is responsible for overseeing the expenditure of the "third penny" fund for capital improvements, including streets. In addition to a summary of the presentation (based on the Powerpoint I linked to a while ago), with a selection of the slides that he found most compelling, Steve relates an exchange between himself and assistant Public Works director Paul Zachary regarding city contracting policies that might cause a scarcity of qualified contractors to complete the needed work.

Steve's report is good perspective and well worth reading if you're concerned about the condition of Tulsa's streets.

There are at least a few of you who make faithful use of my BatesLine blogroll headlines page, also known as the NewsGator page, because it uses the NewsGator feed aggregator to collect headlines from the 100 most recent posts from about 160 blogs that I've handpicked as some of the most interesting on the web.

Until today, I included on that page feeds from several sources of op-ed columns and other paid, long-form opinion journalism: American Spectator, National Review, TownHall, and You'll find a prolific daily output of well-reasoned and informed opinions on those sites.

And that was the problem. While an individual blogger posts on an irregular schedule, these corporate-owned, employee-staffed sites typically post the new day's collection of a dozen or so columns in the wee hours. That means that each morning there might be 50 new op-ed pieces on my NewsGator page, pushing the previous night's output of ordinary, one-or-two-posts-a-day bloggers further down or all the way off the page.

So I've created a second headlines page: The BatesLine op-ed headlines page. Visit there for your daily dose of intelligent opinions and commentary.

By the way, the old NewsGator URL that ended in .php is now obsolescent, so change your bookmark to the link above. I've purged all PHP from my site, because PHP, dynamic content, and my shared hosting provider don't get along. With MT 4.0, I was able to provide a statically-built linkblog and spotlight using the new built-in MultiBlog capability.

There are still several things on my blog to do list:

  • Import entries from my old hand-rolled linkblog into my new MT-driven linkblog
  • Use Apache mod-rewrite and RewriteMap to direct links to my old numerically named archive entries to the new named versions
  • Read Wild Bill's Passionate Blogger blog every day for constructive tips on how to be a better blogger with a better blog
  • Reinstate full-text RSS and Atom feeds

As always, your suggestions for improvement are welcome.

Tulsa Realtor Darryl Baskin reported back on November 4 that the owner of Cityplex Towers (née Oral Roberts' City of Faith) plans to develop the outparcels of the property nearest the 81st and Lewis intersection as a retail complex anchored by Whole Foods Market and Barnes and Noble Bookstore. This will be the first Whole Foods Market in the Tulsa area and the third B&N. I seem to recall that a B&N was mentioned as a possibility for the second phase of Jenks' Riverwalk Crossing.

If this comes to pass, it would seem to preclude a major chain bookseller for Riverwalk Crossing, with a B&N just two miles away and a Borders four miles away.

That item came from Neil Dailey's Tulsa Commercial Real Estate News blog. Dailey heads up commercial real estate for Baskin's team. I'll be keeping an eye on his blog for interesting tidbits. Some of the most important local news is found in real estate transactions, not down at City Hall or the County Courthouse.

While poking around, I came across a listing for Jarrett Farm, a luxury bed and breakfast resort halfway between Tulsa and Bartlesville. The asking price for the 120-acre Jarrett Farm property is $2.95 million. The listing describes it as a "turnkey business," so I'd guess it's still in operation while a buyer is sought.

Chris Medlock is reporting that Oral Roberts University faculty met Monday and passed a resolution of no confidence in ORU President Richard Roberts. Roberts had stepped aside as president of the school pending an investigation into allegations of financial wrongdoing raised as apart of a wrongful termination lawsuit brought by three former professors.

According to Medlock's source, the faculty also called for greater financial transparency and greater faculty involvement in university governance, in setting criteria for the search for a new president, and in the actual process of selecting a new president.

It seems to me that if ORU is to recover from its current problems, it can no longer be or even seem to be a hereditary monarchy, where the whim of the royal family is law.

UPDATE: Medlock has posted a scan of the motions approved by the ORU tenured faculty.

Urban Tulsa Weekly reporter Brian Ervin digs deeper into the controversy over the Governor's Ethnic American Advisory Council (GEAAC) and its gift of a special centennial edition of the Koran to state legislators. As BatesLine first reported back in May, the Governor's Ethnic American Advisory Council was created by executive order of Governor Brad Henry. Its meetings are held in state office buildings and its activities are supported by taxpayer-funded employees of the state's Office of Personnel Management. Unlike the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, which offered centennial editions of the Bible to legislators, the GEAAC is a government agency, not a private religious group.

Ervin provides, for the first time in print, the full text of the e-mail from GEAAC chairman Marjaneh Seirafi-Pour to legislators offering "the holy book of Quran." He also provides the full text of State Rep. Rex Duncan's response, also for the first time in print. (Chris Medlock had it online previously.)

Ervin saved the biggest news for last. After Henry's spokesman denied knowing whether the GEAAC was exclusively Muslim -- "I do not know if all members are Muslims because we do not ask appointees to any board to disclose their religious affiliation." -- and denied knowing the reason that Henry chose the awkward name for the group, Ervin asked Seirafi-Pour about the reason for the name:

"The name wasn't of my choosing, but we were happy with it. You'd have to ask the Governor why we're called that," she said.

She offered her best guess, though.

"The thing is, Islam is not limited to the Middle East--there are Muslims of West African descent and other nationalities from around the world," said Seirafi-Pour.

"If it had been called the 'Middle Eastern American Advisory Council,' it would have limited membership to Muslims of Middle Eastern descent," she added.

MORE: There are videos on YouTube of the press conference held at the Islamic Society of Tulsa (IST) in response to the centennial Koran controversy. The user who posted them has disabled embedding so you'll have to follow the links below to watch the video.

It was more of a rally than a press conference. No questions from the press were allowed. Speeches were given by representatives of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance (the anti-evangelical lobby group), the Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry, the Oklahoma Conference for Community and Justice, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR, the PR arm of the Wahhabi lobby in the United States), Say No to Hate, the Islamic Society of Tulsa, and the Jewish Federation of Tulsa.

Here is part one and here is part two.

From their remarks, it seemed that none of the speakers had read Rep. Duncan's complete e-mail, despite it being only three sentences long.

It's interesting that the OCCJ spokesman acknowledged that the GEAAC was "made up of American Muslims of Middle East countries," a fact that was omitted by mainstream coverage of the press conference. (That's about 20 seconds into part 2.)

I imagine Jamal Miftah finds it ironic to hear all these people talking about tolerance at the Islamic Society of Tulsa.

UPDATE: Jamal Miftah's wife, Nageena Shahnaz Miftah, sent me an e-mail with her reaction to the Islamic Society of Tulsa press conference, with a message to each of the participants, including one from her daughter to Allison Moore, a leader in IST who had been her daughter's Sunday school teacher prior to Jamal Miftah's expulsion from IST. (I've added some identifying notes in square brackets for the speakers she addresses.)

Here is my message to all the participants of this drama; Please come and talk to us and find out why my husband was declared anti-Islamic, anti Muslim in the very same place (the so called Al Salam Mosque) where Mr. Duncan and his fellows are now being condemned for refusing to accept Q'uran because of the passiveness shown by the Muslim leadership when it comes to condemn terrorism or take practical steps to stop terrorist activities.

My responses to each of the speakers is as under:

1- Mrs. Sandra Rana is probably the same lady, who didn't even had the courage or decency to speak truth about my husband's situation to a fellow Christian, Mr. James Mishler back in 2006.

2- Mr. Marlin Lavanhar [of Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry]: Please investigate to find out about the unapologetic bigotry of IST, CAIR and ISNA toward my husband. The way the leadership of these organization reacted (or remained silent) to my husband's op-ed piece condemning terrorism is suggestive of their real objective which appears to be promotion of violence and siding with terrorism.

3- Mr. [Keith] McArtor [of Tulsa Interfaith Alliance] please; who are you giving all these good lessons to?! the IST leadership? Please find out what they did to my husband when he had come peacefully to offer his prayers to the so called peace mosque on November 18th, 2006.

Sir, they have two faces: one is when they want to fool American people with beautiful faces and voices of people like Sheryl Siddiqui, Sandra Rana, Allison Moore etc. The other one is for their own members where they use the street gang sort of tactics through other leaders of the so called mosque to suppress the voices of moderate muslims against terrorism like the one of my husband.

4- Now to Justice Waidner, Say No to Hate. Ma'am you are in the wrong place and with the wrong group. Please don't waste your time on their face saving maneuvers. Come talk to me.

5- Mr. [Oliver] Howard [of Oklahoma Conference on Community and Justice], although me and my family are saddened with Mr. Duncan's refusal to accept the gift of Quran, we understand the obvious reason; hypocrisy of muslims' leaders around the world in the west and the US and especially within the leadership of IST, CAIR and ISNA.

5- Mr. [Razi] Hashimi [of Council on Islamic American Relations], where were you hiding when my husband Jamal Miftah was expelled from the so called Al Salam Mosque where you are lectuing on peace. what was his fault? Condemning Terrorism!

6- Mr. David Bernstein [of Jewish Federation of Tulsa], you are in the wrong place you should have come here and heard the prayers for destruction of Jews and Christians by the then Imam of this so called Mosque, Ahmad Kabbani, during the period of war between terrorist of Hizbullah and Hamas with Israel. When my husband refused to participate and agree with those prayers, the said Imam single him out in an attempt to ridicule him.

7- Now for Allison Moore, my daughter Syeda Mufleeha Miftah who used to go to Sunday school to her classes prior to November 18th, 2006:

"Ms. Moore, I was very disappointed when I heard from my friends that you lied about my father's article by saying that he has written in his article that Tulsa mosque is supporting terrorism. This was in fact a misinformation campaign about my dad started by IST leaders to which you were a party. Why are you now complaining about misinformation? What you sow so shall you reap."

The reason that my husband was expelled from Tulsa mosque is he was not giving the IST leadership the free hand to work in gray areas by laws of the land and laundering money to people/organizations of dubious credentials for which he has documentary evidence besides letters sent to the IST leadership during the year 2005 through certified mail. He would not let them use the mosque to preach hatred to the community members and has always condemned terrorism by his words and deeds.

Would all the speakers, minus the hypocrites, come and talk to us?

Nageena Shahnaz Miftah

Last week I wrote a primer on tax increment financing (TIF) districts. My column in this week's issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly is the advanced course: TIF districts as applied to Jenks' proposed billion-dollar River District development and a Branson Landing-type development on Tulsa's west bank. You can read all about the speed with which Jenks officials have moved forward with its latest TIF district, the complaints from the Jenks school district, how the City of Jenks has designed the River District TIF plan to put the financial risk on the developer, the lengthy process for TIF review established by Mayor Taylor's administration, and how the City Council can bypass it, if they choose.

Also in this issue, Tulsa County Commissioner Fred Perry responds to my October 25-31 column outlining a way to move forward on river development following the defeat of the Perry-endorsed county sales tax increase, and praising the Tulsa City Council for taking the first steps in that direction. Perry objects to my final paragraph:

There is a positive, constructive path for making our river happen without raising taxes. Here's hoping the Mayor and County Commissioners follow the City Council down that path.

Perry's op-ed begins:

In a recent edition of the Urban Tulsa Weekly, after the Tulsa City Council passed a resolution supporting river development, (OpEd writer) Michael Bates stated that the County Commission and Tulsa Mayor should follow the lead of the City Council as it relates to working to put a similar high quality development in Tulsa. ( ) This is amusing when one knows the facts.

I've responded to Perry in detail in my column in the issue that will be out on Thursday, but I did post a comment to his op-ed noting that he seems to have overlooked a key point:

There's plenty to rebut here, but I'll just point out Commissioner Perry missed a key phrase in the column about which he complains. I said (emphasis added), "There is a positive, constructive path for making our river happen WITHOUT RAISING TAXES. Here's hoping the Mayor and County Commissioners follow the City Council down that path." With its resolution, the City Council moved publicly in that direction. I haven't seen any public action on the river by the County Commission since the election, much less anything that would suggest they are proceeding with engineering on the dams or getting a handle on their Vision 2025 finances, as I suggested in my column. Regarding the surplus Vision 2025 funds, Commissioner Perry might want to check back in with his bond adviser for some updated numbers.

There's been a lot of arguing back and forth about former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's record on taxes and spending. The Club for Growth argues that Huckabee is not a fiscal conservative. Huckabee's allies accuse the Club for Growth of being deliberately misleading about Huckabee's record, although when they get down to specifics, what they are really arguing is that the facts that have been documented by the Club for Growth aren't important.

One of the factual points on which Huckabee has directly contradicted the Club for Growth is on the matter of the fuel tax increase he signed into law in 1999. Here's what the Club for Growth said in their analysis of Huckabee's fiscal record:

He signed bills raising taxes on gasoline (1999), cigarettes (2003) (Americans for Tax Reform 01/07/07), and a $5.25 per day bed-tax on private nursing home patients in 2001 (Arkansas New Bureau 03/01/01).

In response, Huckabee claims that while the fuel taxes went up, the increase was approved by 80% of the voters in a referendum. Club for Growth has a new video showing Huckabee saying something of that sort on five different occasions in recent interviews and debates.

The end of the video has the following response:

On April 1, 1999, Huckabee signed the gas and fuel tax hikes into law. The tax hikes began taking effect that day. -- Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, 04/25/99

On June 15, 1999, 80% of Arkansas voters approved a bond issue, which DID NOT include the gas tax increases. -- Arkansas Democrat- Gazette, 06/29/99

I don't have access to that newspaper's archives, but I was able to find records of the 1999 legislative session on the Arkansas Legislature's website. This link lists all the acts of 1999 -- bills that were enacted into law -- with links to PDFs of the legislation. This link provides summaries of all the acts of the 1999 session.

The two relevant acts were Act 1027 and Act 1028. Here are the summaries from that Legislature's website:


Act 1027 (HB1500) - The act authorizes the Arkansas State Highway Commission to issue revenue bonds not to exceed $575,000,000 for the purpose of constructing and renovating roads and highways. The act authorizes that the repayment of the bonds shall be guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the state and prescribes the terms and conditions of the issuance of such bonds. The act describes the sources of repayment of the bonds and provides for a statewide election on the question of issuing such bonds.


Act 1028 (HB1548) - The act levies an additional excise tax on motor fuel in the amount of 1¢ per gallon per year for 3 years. The act also levies an additional excise tax on distillate special fuel in the amount of 2¢ per gallon on the effective date of the act and provides that the tax on distillate special fuel will increase to 4¢ per gallon effective one year after the effective date of the act. The act also provides that the additional taxes collected pursuant to the act shall be special revenues and shall be distributed as set forth in the Arkansas Highway Revenue Distribution Law. The act also eliminates the current limitation on the transfer of funds to the State Aid Road Fund.

These two bills were passed by the Arkansas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Huckabee. Note that the only reference to an election is in Act 1027, which is about the issuance of revenue bonds. There is no election mentioned in Act 1028; unlike Oklahoma, politicians in Arkansas can enact a tax without a vote of the people.

Just to be sure, let's drill down into the actual text of the bills:

Here's Act 1027, the Arkansas Highway Financing Act of 1999. The bill calls for the issuance of bonds, to be guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the state, to be repaid by anticipated federal highway funds and the increased excise tax on "distillate special fuels" (e.g. diesel):

Revenues derived from the increase in taxes levied on distillate special fuels pursuant to Section 2 of the "Arkansas Distillate Special Fuel Excise Tax Act of 1999" and the "Motor Fuel Excise Tax Act of 1999" and transferred to the State Highway and Transportation Department Fund pursuant to Arkansas Code 27-70-207(c) in accordance with Section 4(a) of the "Arkansas Distillate Special Fuel Excise Tax Act of 1999" and the "Motor Fuel Excise Tax Act of 1999".

Section 5 of the Act calls for an election:

No bonds shall be issued under this Act unless the issuance of bonds has been approved by a majority of the qualified electors of the state voting on the question at a state-wide election called by proclamation of the Governor.

So Act 1027 called for an election to ask the voters of Arkansas whether or not to issue revenue bonds for highway projects.

Now let's look at Act 1028, which is given two names in Section 1:

This Act may be referred to and cited as the "Arkansas Distillate Special Fuel Excise Tax Act of 1999" and the "Motor Fuel Excise Tax Act of 1999".

Here are the key paragraphs, sections 2(a) and 3(a):

On and after the effective date of this act, in addition to the taxes levied on distillate special fuels in this section and Arkansas Code 26-56-502 and Arkansas Code 26-56-601, there is hereby levied an excise tax of two cents (2¢) per gallon upon all distillate special fuels subject to the taxes levied in those code sections. Effective one (1) year after the effective date of this act, the additional tax levied by this subsection shall be increased by an additional two cents (2¢) per gallon....

On and after July 1, 1999, in addition to the taxes levied on motor fuel in 26-55-205, 26-55-1002 and 26-55-1201, there is hereby levied an additional excise tax of one cent (1¢) per gallon upon all motor fuels subject to the taxes levied in those code sections. On and after July 1, 2000, the additional tax levied by this subsection shall be increased to two cents (2¢) per gallon. On and after July 1, 2001, the additional tax levied by this subsection shall be increased to three cents (3¢) per gallon.

Note that the tax isn't contingent on voter approval. The act, approved by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Mike Huckabee, directly increases the taxes at the pump on diesel and gasoline. Here is the only mention of voter approval in Act 1028. It's at the beginning of section 4:

(a) The additional taxes collected pursuant to this act shall be considered special revenues and shall be distributed as set forth in the Arkansas Highway Revenue Distribution Law, beginning at Arkansas Code § 27-70-201.

(b) However, if the bond issue provided in the Arkansas Highway Financing Act of 1999 is approved by the voters, the distillate special fuel taxes collected pursuant to Section 2 of this act shall be distributed as provided in the Arkansas Highway Financing Act of 1999.

The only thing voter approval changed is how the additional tax revenues would be allocated. The tax increase would go into effect either way.

Bottom line: Club for Growth is telling the truth about Huckabee's gasoline and diesel tax hike. Huckabee's recent statements about the tax increase are at least misleading -- when he mentions the tax increase and then says that Arkansas voters approved "a road program," giving the impression that the tax increase and the "road program" (meaning the bond issue) were one and the same thing -- and at worst a flat-out lie -- when he says that Arkansas voters approved the tax increase.

BONUS VIDEO: Here's Huckabee, at the opening of the 2003 special legislative session, telling legislators he'd be fine with any tax increase they'd choose to pass:

There's more interesting stuff about Huckabee's fiscal record and lack of support from Arkansas Republican legislators on the Arkansas Journal blog.

AND MORE: The latest counteroffensive from Huckabee's blogpals is on Evangelical Outpost, where Joe Carter accuses Club for Growth of hypocrisy for not including a 2005 earmark that benefitted a company owned by Club for donor and chairman Jackson Stephens Jr. in one of the CfG's congressional RePORK Cards. I replied in the comments:

Joe, the Club for Growth issued its first RePORK card in 2006, based on 19 anti-pork amendments offered by Rep. Jeff Flake; the earmark to which you refer was in 2005. And even if they'd had a RePORK card in 2005, the earmark wouldn't have been on the RePORK card unless someone like Jeff Flake or Tom Coburn had proposed an amendment to bar funding for it, unlikely considering that it was for a "Surgical Wound Disinfection and Biological Agents Decontamination Project" for the DOD.

Wal-Mart has notified the developers of a proposed east downtown mixed-use development that they won't be building a store in downtown Tulsa. The change in plans is part of a nationwide decision to slow down the construction of new Wal-Mart Supercenters.

Tulsa is one of many cities across the nation hit by Wal-Mart's move to reduce the number of new supercenters it constructs nationwide, said Angela Stoner, Wal-Mart's senior manager of public affairs.

"This is no reflection on the confidence Wal-Mart has in our friends in the development team of the East Village, the mayor, the City Council, neighbors or others involved in this project," Stoner said Thursday.

"This is the execution of a national growth strategy plan -- a corporate decision," she said.

The plan is specific only to new supercenters, she said, and none is planned for Tulsa.

Although Wal-Mart had announced its reduction plan in June, it had also approved the construction of the proposed supercenter for the East Village, which resulted in the developers announcing the project in August.

The proposed development would have been on property between Frankfort and U. S. 75, 4th and 6th, on land now owned by Nordam and Bill White. Here is a small PDF of the proposed East Village developmentshowing the site plan, a description of the development, and the expected increments in property value and sales tax revenues, for the purpose of evaluating the establishment of a Tax Increment Financing district to assist with the development.

More comments from me later. Feel free to post your two bits about what had been proposed and what ought to happen now.

On November 1, Survey USA conducted a poll of 500 Oklahoma voters for KFOR in Oklahoma City regarding the issues behind HB 1804. Here is a summary of the poll, and here are the full crosstabs, showing how the responses varied according to ethnicity, sex, age, and other factors.

(I really appreciate Survey USA's willingness to share the crosstabs and the exact wording of their survey questions. You can find many more interesting surveys on their blog-like homepage.

When given a description of the major provisions of HB 1804, 76% of those surveyed said they support the law, and 19% oppose it. Support was about equal between men and women, greatest in the 35-54 age group.

The survey shows an almost equal amount of support for the bill among Hispanics as among whites, but it should be kept in mind that Hispanics made up only 4% of the sample, or about 20 respondents. The margin of error (at a 95% confidence level) for such a small sample is nearly 22%.

RELATED: HB 1804 author State Rep. Randy Terrill spoke to Gwen Freeman and Chris Medlock on Monday giving a simple, brief, and straightforward explanation of what HB 1804 does and doesn't do, with particular attention to the exemptions that address most of the fears I hear. Terrill explains what business owners, landlords, social services provider, educators, and law enforcement officials need to do to comply with HB 1804. You can download the MP3 of Terrill's interview here.

On Wednesday Karol Sheinin of Alarming News participated in a debate, speaking against the proposition that the government knew in advance about 9/11. Shawn Macomber was there and reviewed the debate for the American Spectator blog:

Suffice to say, Karol speaks for herself better than I could summarize her, but I will confirm she is a smart, well-spoken young woman whose best attributes were definitely on display during the debate.

Sander Hicks presented the "Yes" position, which wasn't based on any theories I'd heard previously from 9/11 Truthers. Hicks pegs Pakistani intelligence as a major participant, and said his lack of adherence to some 9/11 Truth dogma has led many in that movement to label him, despite his belief that the government let the attacks happen, as an agent. (Sheinin parodied this as a kind of conspiracy-theories-are-all-crazy-except-for-mine attitude.)

Karol has posted the text of her remarks, and I'm impressed not only by how well she argued against the specifics of her opponent's position, but how clearly she articulated the characteristic flaws of the conspiracy-theory mindset. Here are some of her quotable quotes.

On why people might feel more at ease believing 9/11 was a government conspiracy rather than an Islamist offensive:

It isn't a complicated network of Islamist terrorists that want to kill you, it's George W. Bush. And really, which would you prefer as an enemy? The people who would chop off your head and send it to your mother or the guy who mispronounces nuclear and falls off his Segway?

On the proliferation of competing conspiracy theories:

Most conspiracy theorists subscribe to their favorite theory and generally discount the rest. In fact, Anthony Luppe who wrote the forward to Sander's book laughs at the people who believe in some of the more outlandish theories like that there were no airplanes or that there were missiles on the planes and essentially accuses the people who believe in conspiracy theories other than the ones described in this particular book as possible government plants who want to deliberately spread disinformation so that we don't find out the truth.

On the malleability of conspiracy theories:

Some conspiracy theorists, particularly the ones who profit off of their nuttiness simply adjust their perspective when one of their theories gets discredited. With every new video they produce, they just edit out the old information that they can no longer support.

On the selective skepticism of conspiracy theorists:

Sander writes "the official story from the FBI is that Atta was a fundamentalist Muslim who hated America and led the 9/11 attacks. In real life, however, Atta seemed to be something of an Egyptian double agent who fell in love with an American ex-stripper and did a lot of coke." Again, assuming this is accurate, which, again, I doubt, my opponent can believe that the US government was ok with killing 3000 of its people and the CIA is in Pakistan's pocket, but the idea that this one guy could live a hypocritical life is just beyond his imagination.

I actually laughed out loud when my opponent talks about one of his main sources Randy Glass, who my opponent describes as "a jewelry conman turned FBI informant", that Glass revealed more every time they spoke. It never crosses my opponent's mind that he was making it up as he went along.

Why she agreed to participate in the debate:

When I agreed to do this debate, I had so many people ask me why I would do something like this. They felt I was giving legitimacy to what they consider a crackpot segment of our population. I'm not doing this for the people in the "Investigate 9/11" shirts, I'm not trying to change their minds, if they've got the shirt I guess they're pretty committed. I'm also not doing this so that people who agree with me can nod their heads. I'm doing it so there can be a record of opposition to the people that support these conspiracy theories, lest they somehow find their place into our history books.

For her willingness to speak the truth to troof, and for doing it so ably, Karol deserves our thanks and admiration. (And congratulations for winning the vote at the end of the debate.)

WRDA veto overridden

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The U. S. Senate voted 79-14 this morning to override President Bush's veto of the Water Resources Development Act of 2007 (HR 1495). The bill becomes law; the House voted Tuesday to override, 361-54.

The fourteen brave souls who voted against the override comprise 12 Republicans and 2 Democrats, including our own Tom Coburn: Allard (R-CO), Brownback (R-KS), Burr (R-NC), Coburn (R-OK), DeMint (R-SC), Ensign (R-NV), Enzi (R-WY), Feingold (D-WI), Gregg (R-NH), Kyl (R-AZ), McCaskill (D-MO), McConnell (R-KY), Sessions (R-AL), Sununu (R-NH).

Of the seven Senators not voting, five are presidential candidates: Democrats Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Chris Dodd, and Joe Biden, and Republican John McCain. (Republicans John Cornyn of Texas and Jim Bunning of Kentucky were the other two.)

The bill includes a $50 million authorization for Arkansas River corridor projects related to the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan:


(a) In General- The Secretary is authorized to participate in the ecosystem restoration, recreation, and flood damage reduction components of the Arkansas River Corridor Master Plan dated October 2005. The Secretary shall coordinate with appropriate representatives in the vicinity of Tulsa, Oklahoma, including representatives of Tulsa County and surrounding communities and the Indian Nations Council of Governments.

(b) Authorization of Appropriations- There is authorized to be appropriated $50,000,000 to carry out this section.

Club for Growth wanted to see the veto sustained and will make this vote part of its congressional scorecard. The bill came out of conference committee 60% bigger than either of the original House or Senate versions, and the Heritage Foundation called the bill "a prime example of legislation run amok."

RELATED: Andrew Roth of the Club for Growth, writing at National Review Online, debunks the top lame congressional excuses for pork barrel spending:

  • "I know my district better than some unelected bureaucrat!"
  • "Earmarks don't increase spending."
  • "It's for the children!"
  • "I'm fighting to get our fair share!"

Honky-tonk great Hank Thompson passed away Tuesday night at the age of 82 from aggressive lung cancer. Here he is singing, "Whoa, Sailor," his first big hit, a tune about a sailor trying to chat up a girl in a bar, with a funny twist at the end:

Although he was born in Texas and finished his days there, he felt an attachment to Oklahoma, too. He lived in the Tulsa area for a time, and lent his name to Rogers State College's Hank Thompson School of Country Music.

There will be no funeral for Mr. Thompson, according to his wishes. Instead, he will be cremated; some of his ashes will be spread in Texas and Oklahoma, and the remainder will be buried in Waco next to his parents. He's survived by Ann. A celebration of his life will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at Billy Bob's Texas, 2520 Rodeo Plaza in Fort Worth.

My wife would like to know if you know of any special events in and around Tulsa to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Oklahoma's statehood, coming up a week from Friday on November 16. True, Tulsa already had a big downtown fireworks display on the 99th anniversary and our big moment in the spotlight was in June with the buried Belvedere's exhumation, but I assume there will be some sort of commemoration here on the day itself.

Guthrie, Oklahoma's first capital city, has a week-long celebration beginning Saturday the 10th and continuing through Sunday the 18th. The apex of the week will be Statehood Day, with re-enactments of the events of November 16th, 1907: the announcement of statehood in downtown Guthrie at 9:16 a.m., the symbolic wedding of Mr. Oklahoma Territory and Miss Indian Territory, and the swearing in of the first Governor, Charles Haskell. There will be a centennial parade at 11:45 a.m. from the Masonic Temple to Mineral Wells Park featuring 13 marching bands and hundreds of participants in period attire, followed by a barbecue.

And they're off!

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Jay Cost, whose Horse Race Blog provided detailed day-to-day analysis of the 2004 presidential election at the level where it mattered -- on a state-by-state basis -- is back and blogging at Real Clear Politics. (Actually, he's been back for a while, but I just now noticed.)

Cost's writing was a refreshing surprise, emerging as it did in the homestretch, the last month the '04 race. This time he began a year and a half before election day.

As I skim through the archives of the new blog, I'm remembering how much I enjoyed Cost's thinking and the clear way he expresses it. Here are a few bits by way of introduction.

About his approach and style:

This blog will probably be unlike most other blogs you read. I do not really think of myself as a blogger so much as a prolific essayist. As the election draws nearer, I think this space will start to resemble a blog more, as there will be more news to analyze. But, for the time being, I do not intend for this place to be my running tally of who is "up" and who is "down." It is just too soon for that.

Instead, I will try to make this site a forum for questions and answers about our electoral politics. I am at my best when I am trying to answer an exact question. So, what you will read here will be my answers to questions that I have asked myself. When formulating these questions and answers, I prize theoretical clarity and analytical precision. That is, I like to develop clearly-stated, intuitively sensible theories about what is going on, and then analyze those theories as precisely as I can. It is a goal of mine that this space be full of clear and precise thoughts.

About himself:

I don't understand politics as a pitched battle between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil. I understand it as the competition between divergent interests in the venue that Americans have set up to manage such conflict, namely our Madisonian system....

I like math, and I think it is useful for studying politics. Yes - math and politics in the same sentence - you read that right!...

I am not really interested in the "should" of American politics; I am interested in the "is."... This is not to say that my own preferences for the "should" won't creep into my analysis of the "is," but I am going to keep them as separate as possible.

Because I will not be able to keep the "is" and the "should" entirely separate, you should know a little about my worldview. I'll put it in two different ways, the hoity-toity philosophical and the meat-and-potatoes. Hoity-toity: my political philosophy lies at the nexus of Karl Popper, St. Bonaventure, and Edmund Burke....

By and large, I do not get frothy-mouthed over the "should."... It is hard to be frothy-mouthed about what should happen when you learn the dirty little secret of the Madisonian system: it is set up specifically to prevent much from really changing. So, why get all frothy-mouthed over my idea of the way things should be when our forefathers set it up so that my idea of "should" will almost always lose?

His rules for e-mail are worthy of widespread adoption. The last one sums them all up.

Emails should be polite and respectful. They should implicitly convey your understanding that a fellow human being you (probably) have never met shall be reading what you have written, and that - as you have never met him - you have no business being anything but nice.

On the flaw in asking for first preferences only in primary polls:

Primary voting is staggered. Some of us vote after others. This is important because candidates drop out. In reality, Iowans are the only people who make a selection for the presidential nomination the way respondents answer polls. The rest of us have to choose from a smaller field. So, this format of polling does not capture the reality of the primary election....

So, the poll I would like to see is a query of primary voters that asks them to rank the candidates from worst to first, and let us view the raw data. Maybe then we could get a sense of what will happen.

On the way conventional wisdom develops:

Nevertheless, this is how the Washington chattering classes work. They put together disparate pieces of data into an over-simple narrative (the only kind that works in sound bite format) - and they repeat it, and they repeat it, and they repeat it. Eventually, it takes upon a life of its own, as the conclusion of the chatterers becomes a fact that all and sundry have "observed."

Finally, a couple of quotes from a brilliant recent essay, The Awful Task of Governance:

There is a strange tension in the American political party. It strives to achieve a governing majority. That is its goal. But a governing majority is nothing but a hassle. It cannot accomplish much more than half measures, watered-down versions of what it promised, or symbolic gestures that change nothing at all. Eventually, its supporters catch on to this impotence, and they come to loathe it, decrying its members as dime-a-dozen politicians who squandered the public trust. So, I can't help but ask: why bother?

Of course, like a salmon swimming upstream, the party does bother. It works tirelessly to acquire 218 Reps or 51 Senators, even though it knows (or it should know) what awaits it upon "victory." And what awaits the party is one of the inevitable features of our system: it thwarts, stymies, and frustrates governing majorities. It was designed to do exactly that....

The function of the political party is to concentrate power just enough so that the government can actually work.... What was needed was some kind of centripetal force in our system to collect at least some of the power that the Constitution disperses. Without such a force, our system would do little more than enforce the status quo. Thus, the party caucus was born. This remains the job of the political party to this day: to concentrate power by coordinating the actions of governmental agents with similar views.

I've added the Horse Race blog to my Newsgator-powered headlines page, which shows the latest 100 posts from about 160 blogs and opinion feeds, so you and I will know when a new Jay Cost essay has been posted.

An edited version of this column appeared in the November 7, 2007, issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is available online courtesy of the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. Here is my blog entry linking to the original column. Posted online September 9, 2017.

TIF 201: Advanced concepts and case studies
By Michael D. Bates

You might consider the topic of Tax Increment Financing a dry topic, and you might have used my column last week as a sleep aid (habit-forming, I hope), but the townspeople of Jenks are quite exercised about that city's latest proposed TIF district, which would reimburse developers for $220 million of the cost of building the billion-dollar mixed use River District.

As Tulsa leaders ponder establishing a TIF district to encourage west bank development near 21st St., we need to pay close attention to the debate in Jenks.

As faithful readers will no doubt recall, TIF is a tool that local governments can use to lay the groundwork for economic development in a small area without raising tax rates. A city establishes a TIF district, and for a set number of years some or all of the extra (incremental) sales and property tax revenue generated by new development in the district is captured to pay for public improvements in the district, making development possible where it might not otherwise occur.

The appeal of a TIF district is that the money for assisting new development doesn't increase the property or sales tax rate for anyone - the taxpayers feel no impact - and it doesn't reduce the amount of tax dollars being received by any government entity - so the tax recipients feel no impact. The tax revenues captured within the TIF are revenues that wouldn't exist without the development that is made possible by the existence of the TIF.

The administration and board members of Jenks schools take issue with that theory. Superintendent Kirby Lehman compared TIF districts to crack cocaine for municipalities, "an addictive way to get development into the community on the backs of the state's school districts."

The public education lobby - the Oklahoma Education Association and the Oklahoma School Boards Association - has been the most consistent and persistent critic of TIF at the State Capitol, working to restrict further how long a TIF district can exist and how TIF money can be used, and to increase penalties for cities that violate the restrictions.

School districts and other governmental bodies that receive property tax play an advisory role in the establishment of a TIF. Each such entity (e.g. City-County Health Department, Tulsa Community College, Tulsa Technology Center) has a seat on the Local Development Act Review Committee (LDARC). The LDARC is established by state law as part of the process for setting up a TIF district, and it must make a recommendation to the city council.

But the decision ultimately belongs to the city council. A supermajority of the council can approve a TIF district despite a recommendation to deny from the LDARC. The public education lobby has sought, so far unsuccessfully, to limit a city council's ability to override the wishes of the affected school district.

Are TIF districts really "on the backs" of public school districts? TIF proponents argue that the only revenue the school district is missing out on is revenue that wouldn't exist except for the TIF.

In Jenks, the school district is arguing that even if the 18-year TIF district isn't established and the River District weren't built, that land would develop and increase in value to some extent between now and 2025, bringing in more revenue to the school district. Freezing property tax revenues to the school based on the land's current value is unfair, they say.

Jenks city officials have responded by offering to pass through some TIF property tax revenue. The schools would receive $500,000 a year and the other entities a proportional amount, equivalent to an increase in the land's market value from about $100,000 to roughly $6.8 million. That's double the city's initial offer, but the school district says that's still not enough.

Development has bypassed the land in question. It has remained a hay field, despite high-end residential development to the south and the presence of the aquarium and the Creek Turnpike to the north. The area is in the Polecat Creek flood plain, and a great deal of earth work will be needed so that any buildings would be above the 1986 flood level.

A more troubling objection is that the TIF would create a publicly-subsidized competitor to Riverwalk Crossing, a mile to the north, which was built and is being expanded without any financial help from the city.

Despite the TIF tiff, Tulsa could learn a few things from the way Jenks does business.

Jenks has moved forward swiftly. The River District concept emerged about a year ago, but it wasn't until this summer that developers had a concrete proposal to take to the city. Within a couple of months, in September, the city council launched the state-mandated TIF evaluation process, and it's likely that the TIF district will be created by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the administration of Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor has been dilatory, to say the least, in responding to interest from HCW, the developer of Branson Landing seeking to build a similar half-billion dollar development on the west bank.

Don Himelfarb, Taylor's economic development director, has tacked on an internal review by a "Qualifications Committee" as a prelude to the state-mandated TIF-creation process. The committee, made up of himself, mayoral aide Susan Neal, and city finance director Mike Kier, is firmly in the mayor's control.

HCW first made overtures to the city a year ago, but so far Taylor has not moved forward in any substantive way. Instead, Taylor seems intent on pushing any west bank development even farther into the future.

Taylor is commissioning a Chicago-based real estate consulting firm to develop a plan for developing the west bank and a number of city-owned parcels around downtown, including the soon-to-be-vacated City Hall. This would delay the start of west bank development for another year, at least. There's a real danger of studying this thing to death.

Happily, the City Council isn't legally bound to wait on Taylor and can bypass the extra hurdles set up by Himelfarb. They could set up their own committee to work with the developer on a west bank plan, then vote to start the TIF process by setting up an LDARC.

There are risks associated with a TIF district. If a city borrows money against future TIF revenues to pay for infrastructure, the city would be on the hook if increased revenues don't materialize.

Jenks once again provides Tulsa with an example to follow: The developer will pay for the infrastructure up front and will seek reimbursement for eligible costs once the project starts generating incremental revenue. If the project doesn't bring in new money, the developer doesn't get reimbursed, and the city is out nothing on the deal.

There are some significant differences between the situation in Jenks and Tulsa. Jenks's River District land is already owned by the developer. Most of the land for Tulsa's west bank development is owned by the city, but the key parcel is owned by a concrete company.

Since most of the west bank land is currently tax-exempt, Tulsa Public Schools and other property tax recipients shouldn't object to a TIF district. Without the TIF district, there's almost no chance that the area's taxable value would increase.

Because city land is involved, the city has an obligation to its taxpayers to have a fair competition for the right to develop it. That means issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP), setting out the criteria for evaluating the proposals submitted by developers. A good RFP, modeled after the many other RFPs issued by the Tulsa Development Authority and after similar developments elsewhere, could be pulled together in a month or so, if the political will is there.

How the key parcel - the concrete plant - is acquired would be a matter for competing developers to address in their proposals. Would developers ask the city to borrow against future TIF revenues to buy the land and lease it long-term, or would they propose to acquire the land themselves? State law does allow TIF money to be used for land acquisition.

As part of the proposal competition, each developer would also have to specify the amount of TIF money he would need for site preparation and infrastructure, and whether the developer proposes to front the money himself, as the River District Development Group is doing in Jenks, or whether the developer expects the city to take that risk.

We have a great deal of public interest in west bank development, we have an interested developer, and the dispute in Jenks may give Tulsa a window of opportunity to beat our suburban neighbor to the punch. We just need city officials willing to move forward.

I hope that Mayor Taylor will make a public commitment to expedite west bank development. It would help to hear her say that her real estate consultant will provide a recommendation on the west bank site within a month or two, rather than stretching it out for the full year. The Staubach Group was able to move quickly enough on her pet project, the acquisition of One Technology Center as a new City Hall.

If Taylor doesn't make a move, the City Council should forge forward without her.

Reflecting on the decline of the standalone video rental storefront, Steve Patterson directs our attention to the importance of building form over any given use:

It is interesting to see all these changes in the video market, something that didn't exist 30 years ago. Many storefronts, often built for these places, are left scattered around the landscape. Some will remain vacant while others will find new uses. This is yet another reason why the building form should be a higher priority over the use of a structure. The use will likely change over the years but the building form remains in place as long as the building remains standing. As a society, we cannot afford to change buildings for each and every change of use.

People are amazingly creative in the reuse of buildings, but buildings designed for multiple small storefronts seem to be the most flexible. This is evident as you look at the history of Cherry Street or Brookside. What was built to house a small grocery might become a used bookstore and then a restaurant. It's possible to combine several small spaces for a larger use, but it's much harder to take a building designed for one large tenant (a big box) and split it up in a practical way for many small tenants. Part of the problem is the depth of the building. How would you take a 100,000 sq. ft. building, like a small Wal-Mart, and split it practically into spaces of 1,000 to 2,000 sq. ft.?

It's my impression -- commercial real-estate experts correct me if I'm wrong -- that the bigger the space, the harder it is to find a tenant.

UPDATE: In the comments manasclerk mentions the book How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand. I haven't read it, but I'm impressed by what I read in this Wikipedia entry about one of the concepts discussed in the book: Shearing layers.

The Shearing layers concept views buildings as a set of components that evolve in different timescales; Frank Duffy summarized this view in his phrase: "Our basic argument is that there isn't any such thing as a building. A building properly conceived is several layers of longevity of built components."

The layers that make up a building are, in descending order of longevity from eternal to ephemeral: site, structure, skin, services (electrical, HVAC, plumbing), space plan (walls and partitions), and stuff.

According to the Wikipedia entry, Brand says that traditional buildings are more adaptable because they "allow[] 'slippage' of layers: i.e. faster layers (services) were not obstructed by slower ones (structure)." New construction (and by "new" I mean anything built since World War II) generally doesn't allow slippage -- the structure, skin, systems, and space plan are too tightly coupled, probably because that's a less expensive way to build.

No time to elaborate, but here's a comparison for your consideration -- two Tulsa hotels that once catered to VIPs, the Mayo and the Camelot.

TRACKBACK 2007/11/29 from the Planning Commissioners Journal Planning Quote of the Day blog, which I am now adding to my Newsgator page.

TIF 101

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My latest Urban Tulsa Weekly column, in the November 1-7 issue (the adoption issue), is a primer on tax increment financing (TIF) districts. There's a lot of debate about the topic in Jenks and talk about using a TIF district in Tulsa to enable west bank commercial development, and people seem to confuse TIF districts with tax abatements and other economic development tools. It's a bit dry, but I had fun writing the opening. For the rest of it, I tried to stick to a simple explanation of the facts -- answering questions like where Tulsa's TIF districts are and when they expire, and what state law governs the creation and operation of TIF districts. (The next issue, out Wednesday, will have a follow-up column dealing specifically with the controversy over the proposed River District TIF district in Jenks and how a Tulsa west bank TIF district might work.)

Also in the current issue, Brian Ervin has several great articles, including one about the owner of Mexico Lindo restaurants, who says he's an unwilling plaintiff in the lawsuit against H. B. 1804, Oklahoma's new immigration enforcement law. Brian was interviewed last Wednesday on KFAQ Mornings. (You can download the MP3 of Brian Ervin's interview here.)

If you're interested in ways of reducing the cost and environmental impact of homes and businesses, there are three open houses this Saturday afternoon that you'll want to visit, all part of the Tulsa Solar Tour:

  • Harvest Solar Energy office at 442 S. Utica, a converted bungalow that uses passive solar energy.
  • The Geer/Palmieri residence at 1352 E. 43rd Pl., new construction in the Brooktowne subdivision (former home of the John Zink Plant) with concrete-and-Styrofoam insulation, geothermal climate control and water-heating, and other energy-efficient features
  • The House of the Lifted Lorax, 4014 W. 42nd Place, home to Route 66 Ron and Emily, the Red Fork Hippie Chick: "West Tulsa cottage in the historic Red Fork neighborhood features a grid-tied solar power system, extensive use of simple techniques to reduce energy consumption, and several outdoor projects designed to reduce the homeowners' ecological footprint, including an organic garden, henhouse, and backyard apiary."

The homes are open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and the event is part of the American Solar Energy Society's 12th annual National Solar Tour.

Emily has more info, including a PDF flyer with details and directions for the buildings on Tulsa's tour.

Ron and Emily have a blog devoted to their efforts to reduce their house's environmental footprint. Even if you aren't very Green, you have to admire a home with an electric meter that runs backwards.

Brandon Dutcher has hit the nail on the head:

Conservatives favor low taxes, fiscal restraint, minimal regulation, and serious respect for private property rights.

Business leaders and chambers of commerce, on the other hand, often want higher taxes, lavish government spending (to pay for pet corporate-welfare projects), extensive regulation (to thwart competitors), and the ability to take other people's property (for purposes of development).

And that's why Chambers of Commerce, like the one in Tulsa and the one in Oklahoma City, often oppose tax cuts.

But, you say, the overwhelming number of Chamber of Commerce members are small businesses who wouldn't benefit from that lavish government spending, extensive regulation, or eminent domain abuse. These small businesses would benefit as the rest of us do from lower taxes, property rights, and reasonable regulation. So why do Chambers of Commerce wind up working against policies that would benefit all of their members, as well as the public at large?

It's public choice theory in action -- concentrated benefits and diffuse costs. While each small business pays for government overreach, the incremental cost of each piece of pork or new regulation isn't overwhelming enough for a small business owner to distract him from his focus -- getting his own business off the ground.

The bigger businesses in industries that would benefit from a larger, wealthier, and more powerful government have a financial incentive to use their resources to work for those ends. They use those resources to contribute to election campaigns and hire lobbyists. They can also afford to try to dominate Chamber internal politics. They can justify allowing staffers to use paid time to volunteer for Chamber activities or to run for Chamber office.

Gaining influence over the Chamber would have a couple of benefits -- access to millions in city hotel-motel tax funds and the ability to have a neutral-sounding, pro-business-sounding organization advocating (as an uninterested third party) for the program or policy that would make one's own business very prosperous.

Meanwhile, Mr. Small Business Owner writes his Chamber membership check each year, but otherwise doesn't pay much attention to what the organization is saying or doing in his name.

Small businesses, particularly small dining establishments, have an alarming rate of infant mortality. About one in four restaurants either close or change ownership in their first year. While that's not as bad as the oft-cited but mythical 90%, it's still worth celebrating when a restaurant survives to its first birthday.

That's particularly true when the establishment is a place as wonderful as the Coffee House on Cherry Street, at the corner of 15th and Rockford in the historic Cherry Street commercial district. Tonight from 7:30 to 11, they're having a party to celebrate the shop's first birthday, with live music, cake, and of course, some of Tulsa's best coffee. (They serve Topéca, roasted in a storefront in the Mayo Hotel.)

Along with Shades of Brown Coffee on Brookside, the Coffee House on Cherry Street has become one of my favorite hangouts (to the extent that I have time to hang out away from home). I often come here to work on my Urban Tulsa Weekly column, and it's my "office" when meeting prospective MIT students for their admissions interviews.

My friend Cheri Asher, the owner, has created a special place. She took what was the First Edition Bookstore, added a streetside deck and created an inviting gathering place.

Other midtown coffee houses have come and gone, including a very good one right down the street. Why has CHCS succeeded? The location is easy to find, in the heart of the Cherry Street district, and it's easy to stop by on your way to or from downtown. CHCS is open from early 'til late -- 11 p.m. weeknights and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. It's laptop friendly, with a strong WiFi signal and plenty of power outlets. There's the right mix of seating for big groups and small parties, for those who want to relax on a cozy sofa or confer over laptops around a table. There's a chiminea and a little fireplace out on the deck. (Sometimes you can even roast marshmallows over the fire.)

While many coffee houses offer only a selection of pastries, CHCS not only has wonderful brownies, cookies, and muffins, but also a tasty range of sandwiches, quiches, quesadillas, and salads -- in other words, food you could have for a meal, not just dessert.

The coffee's good, too, and the baristas are knowledgeable and fun to talk to.

The result is a place that's suitable for all sorts of occasions -- a business discussion, a chat between friends, dessert after an event at the PAC, a quick cup on the way to work or the way home, studying for exams alone or in a group, reading for relaxation, catching up on e-mail, spending several hours writing a column (as I do almost every week), or just hanging out and seeing who you might run into. It's rare that I don't bump into someone I know and have an impromptu chat about something. Tulsa needs places like the Coffee House on Cherry Street.

If you've not tried the Coffee House on Cherry Street, tonight would be a great time to check it out. Come by and congratulate Cheri on a successful first year and many years of success to come.

My friend Gwen Freeman has a name for Republican politicians who seem to spend more time and energy promoting policies that run contrary to the party's grassroots platform, rather than initiatives that advance the platform. She calls them "Republican Buts," as in "I'm a Republican, but I believe this tax increase should be seen as an investment, not a tax increase."

I thought of this as I read Joe Carter's fisking of the Club for Growth's critique of Mike Huckabee's fiscal record as Governor of Arkansas.

Now before I go further, I want to say that I'm an admirer of Joe's work at Evangelical Outpost. He covers a broad range of subject matter and does it all very well, from his thoughtful essays on the state of evangelicalism to regular features like Yak-Shaving Razor, his roundup of useful tips and tricks.

There are also things I like about Mike Huckabee. He is without a doubt a solid social conservative. He has a great deal of warmth and charisma, and he can light up a room better than his predecessor and fellow Hope-ian, because he lacks the evasive vibe that makes Slick Willie such an apt nickname. Huckabee could be a formidable nominee for the Republican Party, and I'm certain I could support him in a general election. I'm supporting Fred Thompson, but I haven't yet ruled out voting for Huckabee, depending on who is still in the race by the time the Oklahoma primary rolls around and who stands a chance of finishing first in Oklahoma's delegates.

But as I read Mr. Carter's very forceful point-by-point defense of Huckabee's record, it seemed as if he conceded many of CfG's factual assertions, but disagreed that they reflected badly on Huckabee. (The material in bold is his quoting of the CfG report.) A few examples:

He publicly opposed the repeal of a sales tax on groceries and medicine in 2002 (Arkansas News Bureau 08/30/02).

What the CFG fails to note is that Arkansas law prohibits deficits and requires that the state budget be balanced. Because 89¢ of every general revenue tax dollar in Arkansas is spent on education, health, and human services, repealing that sales tax without instituting another tax would have required cutting needed services.

He signed bills raising taxes on gasoline (1999), cigarettes (2003) (Americans for Tax Reform 01/07/07), and a $5.25 per day bed-tax on private nursing home patients in 2001 (Arkansas New Bureau 03/01/01).

Again it should be noted that 90% of the state budget is spent on education, health, and human services. While the CFG are tax radicals that believe that such entitlements as education and highways should be done away with, most residents of Arkansas understand that taxes on gas are the way that revenue for road repair is generated....

He proposed another sales take hike in 2002 to fund education improvements (Arkansas News Bureau 12/05/02).

He wanted to raise funds to improve education? What is he, a Democrat?

In Arkansas, 49% of the tax revenue comes from Sales/Use taxes. Such increases were required to meet the legal requirement to balance the budget. Now I'm sure the CFG believes that balanced budgets are a bad idea. But that is something they should blame on the citizens of Arkansas rather than on the Governor.

To those of us who have battled Republican-sponsored tax hikes at the local level, the snark that Carter directs at Club for Growth will sound familiar. Of course, CfG doesn't want to do away with education or highways, nor do they believe that balanced budgets are a bad thing, and Carter knows that.

By using a balanced budget requirement to defend Huckabee's support for tax increases, Carter raises an uncomfortable question. How did spending in Arkansas under Huckabee get to the point that a tax increase was the only way to balance the budget?

Fiscally conservative Republicans believe in balanced budgets, but we expect Republican officials to get to a balanced budget by controlling spending, rather than balancing the budget on the backs of the taxpayers. Surely Joe Carter understands that there is no causal relationship between spending more money on education and seeing an improvement in results. Surely he understands that even within the budget of an essential state government function like education there can be fraud, waste, and abuse.

Carter says that nearly 90% of the Arkansas state budget is entitlements. Is this a fact a true fiscal conservative would shrug off? Shouldn't there be some effort to find and eliminate wasteful programs and to eliminate waste within useful programs?

Back in the '80s, Newt Gingrich had a description of Sen. Bob Dole. It captured the attitude that kept Republicans in the minority in Congress for many years, a defeatist attitude that Ronald Reagan upended. Gingrich called Bob Dole a "tax collector for the welfare state." Dole's approach put Republicans in the unpopular position of calling for tax increases to pay for government goodies that the Democrats enacted and take credit for.

A good example of the right way to do meet crucial governmental needs is former Oklahoma State Rep. Mark Liotta's successful effort to increase dramatically the amount of money available for state roads and bridges. He did it without raising taxes, but instead by reprioritizing spending to free up money that could go to roads and bridges.

Here's one more quote that really irked me:

By the end of his ten-year tenure, Governor Huckabee was responsible for a 37% higher sales tax in Arkansas, 16% higher motor fuel taxes, and 103% higher cigarette taxes according to Americans for Tax Reform (01/07/07),...

A 37% increase annualized over 10 years is close to, if not less than, the annual rate of inflation. Why does the CFG not point that out. Are they intentionally being misleading? As Chris L. points out in the comments, this is a sales tax and thus not adjusted for inflation. I apologize for that error. I thought the CFG was using the percentages to be misleading, it didn't occur to me just how misleading they were willing to be. The CFG doesn't provide the baseline tax rate so let's go with the current rate of 6%. If Huckabee increased the rate by 36%, then he raised the sales tax .0384 cents during his ten years in office. By using the percentage rather than the actual total increase, they are able to make it sound much more nefarious.

While he acknowledges his error, Carter makes the mistake of minimizing the sales tax increase. Raising the sales tax rate by 37% means that government took a 37% larger bite with every purchase. If you were spending $1000 a year on state sales tax at the beginning of Huckabee's tenure, you'd be spending $1370 per year in constant (adjusted for inflation) dollars. (In real dollars, that $1000 in annual state sales taxes in 1996 becomes $1760 in state sales taxes in 2006.)

Regarding spending, Carter defends the 65.3% increase in the cost of Arkansas government over Huckabee's decade in office as necessary to accommodate the increase in population (13.7% from 1990 to 2000). According to the BLS, the consumer price index increased by 28.4% from 1996 to 2006. If the budget had grown by the combined increase in population and inflation, the budget would have increased by only 46.0%.

Taking a bigger share of the taxpayer's money to fund government is something that a fiscal conservative would only do as a last resort, after all other options for meeting the need have been exhausted. The only defense for Huckabee's support for tax increases in Arkansas is if he can show that he was out of options. But that isn't a case that he or his apologists are making, and that lends credence to the claim of Huckabee's critics that he is not a fiscal conservative.

Carter finishes by calling the Club for Growth's white paper deceptive and the CfG unworthy of our trust. I don't think he proved his case. Instead of showing that CfG's facts were wrong, he argued that they didn't matter. What he demonstrated instead is that he and his chosen candidate don't share the belief that the right way, the fiscally conservative way, to balance a budget is to control spending, not to raise taxes to keep pace with spending increases.

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