Tulsa City Hall: June 2010 Archives

UTW has an interesting cover story this week about Terry Simonson, chief of staff to Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr, written by Mike Easterling with photos by Michael Cooper.

The story begins with Simonson filing for mayor just before the deadline in 1998. I was there when it happened. I had gone to the County Election Board to file for the open District 4 City Council seat earlier in the afternoon, but learned I needed to have my declaration of candidacy notarized, so I drove over to Swinney's Hardware in Whittier Square, which had a notary in-house. When I returned to hand in my declaration, Terry was there with a couple of other people, at the other end of the counter, filling out his paper work.

Terry made a good run in 1998. He had solid grassroots support. He had been doing a good job as Republican Party chairman, taking over after a contentious period, bringing a degree of harmony and refocusing the party apparatus on the nuts and bolts of organizing volunteers and supporting candidates. In 1997, when Mayor Susan Savage and the Tulsa Metro Chamber proposed increasing sales taxes, hotel/motel taxes, and car rental taxes to build an arena, a natatorium, and a soccer stadium stadium downtown, Simonson, as GOP party chairman, was a leader of the opposition, debating Savage on TV. The measure -- known as the Tulsa Project -- was defeated resoundingly.

But by the time 2002 rolled around, Simonson had lost credibility with the grassroots. When arena supporters hijacked the Convention and Tourism Task Force in 2000, Simonson, who was co-chairman of the community outreach committee, raised no protest. Had he spoken out, we might have been able to keep the task force on track to produce a holistic approach to maximizing Tulsa's tourist appeal, rather than just a justification for yet another big-project tax package. When a near-repeat of the Tulsa Project was put on the ballot, with a more burdensome tax package than in 1997, Simonson didn't help to defeat it.

In general, the refreshing boldness that characterized Simonson in the 1990s seemed to be replaced by a cautious deference to the big players in local politics. I was one of a number of people who happily supported Simonson in 1998 who spent 2001 looking for a better candidate to back in 2002. The fact that Terry's most notable supporter was John Benjamin, one of my all-time least favorite city councilors and a prominent Chamberpot, only confirmed my gut feeling that Simonson was not the right man for the mayor's office. (My eventual pick, Bill LaFortune, turned out to be a disappointment, too. The first sign, within a couple of months of taking office, was his reappointment of Joe Westervelt to the TMAPC. The second was his allowing the city's vision summit, which had huge popular support and could have led to a PLANiTULSA-like process for a comprehensive vision for the city's future, to be diverted into a hodgepodge of unrelated public works projects.)

From the UTW profile it appears that some of Terry's boldness has returned. I believe he genuinely wants to address Tulsa's fiscal problems, but he and his boss have failed to build the kind of coalition needed to support radical change. The way you campaign affects the way you can govern. Bartlett Jr didn't talk about the fiscal mess that he needed to fix, because that meant attacking Kathy Taylor, whom he had endorsed for re-election. Instead he ran on a platform of not having contributed to Barack Obama's campaign. That didn't give him much of a mandate for the hard steps that needed to be taken. It appears that Bartlett Jr and Simonson have managed to alienate many of the leaders and officials who might otherwise have helped mobilize support for difficult reforms.

One last note: I don't really get the effort to investigate Simonson regarding the JAG grant. I wish there had been as much determination to hold decision-makers to account over the Great Plains Airlines fiasco or to pursue TDA's mistreatment of Will and Cecilia Wilkins. Those issues seem far more significant. I do, however, respect the Council's assertion of their rights as a coequal branch of government, and I'm happy that the councilors are united in defending their institutional prerogatives. It wasn't that many years ago that we had a significant number of councilors who felt that it wasn't their business to challenge the mayor on anything.

UPDATE 2010/06/18: It passed as expected, 6-3. Now it goes to Mayor Bartlett's desk, and we're about to find out whether he is the conservative he claimed to be during the campaign.

A month ago, I wrote about a proposal authored by Tulsa City Councilor G. T. Bynum adding "sexual orientation" to the city's human resources anti-discrimination policy. Tonight that proposal comes before the Tulsa City Council for approval, and six councilors -- the three Democrats plus Republicans Bynum, Bill Christiansen, and Chris Trail -- have voiced support. As I wrote last month, I thought we had a solid majority of conservatives on the council, but it appears I badly miscounted. Even the three councilors who voiced opposition were tentative in their remarks, as if they knew they should be against this, but couldn't articulate the reasons.

Bynum has presented this proposition as if it were a matter of "live and let live" -- not intruding into the private life of an employee or applicant. Bynum is either naive or disingenuous. The ultimate use to which these propositions are put is to silence those who hold traditional opinions of homosexual behavior. The only permitted opinion about homosexual behavior will be approval and celebration.

Today's (2010/06/17) edition of the comic strip "The Meaning of Lila" shows where all this is going. An employee complains to his company's HR manager about the comments of a coworker.

HR: I'm sorry, Boyd, but there are no laws protecting sexual orientation in Ohio. If Brittany made racist comments or sexually harassed you, we could take some action.

Boyd: You mean Brittany can say anything she wants about gays?

HR: Legally, yes.

Boyd: So there's nothing I can do?

HR: Come back when you're 40, and we can look into age discrimination.

What horrifying thing could Brittany have said to prompt Boyd to complain about her to HR?

She expressed opposition to gay marriage.

In Monday's strip, Brittany hears Boyd, her cube-mate, talking about attending a gay coworker's wedding in Iowa. She says, "Gays can't get married." When Boyd told her that Iowa allows it, she replied, "How did that sneak by?"

On Tuesday, Brittany says to Boyd, "Don't get me wrong. I'm totally cool about gays. I just don't think you should get married."

That was provocation enough to prompt Boyd's complaint to HR that Brittany was making "homophobic comments."

The company in the strip didn't have the kind of rule that G. T. Bynum is pushing, so the character that voiced her opposition, in very mild terms, to gay marriage couldn't be punished for her opinion.

Yes, I know it's only a comic strip, but it's a reflection of the real-world effort by those who want to tear down sexual morality to push aside those who stand in their way, however meekly.

And as I pointed out last month, these rules aren't just about silencing opinions in the workplace but are weapons that can be wielded against religious coworkers any time a homosexual employee feels slighted.

The real effect of Bynum's push to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation is to add another pretext for someone to sue the city. An unsuccessful job applicant, a city employee passed over for a promotion, someone demoted or dismissed for poor performance -- any of them could claim "it's because I'm gay" and file a formal complaint.

With such a complaint, the focus shifts from the performance, attitude, and capabilities of the disgruntled employee or applicant to the moral opinions of the manager or supervisor who made the decision. The supervisor would be hauled up before the Civil Rights Commission and Exhibit A in the hearing would be the paperback New Testament on her bookshelf or the poster on her cubicle wall of a basket of kittens with a verse of scripture beneath. The supervisor's membership in a church that teaches that homosexual behavior is sinful (e.g., Bynum's own Roman Catholic Church) would create a presumption of guilt that the supervisor's hiring decision or disciplinary action was based in bigotry.

After the system makes an example of a couple of city supervisors, they'll learn to cut their "out and proud" homosexual employees extra slack, just to avoid the hassle of justifying themselves to the Civil Rights Commission. This sort of thing is already happening in Europe and Canada. Ultimately, "anti-discrimination" laws to protect homosexuals are used to persecute those who hold to views of sexual morality which within living memory spanned all major religions and all civilized cultures and which are still held by the vast majority of Oklahomans.

It should also be said that the proposal backed by Bynum puts the city in the position of taking a moral and religious stand that makes abnormal sexual behavior morally equivalent to being born with a certain skin color or coming from a certain ethnic background.

It should be noted that, while the new rule would not affect private business in Tulsa -- yet -- it does set a precedent that will make it easier for activists to push for similar rules in private companies. Part of Bynum's justification for his proposal is that other cities and major companies are doing it.

If you object to our "conservative" city councilors moving Tulsa city government further toward socially liberal political correctness, please speak up today. Call your councilor at 918-596-192x, substituting your district number for x. So, for example, G. T. Bynum in District 9 may be reached at 918-596-1929; District 8's Bill Christiansen is at 918-596-1928; and District 5's Chris Trail is at 918-596-1925. You may also be able to reach councilors Christiansen and Trail through their businesses, Christiansen Aviation and Ike's Chili Parlor.

Bynum also has some budget proposals to bring forward tonight. I'm happy about that, but budgets come and go. What Bynum is doing with this sexual orientation proposal is unlikely to be undone -- public policy is like a ratchet, and once it moves in a liberal direction, it's very difficult and costly, if not impossible, to move it back.

MORE: If you're unfamiliar with the "ratchet effect," it's a phrase originated by Keith Joseph, Margaret Thatcher's political mentor, in reference to the seemingly inevitable shift toward socialism and away from economic freedom in Britain, but the term's use has been generalized to social policy by the observation that movement away from traditional values is almost never reversed. There's an excellent essay in the Red State archives on the ratchet effect and its application to morality and society. Here's an excerpt:

In addition to the skill of ratcheting the nation's policies continually leftward, the Left possesses a remarkable facility in permanently fixing their aims into place. Through the illegitimate exploitation of the courts, a multitude of important issues has been effectively eliminated from the public square of legislative discourse. The Left's success in removing critical social and cultural matters completely off the table and beyond the reach of `government by the people' is a perversely admirable achievement. Re-reading the Johnson and Ponnuru excerpts leaves one incredulous at the overwhelming nature of the Left's triumph. No matter how difficult the admission is for conservatives, the Left has run the table.

It is tempting to attribute the one-way street of social liberalization to the inevitable and uncontrollable forces of modernization and secularization. Others of a more suspicious cast of mind believe that resorting to explanations of invisible social forces is nothing more than a smoke screen to conceal the fingerprints of human agency in the Left's success. The latter is far closer to the mark as argued in The True and Only Heaven by Christopher Lasch and The Secular Revolution by Christian Smith. The dubious assumption that modernization equals secularization has been advanced and employed by "various interest groups...in the service of their own quest for power, usually at the expense of religion and religious institutions." [Quote courtesy of First Things]

Any councilor voting in support of this leftward shift is either not really a conservative or too naive to be trusted with higher office.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa City Hall category from June 2010.

Tulsa City Hall: May 2010 is the previous archive.

Tulsa City Hall: July 2010 is the next archive.

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