Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Common Sense from Paine to Frates

What do the venerable Thomas Paine, author of the 1775-1776 pamphlet, Common Sense, and modern day Oklahoma Citian, lawyer, former Republican legislator, and author, Kent F. Frates have in common?

They both had/have common sense. Read on, concerning the upcoming June 24 primary elections in the state. I promise you, Mr. Frates' observations will literally "leave you rolling on the floor laughing," be you a Republican (as he is) or Democrat (as I am) — as well as being chilled sober, all at the same time. If you are a "modern-day" Republican, as opposed to a Henry Bellmon or a Frank Keating Republican, you will probably not find his opinions so humorous. Latter-day Republicans will probably not like his torpedo salvos of Common Sense into the upcoming elections, even though those salvos hit the mark every time.

About Kent Frates. I've known Kent since I worked in his law firm in the mid-to-late 1970s, back in the day that I was still a registered Republican. In that time, Kent was a Republican member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, representing the Nichols Hills area, and was once the (then Republican) minority leader in the house. I recall helping post yard signs in that time for his reelection. I recall very well Kent's adroit sense of humor on a daily basis, his keenness of mind, and his willingness to be his own brand of what it meant in that time to be a Republican. That willingness has evidently not changed. He received his undergraduate degree at Stanford and his law degree at the University of Arizona. For his full resume, click here for a PDF file showing the same.

But Kent is much more than what those links and biography show. He is a modern-day Thomas Paine Common Sense kind of guy. If you doubt that, read on to read his June 2014 issue of Common Sense, his periodical newsletter. All boxed highlights are those shown in the original and I have done no editing. In the newsletter, it is stated,
Common Sense is solely published by Kent F. Frates. If you would like to receive or discontinue this publication, or if you have any submissions for or comments about this publication, please write to: Kent F. Frates, P.O. Box 54799, Okla. City, OK 73154. Reproduction in any form of this publication is a violation of copyright law and is prohibited without permission from Kent F. Frates, publisher. Copyright © June 2014.
Mr. Frates has kindly allowed that I reproduce the lead article in the June 2014 Common Sense publication, below.

Letter from the Publisher ...

Dear Friends,

      Oklahoma's 2014 Primary Elections will take place on June 24th. As witnessed by the 2012 election, the state has become overwhelmingly Republican. Not only did Romney carry Oklahoma but, the Republicans swept every statewide office, all of the congressional seats and, dominated the state legislature. Fifty years ago almost every election was decided in the Democratic Primary, now it is the Republican Primary where the real contest occurs.
      It would be nice to analyze the Republican Primaries and, identify candidates that are worthy of support. Unfortunately, the voters in this election are faced with choices that range from weak to disastrous. Often the voter will have to exercise a fool's gambit by choosing between two distinctly undesirable candidates. The situation is reminiscent of an election for Governor in Louisiana between David Duke and the incumbent, Edwin Edwards. Edwards who had been charged with crimes and was later convicted, faced Duke, a proud member of the Klu Klux Klan.
A popular bumper sticker read "Vote for the crook, it's important", and that's what the people of Louisiana did. Although, it may not be quite as dramatic, we have some Republican Primaries where our choices are almost as unpalatable as the Louisiana governor's race. The problem is — that's all we've got. It's not a question of who you would like to have in office but simply a question of which one of these bozos would do the least harm. With that in mind, here is the Common Sense Election Special.
      Senator James Inhofe is too old, too narrow-minded and, too dumb to be reelected but, he will be anyway. He has drawn no serious opposition and the majority of the Oklahoma voters buy into his so called conservatism. He will thus retain his senate seat so that he can roam Washington D.C. like a carnivorous dinosaur, defending the military industrial complex of which he is a proud part.
      Inhofe is a professed fiscal conservative, until it comes to defense, highways and, any pork barrel project he likes. Certainly defense and roads are important and deserve high priority in the spectrum of government spending but, they cannot be held sacrosanct if the federal government is ever to achieve fiscal sanity. Inhofe's love for every new tank, plane or, ship, no matter the cost, can't possibly help balance the budget but, it will fatten the pocket of the defense contractors who love to support his campaign.
      Inhofe is also the self-appointed leader of those that dispute the fact that the manmade emissions of greenhouse gasses affect climate. His opposition is not based on science but, on an inherent prejudice against the scientists who have the temerity to raise this issue and paranoia about a left wing global warming conspiracy. Like many ignorant people, he does not want to be bothered by the facts and chooses instead to belligerently support his views by attacking the messenger. His arguments are laced with biblical references, misinformation and ridicule. What he really fears are some of the proposed solutions to global warming, like cap and trade. So, rather than looking for a better solution, he tries to deny the existence of the problem. Inhofe has four candidates facing him on the Republican ballot — all are obscure unknowns with no financial backing and no campaign. This is a discredit to the Republican Party in Oklahoma. At least, he votes correctly a lot of the time.
      In the race for Tom Coburn's vacated United States Senate seat, there are three significant Republican candidates who are far right, further right and, furthest right. Congressman James Langford is by any measure a conservative on every issue but, he isn't pure enough for T.W. Shannon who also doesn't quite measure up to Tea Party standards, according to Randy Brogdon. Recently, the three candidates took part in a faux debate before a conservative forum. From the looks of the crowd, the gathering was composed almost entirely of older white people. One of the first questions asked was the position of each candidate on the U.N. All three quickly agreed that the U.S. should get out of the UN. Brogdon, in order to distinguish himself as the rightest of the right, also opined that the U.S. should throw the UN out of the country. These guys are living in another century, yet one of them will be your United States Senator, whether you like it or not. It moves me to shed a crocodile tear for Tom Coburn, an intelligent, independent and thoroughly committed public servant who is unfortunately stepping down from the Senate.
      Has the gene pool run out in Oklahoma? What ever happened to leaders like Bob Kerr, Howard Edmonson, Fred Harris, Henry Bellmon, David Boren and Frank Keating? No matter what their politics, these men were all intelligent, informed leaders, willing to address important issues. It is depressing that we have apparently dumbed down our state to the point where candidates like Langford, Shannon and Brogdon are the best we have to offer. But the Legislature wants to be sure we don't make third graders actually learn to read. It might threaten the future of the political class.
      Brogdon seems to have no real chance of being elected. As between Langford and Shannon, however, Langford appears the clear choice. When elected to congress, there were concerns that he lacked the background and experience to serve effectively, given that his life's work had been as an administrator at a Baptist Youth Camp. He was also a Baptist preacher and there was a danger that he would be another aggressive theocrat. In fact, Langford has served, for the most part, effectively. He has proven to be a savvy politician and in some cases, has actually voted for the good of the country, instead of pandering to the extreme right. His position on financial matters is conservatively sound. He is ultra conservative on social issues but does not appear to be obsessed with forcing his views on every citizen through legislation. In most years, Langford would be an extremely poor choice but the level of his opposition makes him look good, in spite of himself.
      Shannon has a reputation for mediocrity, and a penchant for political pandering. As Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, he supported and appeased the extreme social conservatives, while at the same time playing to the Chamber of Commerce crowd. Most recently he advocated making the gross production tax loophole permanent for the benefit of the oil and gas business — a move clearly calculated to help raise funds for his senate race. In spite of being a lawyer, he also tried to pass legislation politicizing the judicial process after the Oklahoma Supreme Court declared one of his pet bills unconstitutional. He also advocates doing away with the E.P.A. If you have any doubt about Shannon's politics, consider that he sought, obtained and, publicizes the endorsement of Sara Palin, the national joke that won't go away.
      Based on recent poles [sic, polls], it appears that Langford and Shannon are running neck and neck and that their race is headed for a runoff. If elected, Shannon may well become a right wing demigod following in the footsteps of Ted Cruz. At least Langford won't embarrass the state of Oklahoma, too much.
      A sidelight to the Senate campaign is the injection of hundreds of thousands of dollars from "dark money" groups backing both Shannon and Langford. These are entities formed under our obviously flawed election laws where contributions may be made totally anonymously. This sets up a situation where these groups can attack a candidate with vicious irresponsibility and the person they are supporting can profess total ignorance. This despicable charade cheapens the election process and avoids accountability.
      The Supreme Court's wrongheaded decision in Citizens United case allows an unlimited flood of corporate money into campaigns, but surely the voters are at least entitled to know where the money is coming from. Maybe if a candidate accused his opponent of taking money from the Russian Mafia, it would force a disclosure of the real source of funds. Congress and the Oklahoma Legislature should act to force a full disclosure of all campaign contributors.
      When it comes to Governor, the outcome looks like a foregone conclusion. Mary Fallin defines mediocrity. Yet she is a master politician, having been elected to the offices of state representative, lieutenant governor, congresswoman and governor. Her success is based on an ability not to commit to anything controversial and to be able to change sides effortlessly, if public opinion demands it. Witness her position on accepting an expansion of Medicare and taking federal funds associated with Obamacare and, then, flopping to the other side when the political wind blew the wrong way. Also, her about face on Common Core. She was for it, until she was against it. She exemplifies that old political saying: "I have friends on both sides and I am sticking with my friends." Although, in a rare instance of independence, she did stand up against the unfortunately successful attempt to effectively destroy Oklahoma's third grade reading test.
      Fallin has also mastered the special interest game which gives her the ability to raise large amounts of campaign funds. She is a cheerleader and errand girl for the Chamber of Commerce and the oil business, as witnessed by her recent push to lower taxes and to perpetuate the tax loophole for the oil and gas business in the gross production tax. Her latest "successful" lowering of the income taxes resulted in a 0.25% reduction so small to the ordinary tax payer as to be insignificant. Her pro-business stance is good for the state but her propensity to dodge controversial issues leaves a leadership void at the top.
      At least, in the governor's race, we have a choice. Chad Moody is a pure Libertarian, running as a Republican. A criminal lawyer who has personally observed the failure of the War on Drugs, Moody is advocating the legalization of marijuana. He also opposes the government's interference in the rights of citizens. As his campaign sign states "Forget faith, family and, freedom (Fallin's Slogan) and vote for God, grass and guns." Common Sense urges you to vote for Chad Moody, our only endorsement in this lackluster primary election.
      In the race for U.S. Congress in the fifth district you can't tell the players without a program. The seat was left open when Langford decided to run for the Senate. There are six Republicans, three Democrats, one Libertarian and one Independent. Four of the Republicans — Shane Jett, Clark Jolley, Steve Russell and, Mike Turner — and one of the Democrats, Al McAffrey, are current or former state senators or representatives. Patrice Douglas serves on the Corporation Commission and was formerly the mayor of Edmond.
      All of the Republicans are pro-life, against gun control, and hate Obamacare. Although none of the candidates seem remarkable, Jolley has been an effective Legislator. Chairman of the Senate of Appropriations Committee, he has considerable clout. He has also authored a number of significant pieces of legislation. He easily wins the web page war by addressing a wide spectrum of issues on a specific basis, something that more candidates ought to try.
      Douglas has been an effective fundraiser and has a sizable war chest. Turner has put $500,000 of his own money into his campaign. Russell touts his military service in Iraq with patriotic ads showing him in uniform. By reputation, Douglas has been a very mediocre Corporation Commissioner. Turner is religious zealot and has been a showboat in the Legislature.
      So far, it has been a low profile campaign and it's hard to get a line on the candidates and differentiate one from the other. It does appear the Jolley may be the most competent.
      I have a personal history with the gross production tax. As a newly elected legislator, I was immediately faced by an attempt to raise the gross production tax from 5% to 7%, led by Populist Governor David Hall and an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. However, the fact that a majority of the legislature was Democratic is deceptive. Many of those Democrats were extremely conservative, particularly in fiscal matters and, the issue was hotly contested.
      Along with the other Republicans and a significant number of Democrats, I fought hard against the purposed increase, which passed by the narrowest of margins. At the time, oil sold for $3.40 per barrel and drilling was moribund. Based on the circumstances, raising the tax was not justified.
      Today, the oil and gas business in Oklahoma is in far different condition. We are experiencing a shale boom fired by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. This is, of course, good for the whole state. It does not in any way, however, entitle oil companies to a tax break but, that's what the Legislature gave them.
      A few weeks ago, the leaders of three of Oklahoma's biggest oil companies gave the legislature its orders as to exactly what to do regarding the extension of a tax break from the gross production tax. The Legislature then fell in line like so many sheep, only slightly modifying the industry's mandate and passed a bill permanently installing a tax subsidy. The historic tax rate of 7 percent was changed to 2 percent for the first 36 months of production on all wells. It had been temporarily 1 percent for 48 months on horizontal wells, ostensibly to encourage drilling. The increase from 1 percent to 2 percent is chump change to the oil companies, but means all of us other chumps will have to pick up the difference to pay for government services like the highways the oil business drives their trucks on and the schools their employee's children attend.
      The fallacious argument made in favor of this tax break by the oil companies was that they would drill elsewhere if the tax break was not extended. This is in spite of the fact that they own thousands of acres of valuable leases in Oklahoma. All of these leases have a term, typically three years. There is no way, based on the rate of the gross production tax that the oil companies would let these Oklahoma leases expire without drilling every viable prospect.
      George Kaiser, the straight talking billionaire oilman from Tulsa, put the tax break in its proper perspective by pointing out that the tax is a tiny part of the expense of drilling and producing wells. In Kaiser's opinion not a single well that promised to produce economic quantities of oil and gas would be curtailed if the tax went back to 7 percent. But, I forgot, Kaiser is a Democrat. He even supported Obama so the fact that he is smart, fair and, civic minded must be ignored. To the credit of the oil business, Kaiser's position was supported by a number of independent operators, both Democrats and Republicans. No matter, the Legislature showed who butters their bread or, maybe even furnishes the bread.
      Let's just wait and see how loud the oilies complain when the next subsidy for wind or solar is proposed. Why settle for a level playing field when you control the governor and the majority of the Legislature. Good government be damned.
      In this issue, you will find a preview of book being written by Thom Schott and Robert Sweitzer. Thom and I survived a rap sheet full of stupid antics together at Stanford. On the other hand, Robert, as far as we know, is sane.
      Also, included is an homage to Thomas Paine who inspired the name for this humble journal. He incited a revolution. If only this version of Common Sense could do as well.
                                              Vote early and often.
                                              /s/ Kent

Kent's words have far greater elegance than mine could ever have, and the sad truth is that we — citizens who have or claim to have some measure of sanity — have ourselves at least partially to blame for the ascendency of those who have become leaders in the Republican party today — and the same is true for Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, whoever, that sees a menace encamped on the horizon yet takes no action until the menace-takeover is already accomplished. Like Yoda said, "Blind we are if creation of this clone army we could not see."

Kent closed his piece by saying, "Also, included is homage to Thomas Paine who inspired the name for this humble journal. He incited a revolution. If only this version of Common Sense could do as well."

An unexpected and wonderful thing would that be. Who can say? It might just be that Kent is rather analogous to another famous Star Wars character, identified in this message to him by Princess Leia: "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope."
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