Another year, another State of the State, and another pre-state of the state protest.
Last year, Governor Kevin Stitt’s State of the State address marking the start of the legislative session included protests calling out the massive amounts of legislation filed targeting the LGBTQ+ community.
This year, protestors stood outside the House Chambers calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, as the state has invested millions of dollars in support of Israel and Gov. Stitt has long been adamant in his support of Israel.
Religious Freedom and Top 10
The State of the State this year began with “thanks to our Heavenly Father” and a recycled claim from last year’s speech that “the state of our state is the strongest it’s ever been”. Gov. Stitt also included bible verses in his speech, and while the State Capitol frequently has prayers before meetings, it is important to remember the beautiful religious diversity in our state. Actions such as these can isolate other religious communities and deter individuals from engaging with their lawmakers and visiting the People’s House. This growing push for more religion in schools and at the Capitol continually tests the boundaries of the Constitution and the right to freedom of religion.
Every year prior to the State of the State, the CAIR Oklahoma Government Affairs team releases a policy platform for the year, which outlines areas of concern gathered from community and legislative efforts. Our policy priorities tend to follow the areas in which Oklahoma ranks in the Top 10, namely poverty, lack of affordable housing, and health-related outcomes. Here at home, dozens of people are scheduled for execution, while many women incarcerated remain trapped behind bars due to charges related to fighting back against domestic violence.
In his speech, Gov. Stitt emphasized efforts of “walking with neighbors” and bringing “hope to the hopeless” while outside the room, dozens of protestors of all ages, religions, and backgrounds chanted in protest of Israel’s actions in Gaza, where thousands of children have been massacred with financial support from the state of Oklahoma.
Family Values and Poverty
It’s hard to see who Gov. Stitt sees as a neighbor when the bills he signs continue to sideline our most vulnerable populations. Last session saw the school voucher bill passed that would divert money away from public schools, which will impact the most vulnerable children.
Gov. Stitt further emphasized that having a stable family is the cure-all to end poverty and that the path to success is to “graduate high school, get a job, get married before having kids.” He goes on to say that “the best preventer of poverty is a married mom and dad in the home.”
Oklahoma boasts the second-highest uninsured rate in the nation. We also have one of the highest rates of pregnancy-related deaths and infant mortality rates. Family values will not save women when they are constantly ill-treated in the healthcare space and when they often lose employment opportunities when children come into the equation. Unfortunately, the statistics suggest that Oklahoma does not care for women and children, regardless of their marital or family status.
Furthermore, many employment opportunities are restricted by documentation requirements and English-only policies. Oklahoma underutilizes its workforce by neglecting qualified professionals who do not fit their ideal family type portrayed by Gov. Stitt.
DEI and Criminal Justice
The address returned to many Top 10 remarks from last year about GDP growth, cost of living, and energy. However, it then switched to the talk of colleges and universities and a need for the “free flow of ideas” and that schools need to teach kids “how to think and not what to think”. DEI, short for “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” has been the target of legislation and personal efforts by the Governor. Other government officials stoke fear and embolden “parent’s rights” in schools that seek to erase teachings around history, race, and sexuality; some even continue pushing for aspects of Christianity in all schools, public and private alike. These efforts defy previous Supreme Court rulings that attempt to preserve a separation of church and state and constitutional rights of freedom of religion.
In another inflammatory section of the address, Gov. Stitt reminded all that “Oklahoma is a law-and-order state” and criminals are not welcome here. Oklahoma continues to criminalize poverty, addiction, and health issues, and recent efforts at the legislature have reverted to harsher sentencing and over-incarceration. Furthermore, the incarcerated population continues to have an extremely disproportionate number of people of color. Despite recent years’ developments in reforming our criminal-legal system (mainly SQ 780), the only Top 10 mark we have here is an antiquated and unjust criminal code.
Insecurity and Native Nations
Gov. Stitt also highlighted concerns about “criminal organizations from China, Mexico, and Russia” in conjunction with marijuana businesses. However, this anti-China and anti-Mexico rhetoric has been echoed through previous and current filed legislation and puts all immigrant communities at risk.
The final major push of the address focused on Gov. Stitt’s disapproval of the McGirt ruling, which upheld the sovereignty of Tribal Nations in our state. He has continually dismissed the sovereignty and contributions of Tribal Nations, even going so far as to conflate these cases tried under the McGirt ruling as evidence of differential treatment based on race.
The State of the State emphasized Oklahoma as a business-friendly state while failing to mention our most vulnerable, underserved communities who are continually left behind. Gov. Stitt uplifted the importance of churches while commenting on “no more government programs” although nearly 15% of Oklahoma households are food insecure. Oklahoma has some of the worst food insecurity numbers in the nation, and these cannot be resolved by churches and non-profits alone.
The address managed to exclude diversity, target our Indigenous peoples, and fail to mention our most vulnerable communities. With over 1,000 bills being earmarked with concern, we expect this legislative session to be filled with more division between individuals, parties, and more. Oklahoma deserves to be Top 10 for all its people, not just the ones who serve the Lord.