Lack of competition in state legislature largely springs from the stringent requirements imposed on tax bills.
In the upcoming Oklahoma midterm elections, there is a lack of declared officials running for the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Senate. Currently, there are only 41 candidates running for 24 Senate seats. Three of these open seats have candidates that are running unopposed. In the House of Representatives, seven seats have unopposed candidates and one seat in southeastern Oklahoma has no candidates at all. The question must be raised of why there are so many few candidates running for office. There is currently a wide variety of reasons, from low pay and citizen backlash to enforced term limits and government standstill.
While all of these reasons are valid, I believe the biggest problem with our legislature and lack of candidates concerns the power of the minority. It is extremely difficult for lawmakers to get anything accomplished because, under the Oklahoma constitution, all tax increases have to reach 75 percent approval, or they will not be passed. This high bar makes it ambitious for any tax-raising measure to pass. This deadlock can be a source of frustration for officials attempting to raise money for important needs, such as education. In a statement about the issue with the Tulsa World, Republican representative Pat Ownbey stated simply, “Basically, a minority of people (in the House) are driving the train, and that is what is frustrating.”
The House of Representatives has been throttled by this requirement throughout the years. A new tax increase, passed March 26, was the first tax increase passed in the House of Representatives since the 75 percent requirement was put into place 26 years ago by State Question 640. Because of this requirement, the government has been ground to a standstill.
Some may argue this requirement is important and removes the issue of the tyranny of the majority. The legislature will be forced to come to a consensus on important issues, such as tax raises. The majority of legislators are not able to disregard their fellow legislators because they have the strength and numbers to do so. Tax raises are one of the most impactful forms of legislation that a government can produce, so they should be treated with extreme diligence and total support. By removing this requirement, you are removing the rights of legislators who were duly elected and fall outside of the majority. Some fear that removing this supermajority requirement will allow the majority to quickly run bills through without due process.
I believe the best solution to clearing this gridlock, while not subverting members of the legislature, is House Joint Resolution 1032, proposed by Representative Harold Wright. In this resolution, Wright states, “Any revenue bill originating in the House of Representatives may become law … if such bill receives the approval of three-fifths of the membership of the House of Representatives and three-fifths of the membership of the Senate and is submitted to the Governor for appropriate action.” This resolution provides an important compromise between both positions in that it allows important revenue bills to pass through the legislature more easily while not completely destroying the power of the minority in the process. Under this bill, both legislatures are now required to have 60 percent of the vote rather than the extremely daunting 75 percent that is in the current Constitution.
By fixing this issue in both legislatures, we can alleviate the concern of potential candidates that the legislature is at a constant standstill and it is impossible to get anything done. There are still many issues and reasons why the legislature has few declared candidates, but by fixing this crucial issue, a major roadblock for many potential candidates can be removed, and people will regain the right to choose their own representatives rather than be given one.