Archives for category: Oklahoma

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, reviews Dana Milbank’s new book about the crackup of the Republican Party. As I have often said, Milbank is my favorite columnist in the Washington Post.

Thompson writes:

Dana Milbank’s The Destructionists: The Twenty-Five-Year Crack-Up of the Republican Party is based on his quarter of a century of political reporting. From 1992 to the present the Republicans won the popular vote only once. There were calls for diversity in their party in order to reach more voters, but it went in the opposite direction. In the 1990s, the false and polarizing propaganda of Rush Limbaugh, G. Gordon Liddy, Sean Hannity, and Fox News took off, as Newt Gingrich became the key political driver of an ideology that would dismantle legislative norms and institutions.

This piece only has room for a brief overview of the 90s. I assume that readers will see and will be shocked by the cruelty and lies of that decade, and how they foreshadow today’s assaults on democracy.

Milbank starts with the suicide of the Clintons’ aide, Vince Foster. Rush Limbaugh, who called the 13-year-old Chelsea Clinton “the White House dog,” claimed, “Foster was murdered in an apartment owned by Hillary Clinton.”

The prime donor of Gingrich’s political training organization, the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) was Mellon Scaife. Scaife then joined with Christopher Ruddy, who would become Donald Trump’s friend and informal advisor, to found Newsmax. They said Vince Foster’s death showed that Bill Clinton “can order people done away with … God there must be 60 people who have died mysteriously.” (By the way, such words didn’t keep Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating or Congressman J.C. Watts from helping to lead GOPAC.)

Brett Kavanaugh, who assisted in Ken Starr’s investigations of Bill Clinton and helped draft the Starr Report, knew as early as 1995 that “I am satisfied that Foster was sufficiently discouraged or depressed to commit suicide.” But he spent two years investigating, thus legitimizing, what Milbank called “all of the ludicrous claims.” In Kavanaugh’s files, that were released two decades later, were 195 pages of articles by Ruddy and Limbaugh’s transcript on the case.

Milbank writes that once Gingrich became Speaker of House in 1995, he “threw the weight of the speakership behind the Foster conspiracy theory.” That year, Ruddy, Scaife and Newsmax, would spread the lies further.

(By 2016, Rep. Pete Olson said that Bill Clinton admitted to A.G. Loretta Lynch that “we killed Vince Foster.” And Trump said the charges that Foster was murdered are “very serious.” And Milbank concluded that Justice Kavanaugh was not the most ideological of the Supreme Court’s majority, but he was the most political.)

Milbank explains how rightwingers encouraged violence. After the Waco tragedy of 1993, G. Gordon Liddy said of the ATF agents, “Kill the son-of-a-bitches.” Sen. Jesse Helms said “Mr. Clinton better watch his guard if he comes down here (North Carolina). He’d better have a bodyguard.”

Moreover, even though the Fish and Wildlife Department didn’t have helicopters, Rep. Helen Chenoweth said they were “sending armed agency officials and helicopters” to enforce regulations and “if they didn’t stop, I will be their “worst nightmare.”

In 1995, the Oklahoma City bombing of the Murrah Building killed 168 people; Timothy McVeigh said his terrorist act was designed “to put a check on government abuse of power.” But some rightwingers claimed the bombing “was really a botched plot” by the FBI.

Also, Limbaugh asserted, “President Clinton’s ties to the domestic terrorism of Oklahoma City are tangible.” And Gingrich responded by defending the “genuine fears” of rural America regarding the federal government, and doubled down on repealing of the assault weapons ban.

Milbank goes into detail recounting how Gingrich “changed forever the language of politics.” Gingrich quoted Mao saying, “Politics is war without blood.” And he repeatedly made charges such as the Democrats “‘trash’ America, indict the president and give the benefit of every doubt to Marxist regimes.”

In 1977, a year before Gingrich was first elected, Milbank reports that a Gallup poll found that 40% of Americans had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Congress. After 15 years of his “relentless” attacks, that number was down to 18%. Gingrich then undermined congressional norms that encouraged compromise and constructive actions. During his legislative career, committee and sub-committee meetings dropped by nearly half. By 2017, they had dropped by almost 75%. The ability of Presidents to get laws passed was also undermined. Presidents’ legislative victories dropped from 73% of the agenda under Nixon. At the beginning of the Clinton term, he had a victory rate of 87% but by 2016, President Obama’s rate was 13%.

Another pivotal change occurred after the 1996 defeat of Bob Dole. Republican aide Margaret Tutwiler said, “We’re going to have to take on [board] the religious nuts.” A couple of decades later, White evangelicals were only 15% of the US population but about 40% of Trump’s voters.

And with the arrival of Karl Rove’s anti-gay “whisper campaign” against George W. Bush’s opponent, Ann Richards, personal attacks escalated dramatically. Another example of campaign lies was the attack on Sen. John McCain’s mental stability, and the claim he had “fathered an illegitimate black child.” Actually McCain had adopted a daughter from a Bangladesh orphanage.

Although I had been horrified by the behaviors of the rightwing, Milbank’s details provided me a much better understanding of how the views I’ve held allowed me to remain excessively optimistic. I used to believe that it was deindustrialization and the loss of economic opportunity (accelerated by Reagan’s job-killing Supply Side economics) that mostly fed the racism which propelled Trump into the White House. Now I’m convinced by Milbank’s evidence that it was racism – not economics – that spurred Trumpism.

Also, I had misremembered Mitch McConnell’s record in the 1990s. In 1993, McConnell joined Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms in defending the Confederate flag on the Senate floor, saying, “My roots … run deep in the Southern part of the country.” And he stood before a huge Confederate flag at a meeting of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

In 1997, McConnell said in a fundraising letter, “Help to protect our country from a potentially devastating nuclear attack.” And he alleged, Clinton’s White House was “sold for ILLEGAL FOREIGN CASH”

I’m assuming that readers of this blog will quickly understand how the Alt Facts spread by politicians like Gingrich are linked to today’s crises. By 2018, only 16% of Republicans trusted the media over Trump. In 2020, people who said they were “very happy” dropped to 14% compared to the previous low of 29%.

Two years later, the attempted kidnapping of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer showed how the worsening rhetoric was putting people in danger. In 2019, hate crimes increased by 30%, and over 18 months in 2020 and 2021, the FBI nearly tripled its domestic terrorism caseload. FBI director Christopher Wray said, “The violence in 2020 is unlike what we’ve seen in quite some time.” And who knows what the numbers are in the wake of Trump’s response to the subpoenaing of the Secret documents?

The 25-year rightwing siege and Trumpism has put our democracy at risk. Being from Oklahoma City, I’m increasingly worried about the chances of bloodshed. And I’m doubly concerned after reading The Destructionists.

In 1994, Vice President Al Gore explained, “The Republicans are determined to wreck Congress in order to control it – and then wreck a presidency in order to recapture it.” Now, Milbank concludes. “A quarter century after a truck bomb set by an antigovernment extremist … Republicans have lit a fuse on democracy itself.”

My friend in Oklahoma’s baby died in utero at 7 months. They forced her to carry until her body expelled it. She ended up with peritonitis, nearly bled to death and can no longer conceive. Expect this in IN too.

Tweeted by @Fifi_Larue

The Oklahoma State Board of Education lowered the rating of two districts—Tulsa and Mustang—for offering lessons or training that violated state bans on “critical race theory.”

Let’s be clear: hardly anyone in the state of Oklahoma knows what “critical race theory” is.

The board punished the two districts because they asked students or teachers to reflect on the meaning of racism.

In Mustang, one teacher complained.

Tulsa is a majority-minority district, but it made the mistake of teaching something other than lily-white stories about America., where racism might have long ago existed. Teaching about racism today is intolerable.

Representatives for the Tulsa and Mustang school districts did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday. In a statement to the Oklahoman, Tulsa Public Schools denied that the training stated that people of a certain race were inherently racist, saying it would “never support such a training,” but the system defended the need for implicit bias training.


“In Tulsa, we are teaching our children an accurate — and at times painful, difficult, and uncomfortable — history about our shared human experience,” the district told the newspaper. “We also teach in a beautifully diverse community and need our team to work together to be prepared to do that well.”


Charles Bradley, the superintendent of Mustang Public Schools, said in a statement published by News 9 that he was “shocked” by the board’s demotion, which he called a “harsh action.”


H.B. 1775 prohibits teaching that any individual “bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.” It also bans any course material that would make a student “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”

Message: Never teach the truth!

Governor Kevin Stitt played fast and loose with federal COVID relief funds. He tried to convert them to vouchers, which was not their purpose. Although the federal government was slipshod in handing out Payroll Protection Program (PPP) billions, it paid attention to misuse of state relief funds.

U.S. Department of Education auditors recommended clawing back more than $650,000 in misspent federal coronavirus relief funds from Gov. Kevin Stitt and reviewing an additional $5.5 million in purchases, according to a federal audit released Tuesday.

The questioned spending came from Stitt’s Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet program, which gave $1,500 grants to low-income families for educational purchases like computers and school supplies during the pandemic.

Auditors pinpointed questionable expenditures like arcade games, Christmas trees, smart watches, sofas, televisions and refrigerators totaling $652,720. The extraneous items made up more than 10% of all purchases. The $5.5 million is the total of purchases the auditors did not analyze and could contain unauthorized items.

The tally of noneducational items families purchased with program funds was higher than previously reported in a joint investigation The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch published in May.

The auditors also found poor record keeping for another relief program managed by ClassWallet called Stay in School. The program distributed tuition grants for up to $6,500 to students already attending private schools during the pandemic.

Auditors also found Oklahoma failed to follow federal guidelines for four of Stitt’s five educational relief programs, the report shows.

State officials gave the Florida-based company ClassWallet a no-bid contract to administer the Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet program and distribute grants to families.

Oklahoma could not provide supporting documentation that students who received grants were actually enrolled and registered at private schools, according to the audit.

Keep reading for more details.

Friends in Oklahoma sent the charging document that lays out the evidence against the founders of the Epic Charter School. They are accused of skimming off millions of dollars. The charging document explains how they did it.

Is this happening in your state? The biggest charter frauds seem to occur in virtual charters like the A4 scam in California, which siphoned off hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars before it was discovered.

The online charter sector not only has abysmal academic records, but it’s ripe pickings for scammers. The founders of Epic charter schools in Oklahoma are charged with multiple counts of embezzlement, racketeering and other crimes.

Oklahoma Watch reports:

Epic Charter Schools’ founders, who were arrested Thursday, shifted millions of school dollars to company credit cards, which were used to make political campaign donations, fund a lobbyist and pay personal expenses like vacations, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation alleges in court documents.

Following a yearslong investigation into alleged embezzlement of taxpayer funds, the co-founders of the state’s largest online school were arrested Thursday, along with the longtime chief financial officer, court records show.

David Chaney, 43, Ben Harris, 46, and Josh Brock, 40, were booked into the Oklahoma County Detention Center Thursday morning. Each is charged with racketeering, embezzlement, obtaining money by false pretense, conspiracy to commit a felony, violating the Oklahoma Computer Crimes Act, submitting false documents to the state and unlawful proceeds.

Investigators said the men ran a complicated criminal enterprise using the online charter school and a for-profit company, Epic Youth Services.

The scheme has cost the state more than $22 million, according to the OSBI.

The charges involve co-mingling of funds, excessive and unnecessary management fees, use of Oklahoma tax dollars in California, political influence, concealment of profits, submission of false invoices and the illegal use of employees.

One of the school’s largest recruitment tools, the learning fund, was used to conceal illegal purchases, agents alleged. For the learning fund, Epic makes at least $1,000 available to each student annually in a virtual account. Parents can allocate those dollars for curriculum, laptops and extracurricular activities.

Parents don’t receive the money directly. Instead, they request a purchase from Epic and the school transfers the money to Epic Youth Services, which pays the vendor.

Chaney and Harris used a separate bank account to make learning fund purchases, and investigators found Chaney and Harris didn’t return unused learning fund dollars.

The account received nearly $145 million between 2015 and 2021. More than 50 times, Chaney, Harris and Brock transferred public funds from the learning fund account to the private bank account for Epic Youth Services, which was then used to pay a lobbying firm. Capital Gains, a lobbying firm run by Robert Stem, a longtime friend of Harris’, was paid more than $500,000.

Please open the link to read the rest of the story. Campaign contributions go a long way towards avoiding accountability.

Thank goodness for independent media! Oklahoma Watch published an investigative report that detailed a secret slush fund that supplements the salary of the state Secretary of Education.

(This story was produced in partnership with the Oklahoma nonprofit newsroom The Frontier.)

Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed legislation that would have required cabinet members to file public reports to disclose their finances.

If Stitt had signed the bill last month, Oklahomans would learn that Secretary of Education Ryan Walters makes at least $120,000 a year as executive director of a nonprofit organization that keeps its donors secret. Walters is also paid about $40,000 a year by the state, according to state payroll data.

The nonprofit, Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, has refused to disclose its largest donors.

But a joint investigation by The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch has found that much of the organization’s funds come from national school privatization and charter school expansion advocates, including the Walton Family Foundation and an education group founded by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch.

As Secretary of Education, Walters serves as Stitt’s top advisor on public education policy and is the governor’s liaison for dozens of state boards and programs.

Walters’ outside employment with a nonprofit funded by advocacy groups could be a conflict of interest, said Delaney Marsco, senior attorney for ethics at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit group that focuses on government transparency and accountability.

“If you are responsible for making decisions in a certain area of the government and you are being paid by an outside organization that has an interest in that, that absolutely can be a conflict of interest,” Marsco said. “If you are a public servant, your duty is to the public, and anything that kind of calls that into question, even raises the appearance of a conflict of interest, is a problem.”

Under Walters’ leadership, Every Kid Counts Oklahoma was the public face of Stitt’s program that distributed $1,500 grants to families in 2020 funded with $8 million in federal coronavirus relief money. The money was intended to buy tutoring and educational supplies. But a lack of safeguards allowed parents to use some of the funds to buy TVs, gaming consoles and home appliances, an investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier found. Emails and other recordsshow that Walters helped secure the no-bid contract with a Florida company to distribute the money. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General has opened an audit into how the state used those funds.

Walters, who declined multiple interview requests, is now running for state superintendent, an elected position overseeing the state Department of Education and a budget of over $3 billion. Unlike in federal elections, candidates for state office in Oklahoma are not required to fill out financial disclosures until after they are elected.

Please open the link and read on.

Governor Stitt had a libertarian theory. If you give out government money to families for education, they know what’s best. Turns out, some do and some don’t.

Jennifer Palmer of Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier wrote:

Just get the money to families. That was the driving force behind Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plan for $18 million in U.S. Department of Education relief dollars intended to help students during the coronavirus pandemic.

Other states used federal money to train new teachers or support programs for deaf and blind students. But in Oklahoma, a history teacher with political ambitions helped a Florida tech company win a no-bid state contract to rapidly distribute $8 million to families with little government oversight. Another $10 million went to private school vouchers.

With few guardrails, some families used Oklahoma’s share of federal Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Funds to buy Christmas trees, gaming consoles, electric fireplaces and outdoor grills, an investigation by Oklahoma Watch and The Frontier has found.

Months later the teacher, Ryan Walters, was on a national stage as Stitt’s new Secretary of Education, calling the effort a success.

Oklahoma’s contract with the Florida-based software company ClassWallet allowed families to quickly purchase educational supplies online through grants funded with federal relief money through the Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet program. At a virtual conference for a national school reform group in 2020, Walters touted the Bridge the Gap program as a model for how to start a school voucher program with “minimum staffing requirements and maximum quality control.”

“We didn’t have the government agency personnel with the background experience to do this and, quite frankly, we felt like there could be a more efficient way to do this outside our government agencies,” Walters said.

From the start, the strategy led to a lack of oversight on purchases, possibly violating the terms of the federal grant and state purchasing requirements, according to federal regulators.

While most parents spent the money on educational supplies, Oklahoma Watchand The Frontier found nearly half a million dollars in questionable purchases. The news organizations found at least 548 TVs purchased through ClassWallet worth $191,000.

Families also bought pressure washers, car stereo equipment, coffee makers, exercise gear and smart watches.

Isn’t a power washer a school supply?

The Oklahoma legislature just passed a bill guaranteeing the free speech rights of professors and students in Oklahoma higher education. It has been sent to Governor Kevin Stitt for his signature.

The sponsor of HB 3543, Rep. Chad Caldwell, (R)-Enid, said the goal is to protect students who may not have the same viewpoints as their classmates and professors.

“We shouldn’t have a professor worried about getting fired if they say this or that,” Rep. Caldwell said. “We shouldn’t have a student that has to worry about, if I don’t take a Republican view or a liberal view that I’m going to get an ‘F’ on a paper. That shouldn’t be something that’s going on at any of our colleges or universities.”

The legislature apparently forgot that they banned the teaching of “critical race theory” in 2021 and discouraged teaching the facts about the horrific Tulsa Massacre. Kathryn Schumaker, the Edith Kinney Gaylord presidential professor in the department of classics and letters at the University of Oklahoma, wrote at the time that the law banning discussion of racism would make it impossible to teach history honestly on campus.

She wrote in The Washington Post:

The law is aimed at eradicating the supposed scourge of critical race theory (CRT) from state classrooms and campuses, a cause that has become a right-wing talking point over the course of the past few months. Oklahoma educators and academics have denounced the law, noting that it will deter teachers from discussing Oklahoma’s fraught racial past of Native American dispossession, lynching and racial terror.

For example, as we mark the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre in late May, state political leaders are making it clear that they would like Oklahomans to leave the past behind. In 2001, a state commission report called for reparations and public recognition of the legacy of the massacre. But this new law undermines efforts to reckon with our collective past, and it will chill classroom discussions of this history. H.B. 1775 instructs educators to emphasize that although the perpetrators of the Tulsa Race Massacre did bad things, their actions do not shape the world we live in — even though White rioters murdered scores of Black Tulsans and destroyed more than 1,200 buildings in the Black Greenwood neighborhood, annihilating decades of accumulated Black wealth.

Meanwhile, a seventh-grade science teacher at Jenks Middle School was fired for refusing to remove a rainbow-colored flag from a display of flags in his classroom.

Oklahoma suffers from a severe case of schizophrhrenia or hypocrisy.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the free speech law is used to defend teaching critical race theory in higher education.

Thanks to John Thompson of Oklahoma for the updates from his state.

Despite the support of Governor Kevin Stitt, a bill authorizing vouchers failed in the Oklahoma State Senate. Most rural Republicans support public schools. Pastors for Oklahoma z children actively opposed vouchers.

The Oklahoman reports:

A polarizing Oklahoma bill that would dedicate $128.5 million in taxpayer dollars for private school costs failed in a late-night vote on the Senate floor Wednesday.

In a 24-22 vote, a majority of senators nixed Senate Bill 1647, called the Oklahoma Empowerment Act, effectively defeating the bill for this legislative session.

One of the most high-profile pieces of legislation this year, the bill stalled after two hours of debate and two more hours of waiting as Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, the bill’s author, tried to flip a few Republican holdouts in a last-ditch effort to advance the measure…

Had SB 1647 advanced, it would have faced a difficult road in the House, where Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, said last month he wouldn’t give the bill a hearing.

McCall’s stance hasn’t changed, House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols told News 9 this week.

“Here’s the bottom line: I’m in favor of parents being able to choose,” said Echols, R-Oklahoma City. “I’m in favor of finding a way to have more parental involvement, but no, this bill is a waste of time this year.

“Speaker McCall’s not going to budge on this. It’s not going to be heard in the House…”

McCall said the bill is a non-starter for rural lawmakers, whose districts have far fewer private-school options. Even with the bill no longer drawing money out of the education funding formula — the multi-billion-dollar pot of state funds supporting public schools — it still struggled to attract enough rural Republicans to pass.

Senate Democrats almost unanimously opposed the measure. State schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, a Democratic candidate for governor, celebrated the bill’s failure while claiming it would have “effectively destroyed public schools in Oklahoma.”