Photo Credit: David Ware

Letter To Editor: Extinguishing Oklahoma’s Political Grease Fire

Broken Arrow, Ok May, 2 (The Oklahoma Post) –
By David Ware, (Retired Federal Officer)
May 9, 2022

Incumbent Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt, Senatorial Candidates Alex Gray and Jackson Lahmeyer, along with Oklahoma Congressional District 2 Candidate John Bennett have all declared political warfare against Oklahoma’s 39 tribes. Meanwhile, the tribes are doing their utmost to provoke a confrontation in an election year.

This does not bode well because no matter who prevails, they will have nothing more than a Pyrrhic victory. All Oklahomans lose in the process.

Gray is running for the seat being vacated by Senator Jim Inhofe. Lahmeyer is challenging incumbent James Lankford who is up for re-election. Bennett is vying for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Markwayne Mullin who is also running for Inhofe’s Senate seat. Not one of them displays any knowledge whatsoever of the United States Constitution which they pledge to defend if they should be elected and sent to Washington DC from Oklahoma.

The U.S. Constitution, Article VI makes Treaties the Supreme Law of the Land. It’s really as simple as that.

It isn’t about race. It’s not about applying the law to everybody equally. Indian tribes are still Sovereign Nations. Oklahoma’s politicians simply don’t understand that. It appears to be a case of deliberate, willful ignorance on their part.

So, in this environment, there is now a court challenge that tribal citizens should not have to pay income taxes on money earned while living and working on the reservation. That actually is a very worthwhile issue.

But this is absolutely not the time to initiate such a case.

It will take years to wend its way through the courts, going through the time-consuming appeals process and then to the U.S. Supreme Court. In no manner, shape, or form will it be resolved before the Oklahoma elections this year.

So why file it now in the middle of a contentious election season? Seriously!

What is needed now is for cooler heads to prevail. The State of Oklahoma and the U.S. Congressional Delegation from Oklahoma need to respect the tribes. However, the timing of the income tax case just provides fodder for claims that this was just economic all along rather than about preservation of culture, traditions, and language as elements of sovereignty.

The solution is very simple. Both sides need to quit talking ABOUT each other and sit down at the table together and talk WITH each other.

No matter who wins or loses in court, this is ripping Oklahoma apart at the seams unnecessarily. Yes, I repeat: UNNECESSARILY!

I fully understand why the tribes don’t trust a lot of Republicans. Of course they very conveniently forget that the Democrat Party was founded by the followers of President Andrew Jackson, the villain who used the Indian Removal Act to steal native lands in the southeast and force our ancestors over the Trail of Tears to Indian Territory. Neither party is blameless.

I mean that in two senses. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are absolved of all responsibility for aggravating the situation.

Specifically, the Oklahoma politicians and the tribal leadership are just making a bad situation worse.

Two years ago, I read the complete opinion of Trump-nominee Justice Neil Gorsuch in the case of McGirt v Oklahoma which affirmed the continued existence of the Muscogee (Creek) Reservation. Lower courts have since also affirmed the reservations of other tribes in Oklahoma.

I am not an attorney, but I am a retired Federal Officer and I do have some knowledge and training relating to the United States Constitution, the role of Congress and the application of federal statutes. There is a key factor that I am concerned is escaping attention right now.

Justice Gorsuch said that while Treaties SHOULD NOT be broken, he DID NOT say that they COULD NOT be broken.

He basically said that Congress did not disestablish the reservation. But, if the candidates for Senate and House of Representatives win their respective elections and then do succeed in passing legislation, which an erratic president may or may not veto, they should not count on even Justice Gorsuch to rule that unconstitutional.

Governor Stitt is relying upon Oklahoma state law and the Congressional candidates are depending upon federal statutes. At this point neither legislation nor litigation is in the best interest of anybody in Oklahoma.

All it takes is just to calm down, take a deep breath and talk to each other! That seems so simple, but it  appears to be going right over everybody’s head!

So, what if a candidate emerged to challenge the incumbent governor of his own party who pledged to work with, not against, the tribes? But, what if the tribes were suspicious and refused to trust anybody to keep his word?

Answer: The Perfect Storm Oklahoma currently faces!

The time for political rhetoric has passed! The more the candidates threaten the tribes, the more they just provoke the tribes to retaliate. The more the tribes retaliate, the more they
harden the resolve of the political candidates to eliminate their sovereignty.

This is a no-win situation for everybody!

Therefore, I call upon all of Oklahoma’s Congressional candidates, along with the current Governor who has a rather full plate right now dealing with a scandal of his own making, to get their priorities straight. I also call upon all tribal leadership not to keep claiming to be apolitical, while still picking and choosing Democrats they like.

The reality is that Oklahoma is a conservative state and will be red on the map again this year. The current crop of Republicans is just confirming that the tribes’ suspicions of them are well-founded.

Most of them, but not all.

Tribal leadership, however, needs to demonstrate a good faith reciprocity when they are approached by a unique candidate who really wants to sit down and chart a mutually beneficial path forward for all Oklahomans, both native and non-native.

As a keen observer, the only real peacemaker I have found in this is GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Dr. Mark Sherwood. He is challenging the corrupt and inept incumbent governor of his own party. That’s not the best way to win friends and influence rich and powerful people. But it is the way to have a grassroots effort to represent ALL Oklahomans!

The Five Tribes need to be more circumspect in issuing joint statements. It’s very simple to condemn a wrong-headed approach. It takes a lot more courage to take a stand and support a true friend.

This contentious campaign needs to be replaced with a spirit of openness and communication by all parties involved. Otherwise, Oklahoma will have two new Senators and at least one new Congressman, along with one re-elected Governor, throwing water on the grease fire, which will only make it worse and cause it to spread.

So, how do you extinguish a grease fire? By sealing off the air!

Oklahoma can be a nationwide model of harmony and good governance. Or it can continue to be a spreading grease fire intensified by well-intentioned but misinformed parties on all sides.

That which is intuitive is sometimes wrong. This applies both to grease fires and Oklahoma politics!

(Writing by David Ware, Retired Federal Officer; Letter To The Editor)

*David’s articles can also be found on his personal website.

(Editor’s Note ): None.

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