Citing ‘devastating’ effects if S.Q. 744 prevails, Henry steps up opposition

Saying he would “be involved
in many aspects of the campaign,” Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry altannounced  Tuesday, September 21 he would serve as chairman of
the One Oklahoma Coalition, leading the fight against State Question
744. Henry said, “This may be the most important state question in the
last 20 years.”

Henry had previously stated he will vote no, the announcement dramatized
intensifying opposition to the initiative. The measure secured ballot
status after a petition drive organized by the Oklahoma Education
Association and financed by out-of-state groups, including the National
Education Association.

Stressing a personal history of support for, and family ties to, public
education, including his wife Kim’s teaching career, Gov. Henry said he
supports finding more resources for public schools. However, “simply
put, State Question 744 is the wrong way to go about it.” Henry said he
“has major concerns” about the ballot proposition, slated for a popular
verdict on November 2.

Henry recounted, “I’ve helped craft some very difficult budgets. If we
pass S.Q. 744, it will devastate the budgets of all other areas of state
government” beyond K-12 schools. He underscored particular concerns he
has for the effects of the measure, if approved, on funding for “our
world-renowned early childhood education,” higher education and

Henry argued, “it would be a mistake to tie the hands of future
legislators” with the proposition, which would mandate total state K-12
spending meet the regional average.

Beyond the other areas of publicly-financed education he believed the
proposition would hurt, he pointed to “devastating” impacts on funding
for corrections, roads and bridges, and other “critical needs” of

The governor, a Democrat who is nearing the end of two terms as chief
executive, characterized the decision as “a slam dunk, from a policy
perspective, a no-brainer.” However, from a personal perspective the
decision was “very difficult” because he has “friends on the other

The governor said he would “be deeply involved, and I hope to raise the
level of debate.” He said more money for public education is desirable,
“but we must do it in the right way.” When a reporter asked if his wife
agreed with his stance, Henry replied they had discussed the matter, and
“Kim feels exactly the same way I do.”

In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK, Henry declined to
criticize advocates of the measure for retaining a large and
controversial contribution from the NEA, money which foes of S.Q. 744
assert violates ethics strictures against “PAC-to-PAC” campaign
donations. He reflected, “Both sides are going to spend a lot of money.
That doesn’t really matter to me.”

When CapitolBeatOK asked him to respond to advocates who believe
“something dramatic” must be done to elevate government education
funding, Henry replied, “I understand their perspective, and I have
fought side-by-side” with some who support the measure. However, “this
is not the right way to do it. After this campaign, we all need to come

Henry said he is not certain what the measure would mandate in increased
expenditures for K-12, “whether it’s $800 million or $1.7 billion. I do
know it would be devastating to state government.” Henry argued that
agencies that have already taken 15-20% budget cuts in the last few
years can not absorb another round of “double-digit cuts.” He believes
S.Q. 744, if passed, would be “devastating not only to state government,
but also to our economy.”

Henry said he spoke out forcefully now because, “I think it’s
important.” He asserted that “most officials who have been involved in
writing a state budget” would agree with his stance.

Echoing the views of other foes of S.Q. 744, Henry said the measure
would require increased taxes or dramatic “slashes in the budget.” Due
to constitutional provisions requiring legislative super-majorities or
popular approval for higher taxes, he said budget cuts to other agencies
were inevitable if the initiative prevails.  

Supporters of S.Q. 744 quickly responded to the governor’s comments,
delivered in the Blue Room of the state Capitol late this morning.

Tim Gilpin, in a statement sent to CapitolBeatOK by “Yes on 744,” said: 
“I am disappointed that my friend, Brad Henry has made this decision. I
am not surprised though, because I knew that the office holders in this
state would be against S.Q. 744 because it will shake up the power
structure in Oklahoma City and hold our leaders accountable for the
promises they make to our students.”

Gilpin, who was appointed to the board by the governor, said, “Brad
Henry’s first and best campaign promise was to bring Oklahoma up to the
regional average in teacher pay. I believe that voting yes on State
Question 744 will allow us to finally make good on this and other
promises made to the children of Oklahoma.”

Anticipating criticism of his stance, Henry said he did not expect a
“backlash.” He told reporters and members of the Oklahoma Silver-Haired
State Legislature a story he heard “years ago, on National Public Radio,
when I was campaigning for Attorney General Robert Henry. Ed Koch, then
the mayor of New York City, told a reporter that if a voter picked out
any 12 issues, and agreed with him on eight, that voter ‘should vote for
me. If you agree with me on all 12, you should go see a

Henry said advocates of S.Q. 744 “know that public education is my top
priority. They still recognize what I’ve done for public schools. We
just disagree on this issue.”