COMMENTARY: As foes of State Question 793 declare Armageddon – advocates say give choice a chance

OKLAHOMA CITY – The joust over State Question 793, the only initiative petition to reach the November 6 statewide ballot, is coming down to high-dollar advertising and hard-hitting soundbites on each side.
A long night of watching election returns could lie in wait for Oklahomans after the polls close on Tuesday, November 6, with S.Q. 793 one important decision among many. 

The measure would allow the practice of optometry, including purchase of eye care products, at retail locations, something now banned under state legal provisions. 

Powerful statewide associations of specialist care providers have assailed the measure, but a coalition of retailers, advocates of free enterprise and care providers with a different take on the issue have supported the proposition. 

Making the case for “No” 

One group, the Oklahoma Psychological Association, attacked the proposal in a release three weeks ago. The Oklahoma Oseopathic Association (OAA) also joined the opposition team, asserting the ballot measure “would result in a state constitutional change for the practice of optometry. The OOA specifically opposes the process of using an initiative to change the state constitution as an attempt to influence the delivery of health care.”

Each of those groups followed the lead of the state Optometrists group, the Oklahoma Association of Optometric Physicians, which has attacked the proposal non-stop for months in press releases sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations.
Recently, OAOP purchased television advertisement featuring a cancer patient who said the initiative would allow retail giant Walmart to control the practice of eye care in the state.

After supporters rebuffed that assertion, the optometrists group asserted the Yes on 793 campaign had attacked the cancer survivor who opposed the initiative.
The opponents work in a coalition deemed “Oklahomans against 793,” with well-connected spokespersons and political organizations playing key parts in the campaign. (

Making the case for ‘Yes”

Advocates of the measure have stressed for months their support of both good health care and free enterprise (

In a September statement, the initiative’s defenders told CapitolBeatOK that across America “optometrists in Walmart stores operate as independent practitioners who lease space.” These eye doctors work in almost every state of the country, and are, advocates of 793 contend, encouraged “to practice within the highest extent of their license. These doctors have the freedom to care for their patients how they feel is best.”

Those pressing approval work in the “Yes on 793” campaign. They grew more aggressive in these past few days, hoping to close the deal with voters. ( 
They got help from assorted national voices, including an editorial in The Wall Street Journal (

This weekend, in a November 3 commentary for The Oklahoman, Courtney M. Joslin and C. Jarrett of a national group of free-market advocates called the R Street Institute, wrote (,  “[T]he vast majority of states around the country allow optical centers to operate within retail stores without any issue. There’s no evidence of worse health outcomes or substandard vision care in those states. This dearth of data to support their claim suggests that Oklahoma optometrists’ real concern is not preserving the quality of eye care, but rather protecting their bottom line by preventing competition. 
“Ultimately, the real losers when it comes to this protectionist legal regime are consumers. Currently, 64 percent of Oklahomans older than 40 suffer from eye issues ranging from general vision impairment to cataracts. While some people can afford expensive eye care, many depend on the lower-cost care provided by vision centers operating in large retail stores and pharmacies. By locking retailers out of the market, Oklahoma is raising the price of eye care for everyone — including its most vulnerable and low-income citizens.”
Americans for a Modern Economy assert S.Q. 793 “would increase accessibility to optometric physicians.” The group, with an Oklahoma grassroots presence, said in a statement last week, “Eye exams, as well as eyeglass and contact lens, sales allowed in more locations would drive costs down.”
Similarly, the Oklahoma arm of Americans for Tax Reform, declared the proposition “would take eye care out of the hands of lobbyists and give financial power back to Oklahoma families.”
Chambers of commerce in the Sooner State’s two largest cities came out strongly for the measure in recent days. As reported in “The Okie,” the Tulsa Regional Chamber, with 2,500 members, declared its support on October 31. 
“The Tulsa Regional Chamber’s Board of Directors supports S.Q. 793 because it gives Oklahomans greater access to affordable vision care,” Tulsa Regional Chamber Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Elizabeth Osburn said. “Our state’s economy depends on a healthy workforce and access to affordable, quality care has been a priority of the Chamber-led OneVoice regional legislative coalition for several years. If approved by voters, S.Q/ 793 will modernize state policies and keep Oklahoma competitive with surrounding states.”

On Oct. 30 (Tuesday), the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber endorsed the measure.  Vice President of Government Relations and Policy Mark VanLandingham said his group “supports SQ 793 as it enhances accessibility for consumers and will enable businesses to grow within our community.”
Tippit asserted in a statement, “Passing 793 will allow more optometrists to practice where their patients are, which will increase competition, create jobs and provide more affordable vision care options. We’re proud to have the Chamber’s support on such an important initiative that will benefit all Oklahomans.” In press releases, the group describes itself as “a coalition of retailers, patients, health professionals and free-market advocates that believe in common sense reform to Oklahoma’s eye care laws. Patients in Oklahoma deserve greater access to vision care while opportunities increase for small businesses and communities.”

With record-setting early voting now passed — and traditional election day turnout likely to be high — the verdict on S.Q. 793 will be known some time after 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Regardless of what the majority of Oklahomans decide, the results will be consequential.