COMMENTARY: Smart-ALEC? OK Gov. Mary Fallin is no Thomas Jefferson

OKLAHOMA CITY – Last week, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), meeting in Chicago, presented their Thomas Jefferson Award to … Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin. 

I admire ALEC as a contrarian force to voices at the Council of State Governments and the National Conference of State Legislatures (worthy groups, but government-growers).

I’m not sure what my friends at ALEC have been drinking, but I don’t understand their selection of Fallin for an award named after the Sage of Monticello. 

At the ALEC meeting, Fallin said America has too much government, too much regulation, too many taxes, and is not frugal. Thomas Jefferson would agree. 

Still, at ALEC and in comments to her colleagues in the National Governors Association (NGA), of which she is now chair 

Fallin laid out plans to grow government with programs that will “align” public education with the needs of business and economic growth.

Her “America Works” proposal sounds a lot like “School to Work” – a status quo blast from the past. As she unveiled the program, Fallin did not mention, even once, school choice as a means to improve student performance and increase our nation’s educational competitiveness. 

At ALEC, Fallin quoted Jefferson’s words about the wisdom inherent in limited government: “A wise and frugal Government shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.”

Rhetorically, Fallin “gets it.” She pointed out, early in the 2013 regular session of the Legislature, that state government tax revenues have increased every time Oklahoma has reduced income tax levies

But, as governor, Fallin has increased the size of state government every year. State spending has risen about $800 million on her watch. 

In her most recent State of the State address, the chief executive laid out health-related proposals that might yield decent outcomes, but which sounded like a variety of ways to grow government.  

I want to believe my governor will work to improve health insurance access for the working poor but continue to oppose “ObamaCare” Medicaid expansion. The trouble is, I am an informed observer, and I am fretting about that and many other Fallin policies. 

If I was Ronald Reagan, I might say: “I knew Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was a friend of mine. And Mary Fallin is no Thomas Jefferson.” 

Reagan for the most part observed the Eleventh Commandment, rarely speaking ill of his fellow Republican politicians. I, however, am — among other things — a pundit, not a politician. And, of late, I feel less like a Republican every day.

So, some punditry: The only income tax reductions during the Fallin era are those already scheduled for implementation, cuts inherited from her predecessor and pre-2011 legislators.

In the course of the 2012 legislative session, Gov. Fallin went from advocating a gradual phase-out of the income tax to supporting something worse than the status quo, namely, increased income taxes on some Oklahomans. 

Her allies, and even some out-of-state analysts, placed the blame for that epic fail on departing House Speaker Kris Steele. However, Steele and House Republicans were the ones who admitted – after crunching numbers and listening to tax analysts – there were tax hikes in what Fallin and Senators advocated. 

Late in the 2012 session, a House proposal would have actually cut taxes or, for a minority, at least held taxpayers harmless. But the clock ran out, in part because Fallin and the Senate would not move on the House alternative.

History aside, it bears repeating: The only tax cuts to take place in the last three years were already scheduled for implementation, i.e. inherited from Fallin’s predecessor. Further, the only pro-active legislation reducing rates signed during her tenure is crafted not to take effect until after the start of her presumptive second term. 

Recently, I attended an ice cream social for children benefitting from Oklahoma’s historic program to benefit special needs children. It was a pleasant event held at the headquarters of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. 

Regrettably, I had to leave before the arrival of a person I respect, the last Oklahoma governor to cut taxes significantly, an astute politician and decent fellow who signed major school choice legislation.

Yeah, it was a shame I didn’t get to say howdy to former Gov. Brad Henry. The two-term Democrat consistently gave “Supply-Side” answers when Capitol reporters asked him why he thought cutting state income taxes was a good idea. He signed tax cuts in three of his eight years in office.

I’m just sayin’. 

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.