Editor’s Notebook: Open Shop affirmed for state/local projects, Americans Elect gets ballot line for November, jobs lost in Poteau

From an Editor’s Notebook, progress for a significant state-level “open shop” law, a third party makes the ballot for November, and eastern Oklahoma legislators lament the loss of 200 good jobs at the cracker manufacturing facility in Poteau.
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This morning (Thursday, March 29), the Senate Business and Commerce Committee approved (in essentially a party-line vote) House Bill 3043, legislation deemed the “Fair and Open Competition in Governmental Construction Act.” The bill would affect public buildings and public works funded with state and local tax money. 

The proposal backed by Oklahoma’s chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) would prohibit state and local governments from requiring or prohibiting contractors from signing project labor agreements (PLAs) on construction projects filed with state/local tax dollars. (However, the legislation will not affect projects using federal funds.) 

In other provisions, the legislation affirms the state’s right-to-work provisions, protecting the rights of workers to join or not join labor unions. Similar strictures for neutrality would extend to grants, tax abatements or other incentive programs; and to bid documents, project specifications or other controlling documents, if the law is passed. 

Sponsors of the legislation include state Senators Bill Brown of Broken Arrow and Harry Coates of Seminole. 

The House author is state Rep. Leslie Osborn of Tuttle. The measure cleared the House Economic Development, Tourism and Financial Services Committee on February 15, in a 10-4 vote. It then passed the full House, 58-28 (along party lines, but with a bipartisan group of 13 members not voting) on March 15. 
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Oklahoma Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax announced today that Americans Elect has qualified for a political party line on the November ballot. David Boren, former U.S. Senator and a one-term governor of Oklahoma, helped the group gather some 90,000 signatures submitted to the state election board late last month. 

At that time, Boren – stressing he was acting in his personal capacity and not as president of the University of Oklahoma, his current job, thanks Americans Elect “for assuring that Oklahomans and Americans will have a third alternative in the Presidential Election this November if it is needed.”

“If it is needed,” the group intends, Boren said, to hold a nationwide online “convention” to pick a Democrat and a Republican “to run as a team for President and Vice President. It would be the first bipartisan national ticket in modern history.”

Ziriax said Americans Elect had garnered 68,424 valid signatures in his petition process. The organization filed a “Notice of Intent to Forum a Recognized Political Party” on October 3, 2011.

In contrast, the state Libertarian Party fell short of ballot status. Activists filed their notice of intent On May 3, 2011, then turned petitions in on March 1. However, only 41,070 valid signatures were turned in. 

To secure a ballot line, petitioners had to gather a number (51,739) equal to five percent of the votes cast in the 2010 general election for governor. 
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A bipartisan group of state legislators from eastern Oklahoma today expressed frustration with the announcement that Bremner Food Group is closing its Poteau cracker plant, leading to a loss of 200 jobs. 

A flurry of comments about the announcement came to news organizations this afternoon.

Senator Mark Allen, a Spiro Republican, said he got the word yesterday (March 28) the plant’s operations are moving to Kentucky. Sen. Jerry Ellis, a Valliant Democrat, said the announcement will have “a major impact on the local economy.” The salaries of 200 workers, her reflected, turn over five times in the local economy.

State Rep. James Lockhart of Heavener, a Democrat, said company officials had assured him last year’s workforce reductions were seasonal and temporary. In comments sent to CapitolBeatOK, he expressed disappointment the company “never contacted my office in regards to the present closings.” 

Ed Cannaday, a Porum Democrat serving in the House said he was frustrated to see the Legislature debating cut backs in business incentives, yet helpless “to find ways of protecting our jobs from being taken out of the state.”

Democratic state Rep. Brian Renegar of McAlester said, “The closing of Bremner comes at a time when the Oklahoma families are struggling with excessive fuel costs and overall increases in living expenses. Many times tax incentives go to businesses that ship jobs out of Oklahoma, while local small businesses like Bremner continue to struggle with a high cost of doing business.”

Curtis McDaniel of Smithville, another House Democrat, also decried the news, saying, “I pray for these families as they search for new jobs.”