This week, State Representative John Bennett, R- Sallisaw, said state agencies were terrorists at the State Capitol.
Bennett said state agencies were misleading constituents when it came to covering the most vulnerable. “We’ve got state agencies getting the money are telling constituents ‘hey the sky is falling’,” Bennett said. “We’ve got agencies telling our citizens they’re going to cut the services to the most vulnerable.”
He said by cutting services, agencies were committing an act of terrorism, arguing we should not “negotiate with terrorists.”
Governor Mary Fallin condemned Bennett’s statement Thursday morning. “It is unacceptable behavior for a lone legislator to call state agencies and their employees terrorists,” she said. “I appreciate all of our state employees who serve our state every day.”
Fallin said both of her parents were state employees.
Melvin Dikeman, a Tulsa resident, said Bennett’s statement “attempting to force sight” on holding government agencies accountable for actions that produce burdens against the taxpayer.
Dikeman said Bennett’s statement reflected the feelings of those Oklahomans burdened by taxes. He said Bennett should not apologize for the statement.
For his part, Bennett said the agencies were treating citizens as pawns.
“It’s not right and somebody needs to stop them and that’s where we come in,” Bennett said.
Bennett pointed to his legislation, the “Protect Seniors and Disabled,” act that require Advantage Home and Community based waiver program to be fully funded. The bill also required senior nutritional programs to be funded.
Bennett argued the Department of Human Services could fund programs such as these if they chose to, but he said they didn’t want to reach into their administrative budget.
“Our senior citizens have sacrificed and paved the way for this generation and the ones coming behind it,” he said. “It is only right they are shown respect and appreciation, and that we extend to them the same level of commitment they’ve shown to us.”
House Bill 1073 came before a letter was sent out by the Department of Human Services Aging Services to recipients of the Advantage waiver. The letter blamed a ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court for a $69 million funding hole in DHS.
As a result, the agency said, it had to cut the Advantage Waiver Community program beginning effective December 1st.
Should the state legislature act to restore funding for the Advantage waiver before December 1, 2017, the letter said, DHS would notify the recipient as quickly as possible.
Officials at DHS declined to comment on Bennett’s statement.
On Thursday, state Representative Leslie Osborn, R-Mustang, criticized Bennett’s statement.
“In the last few months, members of my political party and caucus have called women “hosts”, suggested Immigration and Custom Enforcement, ICE, pluck children from schools to save taxpayer dollars in education, and now have called our hard-working, underpaid state employees terrorists,” she said.
Osborn said state workers were the people responsible of taking care of Oklahoma’s foster children who keep our streets safe, educate children, and treat the mentally ill. She called on anyone to apologize to ensure these statements in the past didn’t represent Republican leadership.
“In special session we have heard the impending tales of horror to come due to lack of state funding; the mentally ill’s loss of services, closure of rural hospitals and nursing homes, and the end of programs to assist the developmentally disadvantaged,” she said.
Osborn said Republican lawmakers refuse to work with lawmakers the aisle to properly fund services. She said she was embarrassed to be a part of the issue.
“Today I hope that Republican’s across the state will stand together and say enough,” Osborn said. “That they will cry out for civil discourse and legislators that work across the aisle and rotunda with honest conversation instead of shenanigans, name calling and political gamesmanship.”