My convictions on education, justice

When I make a public appearance, written or spoken, I try to convey my philosophy so that those who consider my words understand my beliefs. Therefore, as I plan to write a periodic column for The Oklahoman, I want to identify some of my beliefs.

First, I want to quote Alexander Fraser Tytler, a 19th century Scottish judge, philosopher and teacher who wrote: “A democracy is always of a temporary nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From then on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits to the public treasury, with the result that any democracy will eventually collapse due to lax fiscal policy.

I believe this to be true and I insist on the need for an effective two-party system so that limitations with priorities can be voted on. Here is the dilemma – how much and for what? In this area, there is a lot of room for disagreement, but it remains a fundamental basis for making our political decisions.

I am registered as a Democrat because for most of my life most local candidates were Democrats. However, at this stage, I could be registered as an independent, but this would deprive me of the possibility of voting in the primary elections. My position suggests the desirability of an open primary system so that each resident can select the best candidate, regardless of political affiliation.

I have three priorities, the first of which is education, which is the only lever that will open the door to opportunities for each inhabitant. This priority is economically very justifiable, since the gross product of the state is simply the total of what each resident produces. Therefore, every child born has the ability to add to the total gross product of the state, and this contribution really depends on education and preparation. This means that we should pay particular attention to children from low-income families, as they are completely dependent on local schools. As the gross state product increases, each resident receives more public funding, which results in more economic activity. Funding for education at all levels is important, with higher education receiving adequate levels of support.

Another priority is medical care, to which everyone needs some access. Obtaining such care will require ongoing assessment of how to provide such care. We cannot afford emergency rooms to provide standard care to our low income population. There are examples, such as Variety Health Care, where access to most specialties is available to residents regardless of their economic status. Clearly, mental health care is one of Oklahoma’s biggest shortcomings, and that impact is reflected in prisons and prison populations. Economically and morally, mentally ill residents should be treated outside of the justice system.

My third priority is to address incarceration and the fact that Oklahoma has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country — and possibly the world. This does not reflect the true character of the people of Oklahom, but reflects the approach of a justice system based on punishment, as opposed to rehabilitation and preparing to return to a productive life. The impact of incarcerated parents produces a steady stream of new prison perspectives, as we know that 70% of children of incarcerated parents will themselves be imprisoned. Currently we have approximately 130,000 children who have an incarcerated parent, which suggests that approximately 100,000 of these students are simply waiting for prison. This is an incredibly poor use of public funds, family structure and our state’s future economy. It is morally indefensible.

In conclusion, it will be these priorities that will influence my thinking and be reflected in the words that I will write.

Gene Rainbolt is an Oklahoma businessman and philanthropist. His column will occasionally appear in Viewpoints.

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