And when is it an absolute waste of time, money and resources?
In the coming weeks, Lawtonians will face a serious issue: continue down a path of progress towards a brighter future, or yield power to a small, merry band of misfits who will stop at nothing to pervert our democracy.
WHAT ACTION MERITS THE UNDOING OF AN ELECTION?
Jay Burk was just re-elected, having run unopposed in his ward. Lawton Mayor Stan Booker is up for re-election next year. Have their actions thus far been so egregious as to warrant undoing the will of the voters by removing them from office? The misfits I mentioned — a group calling themselves the Freedom Defense Alliance — seem to think so.
FDA members claim, among other things, that the current mask mandate ordered by the Lawton City Council was the “tipping point” and/or “the final straw” — the point at which they felt compelled to embark upon their current course of action, claiming the mayor ignored the will of the people for the sake of his own views. They erroneously claim the city council has compromised public safety by “defunding the police.”
I’m going to address just a few of their talking points here, as I make the case for staying the course — the course voters chose to take during our last election cycle.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
Opposition to masks outside of America is practically nonexistent. Only in America does a portion of the electorate view science and experts with skepticism and disdain. Only in America does a portion of the electorate form a belief on the importance of mask-wearing that’s not shaped by science, but by politics.
As COVID-19 swept through nation after nation around the world, it arrived in America at an incredibly inopportune moment in time — a moment marked by the culmination of decades of racial strife and inequality, the rise of ultra-nationalism, a growing chasm dividing the political spectrum, a free-falling economy, endless debates over the funding of rural hospitals, which have surmounted to what any a reasonable individual would consider a health care crisis.
A global failure to contain the spread of the virus and general failure to effectively treat those who became infected created a pandemic. The pandemic collided with an already heated political and philosophical climate in America, creating an unprecedented conflagration which, in turn, caused the melting pot that is America to boil over into the mess we now find ourselves facing — a mess we have yet to clean up.
Mask-wearing has become politicized, its efficacy called into question by those who claim the very idea that the government (any government) would take such measures to protect the health and safety of its citizens is an affront to their freedom. From there, they often argue, lies a “slippery slope,” at the bottom of which rests every manner of conspiracy theory — forced vaccinations, Bill Gates and his microchips, the QAnon panoply, rainbow-horned unicorns and other fantastical things. It’s all there for the taking, and it’s a complete waste of time to even discuss here. Sadly, many of these long-debunked theories have gained traction with very real political candidates across the country. Sadder still, the vitriol doesn’t end with masks.
Across the country, largely peaceful protests for police reform have drawn fierce opposition from these groups, as “defund the police” simultaneously became a rallying cry for protesters and a unifying force for these groups, who stand in opposition
— not in opposition to police reform, but in opposition to the perceived political affiliation of the protestors themselves. The political fights over police reform — the outright mudslinging and misinformation, which were largely absent in states like Oklahoma — have erupted in cities like Norman and Lawton.
CLOSER TO HOME?
Last week, FDA members announced their intention to organize and collect signatures to recall Mayor Stan Booker and Councilman Jay Burk.
The group’s Facebook page, which also identifies them as ‘Southwest Oklahoma Freedom Fighters,’ states: “...we are working towards gathering enough folks to make our voices heard above those who have spoken LOUDER to our City Council members and Mayor. We were busy working while the progressives were taking over. Let us undo what has been done to the city of Lawton [...] The atmosphere is hostile towards the non-maskers at many of these businesses. I do not shame those who want to wear them, and we deserve the same respect from them. I do not believe they should have the right to refuse service. It is a form of discrimination at this point and inexcusable!”
One of these “progressive” ideas to which the group refers as having “taken over” Lawton is the City Council’s July 17 ordinance mandating masks following a lengthy discussion with doctors from Comanche County, all of whom urged the council to act. Yet, according to the group’s statement for recall, “[Booker’s] passage” of the mask mandate is “subverting the will of the people in favor of his own arbitrary opinion.” Their perversion of the facts should give us all pause — pause to consider why the group’s effort to recall Booker is essentially predicated upon the assumption of facts not in evidence.
The facts, as documented by public record, are that Mayor Booker didn’t vote for the mask mandate, the city council did. The only instance in which Mayor Booker is legally allowed to vote is to break a tie, which he did not have to do in the case of the mask mandate.
The statement for recall also states that Mayor Booker was “dismissive of his constituents’ views.” It is notable, here, that an informal poll by show of hands among those in attendance at the July 17 City Council meeting demonstrated quite clearly that those (constituents) in support of a mask mandate easily outnumbered those against by a factor of eight to one.
Earlier this month, Southwest Ledger commissioned SoonerPoll — one of Oklahoma’s most trusted pollsters — to survey Comanche County residents on a number of issues, including whether they approved or disapproved of mandating the wearing of masks while in public places. Results indicated 71.4% support for mask mandates, with only 8.3% of respondents “somewhat disapproving” and 15.3% “strongly disapproving.” Since three out of every four residents in Comanche County live in Lawton, it’s likely that these results represent Mayor Booker’s constituency fairly well.
TAKING THE HIGH ROAD
In response to the group’s efforts, Mayor Booker delivered a message of positivity.
“You need to fasten your seatbelt; we are taking off,” he stated during Tuesday’s City Council meeting. Mayor Booker highlighted overwhelming support for the city’s recent Capital Improvement Plan and Tax Increment Financing plan, both encouraging investments in Lawton.
Mayor Booker chose to take the high road in dealing with the group’s baseless accusations and factually deficient rhetoric. Instead, he focused on Lawton’s future, forging ahead unimpeded by the temptation to engage in the kind of mudslinging and back-and- forth exchange these kinds of groups often thrive upon.
A TALE OF TWO CITIES
A similar recall effort in Norman, organized by a group called Unite Norman, failed to garner enough signatures to recall Mayor Breea Clark, but was successful in forcing a recall of a city council member. City officials estimated that the recall election, which will happen just one month ahead of the regularly scheduled election for the seat, could cost the city upwards of $30,000. It is notable that Unite Norman, while claiming to be ‘bipartisan,’ utilized similar rhetoric in their recall efforts, involving taking back Norman from a radical [liberal/progressive] agenda.
While mask mandates are a critical part of both of these recall efforts, the divisive- ness among the supporters of Unite Norman and the Freedom Defense Alliance is rooted deeper in their belief that radical agendas, such as the idea to “defund the police,” have taken over their towns.
In Norman, a reallocation of $865,000 from a $23 million police budget drew the doxing (release of personal information on social media) of a city councilwoman. The chief of police, a day after a press conference, clarifying the reallocation of funds did not equate to “defunding the police” and would not affect the department’s ability to properly police the city, was seemingly forced to retract and reclarify that statement the next day in an 18-minute long video, during which, his talking points seemed at best, muddy, and at worst, “forced.”
Those wanting to recall Mayor Booker also say they believe he attempted to “defund the police.” When asked about the rumor, Lawton Vice Mayor Jay Burke said, “it is an absolute lie. We haven’t done it since I have been on the council and we won’t do it as long as I am on the council.”
Unite Norman works as a front, recruiting people to the cause of “backing the blue” and “protecting freedoms,” claiming it’s the radical agenda to “defund the police” and institute mask mandates that will lead to some form of martial law. In reality, the founders of Unite Norman are a group of upset business owners and real estate developers who feel as though the mayor and city council stand in the way of a large development project that appears to be dead in the water in Norman. They aren’t citizens who have “suddenly realized” their town has been “hijacked” by progressives with radical ideas. These are people who haven’t been involved in local politics or cared to be involved. They are people with an agenda, and they are using the citizens of Norman to do their dirty work.
These small groups of people, “rising up” against what they believe to be “tyrannical” local governments, are themselves the radicals that seek to subvert our democracy. They believe their cause to be just, that they are saving our country. Our national political landscape has created, enabled and even encouraged divisiveness at local levels that hasn’t been experienced in decades, if ever. No longer are these fights waged in Washington or through the media, they are happening in our towns, our neighborhoods and in our streets. They are happening among our neighbors and family members and in our churches. They are tearing us apart at a time when we most need to stand together in common cause.
We have allowed the views of small groups of people to divide us, right down to street level. We at Southwest Ledger implore you not to give into this small, merry band of misfits who will stop at nothing to pervert our democracy.
When asked to sign their petition, we urge you to pay them no mind.