Capitol Weekly Wrap Up | Week 2

We took a few steps forward and several steps backward this week at the Capitol. Committee work continued, and some bills garnered international attention - unfortunately, not for the best reasons. I’m pleased to report that HB 1260, my bill to bolster a fund for uncompensated healthcare passed out of a sub-committee unanimously. Additionally, we took up legislation to finally address the REAL ID Act, which the legislature has ignored at great cost to the citizens of Oklahoma. Finally, for the second week in a row, my jar of peanut butter M&Ms is empty. More on that in a bit.

It is no secret that the State of Oklahoma faces crises in multiple areas of core government services - we’ve heard a lot about the state of education, but our prisons, healthcare systems, roads, and other core services are still hurting. Nevertheless, I spent my first two Public Health Committee meetings discussing bills like HB 1441 (the now infamous “Host” bill) and HB 1549, that would likely end up challenged as unconstitutional in the courts. I received a lot of calls and emails asking me to vote no on these bills, and I did. I also voted against them because I believe, especially in our current economic situation, that bills doing little to solve these problems but raising a myriad of legal questions should not be our priority. I said as much in debate on one of the bills, which you can watch here:

Six bills addressing the teacher pay issue passed out of Senate committees this week, which is a good sign. Discussion about how best to get our teachers a much-needed and well-deserved raise will continue. Unfortunately, other state workers and retirees who have waited nearly a decade for a raise or a cost-of-living increase are also anxious for economic relief, and a solution seems far away.

HB 1260, the Uncompensated Care Fund bill that I authored this year, passed unanimously out of the A&B Subcommittee on Finance. Perhaps it passed because it is a good idea; perhaps it passed because I began my explanation of the bill by saying, “this is a slam dunk bill, a great bill.” So maybe I’ll begin every explanation that way moving forward. Interestingly, the Chair of this committee is my former middle school principal. Because I was scheduled to be in another committee at the same time as I was set to present my bill in his committee, I was about a minute late. The chair - ever the stern administrator - chastised me for my tardiness and pointed out that he wasn’t surprised by it considering I was frequently late to class as a result of my chatty socializing between classes in school. I couldn’t deny the accuracy of his claim.

After passage of my bill, I was rushed to another committee to present a bill on behalf of a colleague who couldn’t be there in person. It was requested by the Oklahoma Dept. of Transportation, clarifying who is responsible for paying the bill when utility lines must be moved. Very thrilling, I know. It passed out of committee as well, so I am officially 2-for-2 on presenting bills! We will see how long my streak continues.

The full House took up the long-awaited REAL ID Act legislation, which would bring our driver’s licenses and ID’s into federal compliance. Had we taken no action, Oklahomans may not have been able to board airplanes or enter federal buildings using a driver’s license. The bill passed the House, and will move onto the Senate.

So, about those M&Ms: I keep a large jar of peanut butter M&Ms in my office for visitors to snack on. For the second week in a row, I’ll have to refill that jar. I think this is good news, because it means I’ve had a lot of visitors and enjoyed a lot of good and fruitful discussions. If you want to come up to the office - 539B on the fifth floor - and enjoy some M&Ms, you are more than welcome to! The more you eat, the less I’ll eat, which will help ensure that my suits continue to fit.

As always, please reach out to my office if you have questions or need assistance. My email address is Forrest.Bennett@okhouse.gov, our phone number is 405-557-7404. Additionally, you can follow me on Twitter at @ForrestBennett or on our Facebook Page facebook.com/forrestforoklahoma. It is my greatest honor to represent you at the State Capitol.

A Final Note from Forrest

Friends,

Three minutes. That’s the average amount of time I’ve spent on your doorsteps over the last year and a half. I’ve talked with many of you for much longer, and sadly I haven’t been able to talk to some of you because I couldn’t get to your door or you weren’t home. But in those short conversations we have had, I’ve gotten to know you, hear what concerns you, what you hope for, and what you want to see done at the Capitol.

People who run for office are given a platform. We choose how to use it. I’ve tried to use mine to talk about the issues you’ve told me are important, and to tell you what I want to do – fix our schools, bring jobs back for working families, and make sure the least among us aren’t forgotten. My opponent has used his mostly to sling mud. It’s sad and you deserve better, but that was his choice. I’m sorry this campaign has gotten so negative.

You should know a few more things about me: since I was 14, I’ve worked. First it was to pay the bills because my family fell on hard times. I was a waiter, I mowed lawns; I did what I could. Then I worked to get through college. In these jobs, I saw how hard people work to make life better for their families. So, after college, I tried to find jobs where I could help my community. I worked on protecting our civil and constitutional rights, I worked to protect our neighborhoods, and I worked to improve our schools and empower our parents. But in every one of these jobs, I found that I didn’t always agree with the positions the organizations took. Then I worked in the classroom, where I saw that there is so much more work to do, within our schools and outside of them, to make our city and state better. I finally realized that the best way, the most direct way to help make things better here is to work where the decisions are made. And after a year and a half of knocking doors, I’ll be on the ballot on Tuesday so you can decide if I’m the person you want there representing you.

In our three-minute – or ten minute, or hour-long conversations, I hope you’ve gotten to know me. I hope you know that I’ve campaigned with as much honesty and integrity as I can, because it’s what you deserve. I’ve tried to make this campaign about you, because these days it seems like we – the citizens and voters – are the last things on politicians’ minds.

Most of all, I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know me as much as I’ve enjoyed getting to know you. This campaign has really been the greatest time of my life. So, thank you for opening your doors and talking to me about what matters. I really do consider you all my friends now, and you should know that I always fight for my friends.

 I hope to earn your vote on Tuesday, November 8th!

 

 

 

Forrest Bennett

P.S. – if you still have questions for me, I’m just a phone call away. My number is 405-283-6362.

ORC Candidate Forum

The Oklahoma Rehabilitation Council hosted a candidate forum on Saturday, and I was the only candidate from HD92 present. It was an honor to speak, but an even greater one to listen to the stories and ideas I heard there. So many people in this district rely on the work of the ORC and its partners, so it's important to understand their challenges.

The ORC partners with the Dept. of Rehabilitation, agencies and non-profits to serve Oklahomans with disabilities. Many of us know someone with a disability, but it's often hard to grasp the challenges they face everyday, from navigating public transit (many times, with no bus stop shelters or sidewalks) to jumping through seemingly endless hoops to get the help they and their child need to live independently.  I was struck by what I heard--regardless of the type of disability or condition these people or their children were living with, they were showing up and doing the work day-in and day-out to try to better themselves and the lives of others who may be worse off than them. 

Agencies and nonprofits, like NewView Oklahoma, which is located in HD92, are doing so much with so little. The work they do really is bridging the gap between available government services and what their communities need.  But the gap grows larger each year, especially under budget crises like we're experiencing today, when government leans on nonprofits to provide vital services, even when the nonprofits are experiencing the same economic problems that all of us are facing. A frequent topic of discussion was why it seems that the legislature has made tax credits more readily available for big business, while vital services aimed to help people are cut to the bone. The truth is, this is our reality. We have prioritized the needs of big corporations and have failed our responsibility of taking care of our core services. There's really no excuse, and if I'm elected, I'll make sure my colleagues know where I stand. When we invest in our communities, everyone benefits, not just key shareholders.

The forum lasted several hours, and one woman became frustrated when she asked why so few Republican candidates showed up, and why even fewer stayed after they spoke. It is true, the vast majority of candidates who showed up were Democrats, and it's obvious to see why, as the benefit of this forum wasn't raising money or endorsements, but was to listen to members of our community that don't often get heard. None of us had a good answer for her, other than to suggest that they all remember who showed up when they vote in November. I do not live with a disability, but I am so very inspired by the hardworking families of my district. I'll use that inspiration to continue to work hard to earn as many votes as I can between now and November 8th, and will fight for investment in communities, investment in people and for our most vulnerable citizens to be heard and get the help that they need to live independently.

-Forrest

Thanks, HD 92

Forrest, Justin, Audra & Meg at the primary watch party

Forrest, Justin, Audra & Meg at the primary watch party

I used to think it was funny when politicians said "we're doing well," or "we're going to win" when referring to their campaigns. But on June 28th, House District 92 selected me as their Democratic Nominee for the general election in November. But, "I" didn't do it.

 Countless people helped me day-to-day, like my rockstar volunteers Zach, Austin, Cole, Shane, Courtney & Audra. My good friend, and talented former co-worker, Justin Wallace, came from across the continent to be here to help knock doors and get me across the finish line. Meg McElhaney took a lot of work off my plate, offered constant support, and made sure my volunteers were fed, hydrated and ready to knock doors every time we had a volunteer day.  My parents, Cindy and Kevin Bennett have been supportive every step of the way, and worked for hours on end in the last few days before the primary to get out the vote. A few of you may have even gotten a hug from my mom! 

There's no way to properly thank everyone who had a hand in the primary win, but I want you all to know, WE WON, and I'll never take your hard work for granted. That said, WE have much more work to do ahead of the November election! And with all of you in my corner, there's no way I'll lose. Thank you.

-Forrest