By Tony Perkins
Originally published in Tony Perkins’ Washington Update on March 16, 2018
Tony Perkins is the President of the Family Research Council (FRC)
It’s tough enough fighting the Left for things like religious liberty. Now imagine battling your own party! That’s exactly the predicament Oklahomans find themselves in after Republican leaders snatched a popular bill out of conservatives’ hands and killed it. Even more incredible, the two GOP members decided to sink the bill because its sponsors refused to vote for a $450 million tax hike! Now, 24 hours after watching all their work on the Right of Conscience Act go down the drain, Oklahomans want to know: what kind of Republican destroys a religious freedom measure to raise taxes?
The answer appears to be: Majority Floor Leader Greg Treat (R). The seven-year state senator, who was hardly winning popularity contests with his plan to increase taxes, was none too pleased when four conservatives decided to vote against it. Angry that his bill failed, he decided to retaliate. With just hours left to pass a proposal that would stop the government from discriminating against faith-based organizations and businesses, Treat decided to punish one of the fiscal conservatives promoting it—state Senator Joe Silk (R). Using a bag of procedural tricks, he put a hold on every bill that was sponsored by opponents of his tax plan. As the day went on (and pressure heated up), Treat agreed that maybe this wasn’t the wisest way to get revenge. By the afternoon, he decided to release his hold on every piece of legislation—except, to everyone’s astonishment, the conscience act.
Senator Silk and other conservatives were outraged. After all, there were only hours left to deliver on a measure that the majority of Oklahomans supported. “You should never play games like that,” Silk told me on yesterday’s Washington Watch, “but [especially] when you’re talking about a bill this important.” Unfortunately, Treat’s scheme succeeded. The clock ran out without so much as a single vote on SB 197.Dr. Everett Piper, President of Oklahoma Wesleyan, couldn’t believe it. Here he is, fighting the government to keep men out of girls’ campus bathrooms, and a Republican leader has tanked one of the only bills that would give his college relief.
It’s unconscionable … What in the world are a bunch of Republican leaders thinking by sidestepping this issue and punishing Senator Silk simply because he wouldn’t vote for about a half-billion dollars’ worth of tax increases? … [W]e have GOP leadership killing a religious freedom bill for people who elected them because a couple of their own refused to increase taxes! … I personally think it’s shameful.
And he wasn’t alone. Conservatives across the state were astounded that Treat would sacrifice religious liberty because he wanted to chastise a conservative for—being conservative! Everything about this story is antithetical to the GOP ethic. Raising taxes and squashing freedom is the stuff of liberals—not the reddest state in the country. It’s a sad commentary on GOP politics that make higher taxes the price of religious liberty. At least for now, Oklahomans can be glad GOP leaders didn’t succeed. Without SB 197, they’ll need those tax savings to pay for the religious liberty lawsuits they may find themselves in!
Meanwhile, to see what real GOP leadership looks like, check out my interview with Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant (R). His state was the first to pass the kind of law that Oklahoma was aiming for. Now, he’s on the verge of becoming number one at something else: protecting unborn life at its earliest stages. There’s a bill on Governor Bryant’s desk that would outlaw abortion at the earliest point in pregnancy yet—15 weeks. He intends to sign it. Find out how he’s managing to make Mississippi the model for some of the strongest social policy in the country. Click below to listen.