November 2017 Editorial Winner

Rep. Bennett should apologize for making 'terrorist' remark
Kim Poindexter, Tahlequah Daily Press

No one who follows Oklahoma politics will be surprised Rep. John Bennett is again in the hot seat – and this time, Gov. Mary Fallin is among those putting him in the crosshairs.
The Sallisaw Republican is a controversial figure, known for an uncanny ability to stick his foot in his mouth. Many will recall his demand in March that three Muslim students visiting the Capitol fill out a questionnaire asking, “Do you beat your wife?”
The form had 18 questions, such as this one: “[The prophet] Mohammed was a killer of pagans, Christians and Jews that did not agree with him. Do you agree with this example?”
Bennett’s insensitivity, as well as his ignorance in certain matters of governance and world history, was on display last week. His opposition to a bill to raise the gross production tax on older oil wells from 4 to 7 percent showed once again just where his bread is buttered, but that wasn’t especially galling in light of what was to come. Bennett insisted that auditing state agencies might be the answer to the state’s financial trouble: “No one wants their taxes raised, but the agencies getting the money are telling our constituents, hey... the sky is falling! And the agencies are telling our citizens they’re going to cut their services to the most vulnerable. That’s terrorism. We should not be negotiating with terrorists, period.”
Bennett is right that constituents are hearing these comments, and from the standpoint of many, while the sky may not be falling, it’s blanketed by an ominous dark cloud. He’s also correct that some agencies have wasted money. Last week brought the news that the Oklahoma Department of Health, under the longtime administration of Terry Cline, has misused or wasted thousands of dollars.
But Bennett went off the rails when he seemed to blame state employees. He could have pinned the tail on the donkey of former Attorney General Scott Pruitt, who had been told about possible malfeasance, but chose to ignore the warning. Pruitt was too busy trying to reinstate a Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol grounds, and attacking Colorado for leaking its evil weed across Oklahoma’s borders, to care about such things as misappropriation of funds.
The Oklahoma Public Employees Association took umbrage with Bennett’s statement and demanded an apology. Fallin followed suit, calling his comment “unacceptable behavior.” But predictably, Bennett claimed his remarks were “taken out of context.” Like other high-profile politicians of his ilk, he lashed out at his chief critic – in this case, Fallin: “You know as well as I do that I was calling out your agency heads for holding our citizens hostage, NOT the outstanding state employees we have. Nice try to divert the real attention from your responsibility to ensure our agency heads are accountable for our taxpayer dollar.”
In one fell swoop, Bennett tried to exonerate himself from the state’s problems and place them on the back of Fallin. But few Okies will be fooled by this charade. While Fallin does indeed deserve a share of blame for Oklahoma’s fiscal woes, the lion’s share should go to Bennett and his cohorts in the Legislature, who for the past decade have driven a onceproud state into the red dirt for which it is so famous.
Bennett said what he said, and any excuse he offers now will be dismissed by all rational people who read or heard them. We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Sequoyah County residents deserve better than someone of his temperament, character and draconian philosophies. He’ll have to face voters again about a year from now, unless he gets primaried. And unless that leopard changes its spots, that’sabout what he deserves.

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