Since 1993, our work has paved the way for many policy victories.
As a trusted source for fact-based public policy analysis, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) has filled this vital role in the Sooner State for 25 years, watching out for the best interests of Oklahoma families, businesses, children, and taxpayers.
Research has shown time and time again that the free market is the single greatest tool in the world for lifting the most people out of poverty in the least amount of time, enabling human flourishing at unprecedented levels.
If we want a bright future for our residents—especially the most vulnerable—then our charge is simple: to doggedly pursue our mission until every Oklahoman can be empowered to live a life of opportunity.
To promote the flourishing of the people of Oklahoma by advancing principles and policies that support free enterprise, limited government, individual initiative, and personal responsibility.
Sheridan Betts Wildes
Vice President for Advocacy
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Director of Operations
Senior Vice President
David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow
Dean of the J. Rufus Fears Fellowship
Criminal Justice Reform Fellow
Communications and Engagement Associate
Development and Outreach Coordinator
Renee Alvarado Porter
School Choice Navigator
Rachel Hays Roberts
Executive Vice President
Policy Research Fellow
Tina Korbe Dzurisin
David and Ann Brown Distinguished
Fellow for the Advancement of Liberty
J. Scott Moody, M.A.
Kimberly M. Richey, J.D.
Senior Fellow for Education
Andrew C. Spiropoulos, J.D.
Milton Friedman Distinguished Fellow
Wendy P. Warcholik, Ph.D.
Composed of leaders from a range of industries and corporations, our board of trustees exercises overall responsibility for the policies, programs, and direction of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.Learn More
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Budget & Tax
Prosperity comes from the private sector, but government can do some things to make wealth creation easier. Building and maintaining roads, punishing criminals, providing a civil justice system—such things make it easier for people to use their freedom in order to flourish. But the fact that some taxation is necessary, and some tax dollars well spent, should not blind policymakers to these basic facts: taxes are taken by force and always impose a cost on someone. OCPA believes taxes should be low, uniform, simple, and predictable.
The state budget reflects the true priorities of state government. Every tax dollar should be spent with taxpayers in mind. Handouts to special interests should be eliminated. Every government program should be regularly assessed based on these questions:
- Is this something government should do?
- Is the program accomplishing its mission?
- Is there a less expensive way to do it?
OCPA believes that government should do a few things and do those things well. The legislature’s budget process should require agencies to be transparent and accountable, and the process should in turn be transparent to voters and taxpayers.
Public Education: A process or a mission?
The Oklahoma Constitution establishes the state’s duty to provide free schools for the purpose of creating an educated public. It says nothing about what those schools should look like or how they should work. Those details are left to the people and policymakers in every generation.
It is easy to confuse a process with its purpose. Just think about how often the word “education” gets used to describe a particular system of schools or set of policy issues. But education is not just a process, it’s a purpose. Are there state “education” dollars and programs that serve the purpose, that result in learning? Of course. Are there other dollars and programs that fail to serve the purpose, or at least don’t do it very well? Certainly there are. But it all gets labeled “education,” as if it’s all the same.
OCPA focuses on the ends, not just the means. We believe Oklahoma students should have the opportunity of a world-class education. To that end, we take a broader, more forward-looking view of public education. If a traditional, brick-and-mortar, government-run school works best to educate a particular child—that’s great! If something else will work better for another child, that’s great, too!
The point of public education is not doing things a particular way, the point is to educate students. Every process and dollar spent should be directed toward, and scrutinized according to, the mission of creating an educated public.
School Choice: Should parents or politicians be in charge?
Parents have the moral right and duty to direct the upbringing of their children. This includes education. And in most cases, the result of parents making choices for their children’s education is more efficient and effective learning outcomes. In other words, the mission of public education is best served by empowering parents to make these choices.
School choice is the alternative to a monopoly run by politicians. Allowing families to make choices creates incentives favoring both efficiency and excellence, as well as allowing for diversity and innovation. School choice supports teachers and other educational entrepreneurs who work to create new ways to help students learn.
Who wants politicians to have more control over their bodies? That is the question at the core of many health care policy debates. OCPA supports individual freedom and opposes the politicization of medical care. Government control tends to entrench the status quo and stifle innovation--and when it comes to medicine, that costs lives. Government subsidies also tend to drive up prices, which has happened in medicine for the last half century. There is a better way.
People need food and shelter, but we only rely on government to provide those things as a last resort for the very poor. Why is that? Because human beings do best when we are responsible for ourselves. That gives us the strongest incentives to take care of ourselves. As soon as someone else claims they will take care of us, the good incentives start to break down. And when someone else offers to pay for things we want or need, our incentive to get the best price breaks down, too.
If we want world-class medical care, with life-saving innovations and affordable prices, the only way to get it is the system of individual freedom and responsibility that people call the free market. We will continue to have a safety net for those with dire needs, but even this is best done through community-based charities rather than national bureaucracies.
Is higher education a public good? Of course, a well-educated public is a public good. It is a catalyst for economic prosperity and, far more important, it is necessary for the long-term survival of a self-governing society. But not everything labeled “higher education” actually does any of this.
The question is: How well do Oklahoma’s government-run colleges and universities do at producing a well-educated public? And just as important: How efficient are they? Even if the product is good, are taxpayers and tuition-payers getting a good deal?
OCPA believes in asking these hard questions. The legislature should compel state colleges and universities to make students their top priority, promoting both academic rigor and economic efficiency. No Oklahoman should be forced to subsidize someone else’s luxuriant lifestyle, even if that someone else is a university employee or student. Government-run institutions should not compel students or taxpayers to subsidize non-educational activities. And Oklahoma universities should not be patronage factories where former politicians get sweetheart deals at public expense.
Oklahoma puts 33% more men and 91% more women in prison than the national average. More than three-quarters of all those sent to prison are convicted of nonviolent crimes. Oklahoma’s prison system has been over capacity for years, and if we do not change course, state taxpayers will be on the hook to build three new prisons in the next decade. The status quo is financially unsustainable, and the human cost unjustifiable.
OCPA believes we can reduce incarceration while keeping crime rates low and even making our communities safer. The purpose of prison should be to lock up people who are dangerous and to punish people for the most serious crimes. Our criminal justice system should not push people into impossible-to-pay debts or compromise a person’s ability to work beyond what is truly necessary to protect the public.
Nearly everyone arrested, even most of those who go to prison, will one day return to our communities. The best result of the criminal justice system is turning offenders back into law-abiding and productive members of society. That is not always possible, but states that have decreased prison time and focused on better reentry and probation processes have seen both costs and crime rates go down.
Rather than being hard on crime, or soft on crime, it is time for Oklahoma to be smart on crime.
Law & Principles
People either have rights, or they do not. If we have rights, they come from somewhere. There are three basic, competing ideas about rights. One is that there really is no such thing. Another is that rights come from government, so the more power government has, the more rights it can give out. The third view is that rights are inherent in the individual person, discernible by reason as the blessings of “Nature and Nature’s God.”
Only the third idea of rights provides a foundation for individual rights and for equal rights, as well as a reason for limiting and directing government’s power in order to protect those rights. This idea also is intertwined with the understanding of human nature as flawed within each and every one of us. None of us are born with the right to rule over others, nor are any of us born simply to be ruled. Together these ideas animate and motivate OCPA’s work.
They are also why we have constitutions and believe in the rule of law. OCPA works to defend constitutional government, especially structures like federalism and the separation of powers that are designed to limit government power. Our federal and state bills of rights provide extra protections, in addition to those created by regular elections and structural checks and balances. OCPA supports enforcing all these laws according to their original meaning, and we believe judges should, too.
Not only is our policy work based on this foundation, we also want to share it with you. OCPA sends out speakers and creates materials to help students and all Oklahomans understand the foundations of government for a free and prosperous people.
One of Oklahoma’s major industries, agriculture, supports many rural communities and provides food for the region and for export around the world. Oklahoma farmers are innovative business leaders who should be free to compete in the marketplace. The primary role of government in agriculture is to secure property rights and enforce contracts. Farmers should be free from political micromanagement or politicians picking winners and losers.
Row crop, cattle producers, and feedlot operators list federal regulations as a top concern. And it is not just producers who are hurt by mindless regulations; they also increase food prices for consumers. OCPA believes that agriculture freedom means more prosperity for producers and consumers alike.
Individual rights means free markets. The rights to own your own property and the fruits of your labor are facets of the idea that all individuals have basic rights and freedoms. OCPA champions the ideas of free enterprise and a free market economy because we believe in individual rights. And, as it turns out, the economic system that respects individual rights is also the one that works best to generate innovation, wealth, and increasing standards of living for all.
The challenge is that when free people act and flourish, no politician can claim credit. Politicians only get credit when they interfere, creating a powerful incentive for government to manipulate economic activities. Government is important for preventing violence and fraud, enforcing contracts and private rights of action, and setting basic rules and regulations that apply to everyone equally--but it is always a slippery slope. There is always a politician or special interest that wants more power for government and, as a result, less freedom for everybody else.
OCPA works to protect Oklahomans from overreaching politicians. We know that a flourishing state is the result of a free people, and that government can help people to flourish by doing a few important things well and otherwise staying out of the way. Economic growth is a result of individual freedom protected, but even prosperity is only a means to an end. The real reason to defend free markets is to uphold Oklahomans’ rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Oklahoma’s largest single industry is made up of the workers and investors who extract natural resources from underground and turn these into usable forms of energy. These Oklahomans have not only transformed our state, but have changed the world by their combination of hard work, innovation, and tenacity. Many of America’s adversaries are weaker today because the federal government finally set them free to export their products around the world. That policy change offers a reminder: freedom is what allows ordinary people to make our state and nation prosperous and strong.
Oklahoma’s energy entrepreneurs should be free to innovate and to compete in the marketplace. The primary role of government when it comes to business is to secure property rights and enforce contracts. Just like other workers, those in the energy sector should be free from political micromanagement or politicians picking winners and losers. It is wrong when politicians single out a business or an industry either for special favors like subsidies or bureaucratic harassment through regulations or the courts.
Family & Community
Freedom needs stability. People who live with too much uncertainty or fear will sacrifice freedom for safety. Just like stability allows people to create and invest in the marketplace, it also lets people build up “social capital”--the network of relationships and trust that undergird any successful society. And at the core of a stable society is the family.
The family is also the most local form of government. When we talk about “local control” and “self-government,” we should think first of the family rather than city hall or the school board. Out of families come other kinds of voluntary organizations: churches, social clubs, sports leagues, charities. We should resist government’s tendency to expand and crowd out family and community. After all, there is a stark difference between social structures based on trust, hope, and love, and government programs that are always, ultimately, based on coercion.
A church will thrive if people choose to attend and contribute. Businesses succeed when people choose to buy their products or services. Community organizations are as good as those who show up and engage. These institutions rely on continuing consent among the people who make them possible. All of them, in various ways, compete; all can and do sometimes fail and simply go away. Government is different.
Government is force and monopoly. Governments can and often do exist without consent. And even governments with periodic elections sometimes do horrible things. After all, what does consent really mean, and what does it allow? Can an elected government legitimately oppress a minority group? Of course not ... but why?
The Declaration of Independence offers one explanation: The rights of the people--individual human rights--always come first. No government is legitimate without the consent of the governed, but the powers of such a government only exist for legitimate purposes. The Declaration says these are “to secure [equal human] rights,” including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Government power must always be limited, controlled, and directed toward protecting--and not infringing--basic human rights. The structures of government, from school boards to state agencies to the legislative budget process, should always have built-in checks and balances that allow for meaningful debate and public participation. Government processes must be transparent and subject to accountability to ensure meaningful and continuing consent of the governed.
The people are sovereign, but judges are supposed to be independent. How do we reconcile these two ideas? First, by understanding that one is a bedrock principle, the other an idea about how to structure government. The test of a process or structure is how well it serves its purpose and aligns with principle. Judicial independence is about keeping judges out of politics and avoiding corruption in order to make it more likely that they uphold the rule of law. The power of judges, just like all government power, comes from the people.
Judges need to be independent enough that they are free to uphold the rule of law, but not so free that they can be lawless or corrupt. Ultimately the people must maintain some control over even this branch of government.
Oklahoma’s current structure for appointing judges is flawed. It allows an appointed commission to decide who can and who cannot become an appellate judge, denying the people any meaningful role in these appointments. Outdated judicial districts also skew the process and unnecessarily preclude many highly qualified individuals from consideration for judgeships. OCPA supports changes to the process and structure to give the people a meaningful say and to maximize the opportunity to find the very best people to serve on our courts.