Mickey Dollens continues to do what helped him win the HD 93 seat in November. He keeps his ear tuned carefully to his local constituents and also to people on the south side of Oklahoma City who are neighbors to his district.
And so the informal, but always well-attended Capitol Hill Civic group is one that he pays close attention to. It’s a unique cross section of business and cultural leaders who gather to discuss a wide range of topics.
Dollens was as willing to ask questions as he was to answer them. He is new to the legislative process and seemed to want considerable input from the group. It made for an active exchange of ideas.
Their questions centered on topics that are vital to the core of Oklahoma City: How will the legislature support public schools by keeping the best teachers? How will cities will maintain local control?
The local control issue draws unique, blunt and bipartisan criticism from Oklahoma City’s leaders.
In the last several sessions the Oklahoma Legislature has enacted laws that prohibit cities and towns from passing ordinances that would deal with unique problems within the city’s limits.
Dollens acknowledged that there is a problem with the approach of the legislature and wants to work with anyone else there who wants to allow cities to have local control.
He emphasized the importance of raising teacher pay so that Oklahoma is competitive with neighboring states like Kansas, Arkansas and Texas. He said that even though the majority Republican Party has stood for tax cuts, it will be essential to raise revenue, and not just cut more government services.
The group was relaxed and lively with the new legislator who was a familiar face for many there.
Dollens’ district is in the core of the south side. He estimates that he knocked doors “about 20,000 times” as he made “3 rounds through the district” for his campaign.
By contrast, last year when Republican Senator James Lankford offered to take questions from the group there were few questions, and the room was uncharacteristically still.
After the group broke up Thursday from the breakfast meeting, Free Press talked with Dollens.
When asked to sum up some of the most important questions from the group, Dollens said that most of the questions had to do with “making sure that those who are representing the district and the community are staying in touch with the needs of our citizens.”
And what about the issue Salyer had raised about cities being able to maintain local control to meet the needs of residents?
“I believe that power should stay at the local level,” said Dollens.
He said, “Those who are elected at the local level by their peers know what’s best for their community, and that’s where we should let that power lie.”
Dollens, once a teacher at U.S. Grant High School in Oklahoma City, said that he is working on a teacher incentive bill with other legislators to stem the tide of teachers leaving Oklahoma for other neighboring states with higher pay.
He pointed out that there are education issues that also contain the local control issue.
Dollens criticized some legislators who have already filed a bill to restrict school districts from holding anything less than a five-day school week. He thinks school districts’ elected boards are in a better position to determine how to deal with the state’s education budget woes.
“The important thing to take away from the four-day school week issue is that the four-day school week didn’t exist before the budget cuts,” said Dollens. “And there are some state representatives who inflict budget cuts and then tell them [school districts] they have to stay open and operate without any funding.”
He is also pushing a payday lending bill in response to complaints he heard from his constituents during his campaign.
“As it is right now, APR on a payday loan is 391 percent,” said Dollens. “My bill will reduce that to 60 percent, which is really high, but it is not devastatingly oppressive.”
“I want to keep payday loans unappealing, but at the same time there are things that you should do to not take advantage of poor people who are in very vulnerable situations,” Dollens said. “It’s expensive to be poor.”
Payday loans are short-term loans where the terms call for the loan to be paid on the borrower’s next payday or series of paydays. Typically, payday loans are a last resort for those who do not have the financial means to be attractive to a regular bank.
States typically allow payday loan companies to charge high interest rates on the loans because of the assumption that poor borrowers are more likely to default on the loan.
Since payday lenders are sometimes large, national groups with lobbyists and contributions to key legislators, we asked if he had a large number of legislators who are lining up with him, or if he was somewhat of a lone voice on the issue.
“I’m running it for my constituents. They are the ones who voiced this concern on the doorsteps when I was knocking for election,” said Dollens. “And so, this if for them. It’s not for me or to make pals at the Capitol. It’s for my constituents.”
But meeting with groups and knocking doors doesn’t seem to be enough contact for Dollens’ liking.
He just started hosting The Mickey Dollens Show on KTLV 1220AM on Wednesdays at 5 pm where he covers politics, sports and entrepreneurship.