Oklahoma Senate Democrats elected Senator Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, to be their next caucus leader for the 57th Oklahoma Legislature after John Sparks, D-Norman, ended his 12-year term last week.
She began her conversation with Free Press by phone Monday by praising outgoing caucus leader Sparks as one who has been “strong and consistent.”
“He’s been a strong advocate for Oklahomans. And it’s my intent to stay on that path,” said Floyd.
Kay said the Legislature “was able to stop some of the bleeding” when it comes to education funding, but there is still much to do when it comes to restoring funding that has been cut by the majority Republicans for the last ten years.
The education budget has been cut by $180 million over the last decade.
The other big issue is that they “left revenue options on the table” that could have gone to solving other big budget issues such as mental health and overall health.
“All of the health agencies are suffering,” said Floyd. “And we weren’t able to make up for the cuts that were made to them. So we’ve got a huge health crisis in the state.”
Corrections is another area where Floyd believes the state is at a crisis point.
She believes the Department of Corrections is “woefully understaffed” with only 60 percent of staff positions filled in detention facilities while being 120 percent filled with prisoners.
“‘So, we’re headed in the wrong direction,” said Floyd. “We’re incarcerating more people and we’re not making it possible for Department of Corrections officers to do their job safely.”
One of the top systemic issues Floyd identified was that not all, but some Legislators tend to just not listen to people who know about an issue and are the most experienced with it.
She pointed to the two-week teacher walkout as one example.
“We need to be listening to our teachers and our parents when they talk to us,” Floyd said. “And sometimes I think we get into the Capitol building and some of my colleagues just think they know better. And I think that’s one of the problems we’ve had.”
“We’ve had Senator Sparks and Senate Pro Tempore Mike Shultz being able to work together and they have accomplished a lot,” she said.
“But then, you’ve got some members who just believe they know better than the experts.”
Floyd’s district, SD-46 is entirely within the Oklahoma City limits. She represents residents from NW 50th Street all the way to SW 58th Street and roughly covers uptown, midtown, downtown, the historic Capitol Hill Area and then west along the south side past I-44 toward Will Rogers World Airport.
We asked her about how well the Legislature dominated by rural legislators has been able to deal with urban issues that she sees in her district.
She said it has been a constant struggle to keep the Legislature from trying to pre-empt Oklahoma’s cities and towns from taking action on problems.
“I’ve heard a lot of rhetoric about local control,” Floyd said about the six years she’s been in the Senate. “But, what I’ve seen is a lot of legislation removing local control.”
One example she gave was the passage of a bill that stopped municipalities from regulating the drilling of oil and gas wells inside city limits.
“They take a statute that was on the books for 80 years giving cities the right to pass any ordinances necessary for production within the city limits. And they take that off the books.”
She listed the passage of legislation that stopped cities from passing smoking ordinances and stopping cities from raising their own minimum wage as other examples.
Resisting the Legislature’s attempts to remove local control of cities and towns “has been a constant issue every session,” she said.
“The most effective form of government we have is local control by the city councils in cities throughout the state,” Floyd said.
But, what about the fact that the Democratic Party Senators and Representatives are such a small minority? Republicans have a super majority in both houses with a die-hard Republican governor.
“We bring a voice of reason,” Floyd said.
“People say that because you’re in a super minority it’s difficult to govern. I think if you look back at the important legislation that passed you’ll see that sometimes those bills only passed by five or six votes.”
She said that when Democrats “stood up and did the right thing” important revenue was raised because of their votes.
She ended by saying she thought Republicans and Democrats had worked well together considering how “grueling” the “16-month marathon” sessions had been.