Dead Canary States

State Bird

Oklahoma and Kansas are dead canary states. Both have succumbed like a canary in a coal mine to the toxic air of a radically right wing, corporate controlled, fossil fuel dominated, theocratic leaning, and ALEC orchestrated republican government that has cut taxes and rolled back regulations for wealthy individuals and corporations under the distracting smokescreen of a barrage of anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQI, anti-Muslim, and anti-Latino rhetoric and legislation. All the while these two states have dramatically reduced investments in public education, healthcare, infrastructure, and other basic services with disproportionately negative impact on the poor and most vulnerable citizens. In addition, Oklahoma has the highest female incarceration rate on the entire planet (not an exaggeration). Both states are broke and broken – failed experiments in extremism. Oklahoma and Kansas serve as a clear warning for all other states who might be considering a journey into the depths of this section of the republican coal mine where little to no resistance is given over against unregulated capitalism, and where time and time again the interests of corporations and the wealthy elite are valued over the common good.

Kansas succumbed earlier than Oklahoma as it was not buoyed in the same way as Oklahoma by years of an oil and gas boom; but even during the boom, Oklahoma cut income taxes and offered oil and gas companies hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks such that the state was left unprepared for the inevitable bust – it is not like Oklahoma has not seen the cycle of boom and bust before. Even during the boom, Oklahoma reduced state funded per pupil spending more than any other state in the country, cuts that are now even deeper owing to the bust. And now in the bust, Oklahoma is experiencing repeated revenue failures and $1.3 billion budget shortfall for 2016-2017.

The Oklahoma Legislature’s response to the revenue failures and the budget shortfall highlighted in bold relief the sickness unto death that the failed Kansas/Oklahoma experiment has become. In action after action and in bill after bill passed by the legislature over the past month, the burden of the cuts was placed on the backs of the poor and most vulnerable. Some rural hospitals are closing and quality healthcare (including mental healthcare) is becoming less accessible, state supplemental payments are being delayed, teachers are being laid off and many common education programs cut, higher education and environmental protection programs received disproportionately large cuts, and the working poor had cuts in their earned income tax credits. Over and over again the wealthy and the oil and gas industry were protected from harm. A grossly ill-timed state income tax cut that disproportionately favored the wealthy was not repealed,  and no cuts were made to the hundreds of millions of dollars of tax relief given to the fossil fuel industry on gross production of oil and gas. An ideological aversion to Obamacare kept the legislature from accepting the federal expansion of Medicaid that could benefit the health of hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans. $29 million were taken from poor working families in the cuts to the earned income tax credit, while the wealthy and oil and gas companies were held harmless. And let’s not forget, this is the same oil and gas industry that has made Oklahoma the earthquake capital of the world through its wastewater injection wells and externalized the cost of the damage and the cost of earthquake insurance onto private citizens.

As the New York Times Editorial Board correctly opined, Oklahoma’s response to the budget crisis was to make the poor poorer – “Republicans controlling the Oklahoma Legislature cruelly targeted some of the state’s most vulnerable citizens — the working poor.”  It is not enough that the canary has died in this failed republican experiment; the vultures have moved in to pick at the carcass. Message to the rest of the country – you have been warned.



  1. What a great summary of our situation! Let others be forewarned that neither Oklahoma nor Kansas could have done what they did, and are doing without ALEC taking legislators and state officials under their wing, training them in their strategies, writing legislation and policies for them.

    Bill Parker Sent from my iPhone.


  2. You get the government you deserve. Vote for somebody else!! In Kansas, Brownback was re-elected as the state was circling the drain. If you keep puting the same idiots in charge, this is what you get.

  3. I’m from Connecticut but went to OU in the late 1970’s. At that time it was a more democratic state but I worked on the first Reagan campaign there. After he was elected I moved to the DC area and worked in the White House for a year and a half before moving back to Oklahoma and ran 11 county commissioner campaigns and one congressional one. Thankfully he lost and I moved to south Florida and worked for my dad for 6 years before moving up the coast 2 hours and got a job at the hospital there. Worked my way up, became very successful, bought a house and raised 2 pit bulls.

  4. You really need to cite more sources. I don’t know if I can believe this, just a few strategically place hyperlinks would make a huge difference.

  5. […] Oklahoma should be viewed by the rest of the country as an example of what not to do, a dead canary state that warns people to get out of the toxic right wing mine of low taxes, privatization of public services, discrimination, and deregulation. In May of 2016, I wrote in more detail about Oklahoma’s Dead Canary State status, which you may read here. […]

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