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Capitol Insider: Sen. Mary Boren Reflects On Her First Legislative Session

Dick Pryor/KGOU
Sen. Mary Boren visited KGOU on June 6, 2019.

In this episode of Capitol Insider, freshman Democratic Senator Mary Boren shares her thoughts on Oklahoma's political process, including why she thinks the state legislature is not equipped to deal with "complex issues."


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics and policy. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley, and our guest state Senator Mary Boren, Democrat from Norman. Welcome.

Sen. Mary Boren: Thank you so much. I'm looking forward to visiting with you today.

Shawn Ashley: Senator Boren, you just completed your first session in the legislature. How would you characterize this session?

Boren: It was much better. The attitudes were much better. We had had a lot of new faces and new money, but there was that underlying tension of battling agendas and priorities. One thing that I figured out pretty quickly is that policy priorities were not as important as managing power and image.

Ashley: Well can you give an example of that where that came into play during the consider consideration of legislation in the Senate?

Boren: I think with the school funding you saw that. The State Department of Ed asked for $400 million new dollars, and only 50 percent of their ask was met. It seems to me, if you were just looking at it as a policy issue, it would have been fully funded. Public policy is clear that when you fully fund our formula, which is one of the best in the nation, then you meet the needs of poor students. So I think that that might be a good example of public policy versus image and power. If any issue was initially a part of one of the political parties platforms then it made it almost harder to find any kind of compromise on it. It was going to just be... Just the votes are just cast.

Pryor: What do you see as the most important accomplishments of this session?

Boren: I think one thing that we continue to build on is empowering Oklahomans to participate in their democracy. We still had groups from all over the state coming to the capitol. I think our legislators were much more responsive and more prepared. I think one big accomplishment that I would like to give Senator Thompson credit for is putting as much money he could politically get into the funding formula, because...

Pryor: For education...

Boren: Yeah, for education, because at first it looked like it was all going to go to the salary schedule, and I feel like the Senate did a great job trying to get as much into the funding formula as possible.

Ashley: What about the other side of that coin? What sort of shortcomings do you see out of this most recent session?

Boren: Well we missed a lot of opportunities. With criminal justice reform we started off with three different layers of reforms, and at the last minute we barely squeaked out one last reform on retroactivity of crime. Bail reform didn't pass. The Earned Income tax Credit wasn't addressed. The State Department of Ed identified needs to get counselors back into our classroom and to reduce class sizes.

Pryor: You're a lawyer. You've served as a legal analyst reviewing legislation for Governor Walters and Governor Henry. As an analyst, what are your impressions of the legislative process now and the work product?

Boren: Looking back as a staffer I probably would've asked a whole lot more questions knowing what I know now of who influenced what and what bargains were made to reach the consensus that was made. The legislative process, analytically, is not the best problem solving body to resolve complex issues. That's one big eye opening thing that I saw, and it made me much more determined to try to let the experts in Oklahoma have as much freedom and as addresses many of these issues as possible, because our deliberative process is not the best way to resolve complex issues.

Ashley: As a first year lawmaker coming in with new ideas and new energy, how do you view the legislative system the legislative process and how it works?

Boren: It's a lot faster...I think because we only meet from February to May it's a lot faster than I thought. You don't really get to refine policy. It's more of let's put slap something together and see how far it can go, and unless somebody is going to scream and yell about it and make it better, then it just is going to fly through, especially if you're in the majority. That happens. Things just flew through much faster.

Ashley: So what would you change to make it better?

Boren: Well, I think that knowing how to use that voice of dissent or that minority voice to improve the outcome...I think that's what I would change is to make specific strategies so that the output is more refined up in the capitol. They'll say, well that was the way it was for a hundred years when the Democrats were in charge. That's the refrain. And that's true, but I think the problem is still the problem in that the output it does not always reflect the most discerning solution.

Pryor: State Senator Mary Boren, thank you for the visit.

Boren: Thank you so much for having me.

Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. If you have questions e-mail us at news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter at @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and ecapitol.net, on Apple podcasts and Spotify. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor. 

Caroline produced Capitol Insider and did general assignment reporting from 2018 to 2019. She joined KGOU after a stint at Marfa Public Radio, where she covered a wide range of local and regional issues in far west Texas. Previously, she reported on state politics for KTOO Public Media in Alaska and various outlets in Washington State.
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