Constitutional conspiracy?

Originally published in the Newcastle Pacer, June 10, 2010.

We asked for it.

We wanted our legislators to really know the Constitution they swore an oath to uphold, didn’t we?

But which is worse: Having a Federal government that would just as soon forget the Constitution entirely, or a state government that knows it well enough to work the system to its every advantage?

In conservative Oklahoma, every successful talk radio show, editorial page and commentator broadcast is dedicated to deriding the Obama administration for policies that are described as everything from liberal to Marxist.

But last week, a bombshell hit the state Capitol and our neighbor to the north when Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater announced Rep. Randy Terrill (R-Moore) and two others would be the focus of a multi-county grand jury investigation.

At issue is whether Terrill and others conspired to create a new $80,000 position for Sen. Debbe Leftwich (D-Oklahoma City) at the state Medical Examiner’s office in exchange for vacating her Senate seat so Rep. Mike Christian (R-Oklahoma City) could run without incumbent opposition.

The position would have been ternporary, only three years, but enough to nearly double Leftwich’s state retirement package when she allegedly finished.
But to get around a Constitutional ban on legislators taking state-funded positions for at least two years after leaving office, Prater alleges conspirators wrote legislation funding the job from wire- transfer transaction fees, a fund Terrill created last year.

Since the money would come from fees and not from state tax revenues, they may have believed Leftwich would be eligible for the position, Prater said.
Gov. Brad Henry has since vetoed both the bill that created the position and the
bill that provided the funding for it.

So at least we know that, despite the attacks on open meetings, open records
and government transparency this session, the legislators really do know the
Constitution. They know it well enough to allegedly dodge every snare and real-
ize every loophole.

I mean, I get it. Imagine what you could get accomplished if you could just
hand pick all the legislators you wanted to work for you at the Capitol, without
all the interference from those jerks that don’t see things the way you do. It
sounds great to me.

Unfortunately, that’s one part of the Constitution on which our lawmakers
need to brush up.

I have a Constitutional right to be a jerk if I want to. And so do you.

If these three, and possibly many more, really did conspire to stack the deck in the next election, then they violated the spirit of the Constitution, if not
the letter.

Let the District Attorney and the grand jury do their work. That’s what they were designed for.

And watch out for the next names to come out of Prater’s hat. Politics can make strange bedfellows.

Wayne Noe dies at age 70

Wayne "The Donut Man" Noe

Wayne “The Donut Man” Noe passed peacefully, surrounded by his wife and daughters, on March 13, 2011 at the age of 70 after a yearlong battle with cancer.

Wayne loved people, especially those he called “colorful characters.” He told hilarious stories, poured a good, strong cup of coffee and made the best donuts. He was able to combine all these loves in the donut shops he established for the last 20 years of his career, the business that earned him his nickname.

Everything was an adventure for Wayne, some new horizon yet to be discovered. His first started on September 24, 1940, when he was born to Joe Woodrow Noe and Esther Irene Welker Noe in Ada, Okla.

He then trekked west with his family in an army surplus jeep in 1946. Following Route 66, surmounting the continental divide and winding up the old Gold Road, five-year-old Wayne, his parents and two brothers settled in Bakersfield, Calif.

He met the love of his life, Durlene Ruth Beckham, at East Bakersfield High at the age of 15. After a brief peacetime stint in the Marine Corps, Wayne and Durlene married on April 4, 1959 and moved to Los Angeles.

He landed a job in management at Thrifty Drug and worked his way up the ranks while developing a knack for buying, selling and managing real estate.

In 1968, Durlene gave birth to their first daughter, Adrienne, and Kimberly followed in 1978, after the family moved back to Oklahoma.

Ever the entrepreneur, Wayne spent many years as a regional circulation director for both the L.A. Times and Daily Oklahoman, among other things, before settling in the restaurant industry. He couldn’t know in 1983 that his next new venture would turn out to be his life’s great joy.

That year, Wayne and Durlene converted their restaurant chain into a donut shop called The Twist. Over time, he developed recipes and techniques that made his donuts the best.

But it was his personality that gave his customers something extra. The happiest years of his life were spent running his donut shop, telling jokes and swapping stories. He befriended a town, established a sanctuary for hard working coffee drinkers and had a smile, and sometimes a helping hand, for everyone he met.

He was a brilliant engineer, architect, carpenter and always the life of the party. His clever mind, quick wit, joy for living and love for his granddaughters will be remembered fondly by his family.

Though he donated his body to science, the family invites all his friends and acquaintances to a Coffee and Donuts Memorial in his honor at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 26 at the Wynnewood Senior Citizens Center, 804 E. Robert S. Kerr Blvd. Flowers may be sent to the family home in Wynnewood.

He was preceded in death by his father, Joe Woodrow Noe.

He is survived by his wife Durlene, of the home; mother Esther Noe of Davis; daughters Adrienne Leonard and husband Dr. Robert Leonard of Edmond, and Kimberly Noe of Norman; granddaughters Laura and Brooke Leonard and Lexi Noe; brothers Jack Noe and wife Sheron of Konawa, Okla. and David Noe and wife Jackie of Desert Hot Springs, Calif.; and brother-in-law Virgil Beckham of Woodland Hills, Calif.

Wayne "The Donut Man" Noe

Okla House Gov Committee passes HB 1971, strikes down accountability

HB 1971 passed out of General Government Committee on an 8-5 vote yesterday. The bill will allow county governments to bid their notices on newspaper websites, rather than in newspapers. I spoke with Scott Martin about this several weeks ago knowing it would come before his committee, and though he’s concerned about public accountability, the focus right now is cutting spending. That’s good. As a tax payer, I appreciate that as well.

But when I read that the county commissioners’ representative said in the committee meeting in which Rep. Martin and the majority of his colleagues voted to send HB 1971 to the floor, “It’s time for counties to stop subsidizing newspapers,” I almost lost it. So now county commissioners are not just trying to save money, they’re trying to make the inefficiencies in their departments NEWSPAPERS’ fault? They can’t balance the budget because of the few thousand dollars they spend each year telling the citizens what they’re doing? Have the commissioners lost perspective in coming to believe that being publicly accountable to their citizens is just a pain, a formality, an unnecessary expense they shouldn’t have to deal with? An expense that is strictly for the newspapers’ benefit? Surely you don’t believe that. Have they forgotten they have a sacred obligation to remain as transparent and connected as possible with the populations who elected them?

If this bill passes, every other government entity and law firm and debt collector will want to be included. And why shouldn’t they? The House has now set the precedent. Which means when the county wants to take your house for back taxes, it won’t have to put out much effort or investment to do it. When you’re upset about the lack of notice, the county will say to you, “Sorry, you should have thought to check that one website, just in case something important was on it.” And of course, though the House version of this bill recommends newspaper websites, the Senate version recommends the counties’ own websites. The commissioners’ representative prefers the Senate bill. What’s the difference between that and keeping them in a filing cabinet in the Clerk’s office? They’re on display, but who will know to look for them? Public notices are such because they are pushed to the public, put on display where citizens are. Otherwise you can’t call them that.

When the government – or anybody – wants to take a citizen’s property, curtail a citizen’s rights, spend a citizen’s money or affect change in a citizen’s standing or the laws girding him, it should have to pay whatever price is necessary to provide notice of that change in the medium that is the most convenient, most prevalent and gives the public the most opportunity to see it. Right now, that’s newspapers. Everything’s going digital, but it’s not there yet. Frankly, though, I don’t care what the medium is or how it affects my business; I want government to be accountable to its citizens. In a way, public notices are the backbone of democracy. They are the guarantee that the government cannot do too much to you without your permission or prior knowledge. It can be difficult to keep especially County Commissioners on the straight and narrow in this state as it is. I don’t care if they use the US Postal Service, I want those commissioners sending their minutes and their bid notices and their employees’ salaries and tax lists to every citizen. Just how little do they think democracy and accountability are worth? Legislators cannot condone this above-accountability-to-citizens attitude the commissioners have apparently adopted by voting for this irresponsible bill.

Discuss it here. Am I wrong? Let me know what you think. But if you agree, contact your legislator today and tell them you’re asking for their commitment to vote for government accountability – to vote no on HB 1971.

The eight representatives that voted to allow counties to take bids to put notices on newspaper web sites rather than in print are:

• Dennis Johnson, Duncan/Marlow
• Donnie Condit, Eufaula/Checotah
• Elise Hall, Bethany/OKC
• Scott Martin, Norman/Newcastle
• Dustin Roberts, Durant
• Wade Rousselot, Wagoner/Coweta
• Randy Terrill, Moore
• Sue Tibbs, Tulsa

The five representatives that voted to keep legal notices in printed newspapers are:

• Mike Christian, OKC
• Lisa Billy, Purcell
• Guy Liebmann, OKC
• Steve Martin, Bartlesville
• Jerry Shoemake, Okmulgee/Henryetta/Morris

PRESENT BUT NOT IN THE ROOM TO VOTE:
• Larry Glenn, Miami, Vinita

ABSENT
• Charlie Joyner, Midwest City

The bill now goes to the House Floor for a vote of the full House. Find your Representative here.

A Walk in the Sun

A Walk in the Sun

One of two features I wrote on our Oklahoma winery tour last year

Last year, Jeff and I took a tour of several Oklahoma wineries for his birthday. Last weekend, we finally made it back to a few of our favorites, and I was reminded again of what an amazing experience it is to share a glass and a few moments with these passionate viticulturalists. Looking forward to Crush 2010. Following is one of the features I wrote after our trip last year:

A grape is like a child.

From a young age, it soaks up everything around it, taking influences from whatever it’s grounded in, the nourishment it receives, and the occasional stimulus that crosses its path.

If given too much of what it needs too freely, it becomes spoiled, too full of its own juices to remain rooted in its intended flavor.

But when pushed ever so slightly, when forced to struggle to find the resources it needs to survive on its own, a rich and concentrated character develops, the deep, ecstatic bouquet of it pouring out whenever pressed.

Such a child is born for greatness. Such a grape is born to be wine.

Like a child, a grape doesn’t reach its potential in its first season. The older the vine, the longer the soft wood is allowed to commune with elements of the soil, the air, the water, the local birds and insects, the more firmly rooted the fruit’s flavor becomes in that region’s characteristics.

Grapes literally take on the smells, tastes and textures of their environments, giving themselves fully and openly to the region that hosts them.

In fact, a vine’s full potential is impossible to define, because each year the flavor of the grape evolves with soil and water changes and new cross-pollination offered by friendly insects.
In the hands of a good viticulturalist, the grape should continue to grow richer and more complex each season, with no limit to its potential.

Grapes, like people, thrive in adversity. With ample water, nutrient-rich soil and temperate climate, the grape becomes lazy. The fruit grows large, bloated with the weight of excess water and gluttonous fertilizer. Its flavor is watered-down, weak and superficial.

When the soil is dry and unfertilized, the weather is hot, and the vines are given just enough water to survive, the vine has to display ingenuity and tenacity, reaching deep into the soil to find sustenance, soil that perhaps once hosted asparagus, or strawberries, or corn. Those influences become part of the focused, intense flavor of the fruit, concentrated by virtue of having no resources to spare on large, watery grapes. The perfect wine grape.

Gifted viticulturalists understand this balance. Like the perfect parent, they provide only the nurturing that is necessary for survival, making sure to give the growing buds enough space to learn life’s lessons for themselves. And the independent spirit of the vine responds with a confident, complex yet uncomplicated adult.

Now it’s the winemaker’s turn to dig deep. Passionate crafters treat winemaking like an art, guiding the sweet nectar of the wine grapes through the fermentation process, unlocking all those flavors that became part of the grape, and developing the good ones.

Just as lazy grapes produce diluted flavors, lazy winemakers produce harsh or superficial wines. You can’t really measure the quality of a winemaker by his years, although added experience can improve his know-how. Passion is what counts.

This became clear on a recent tour of several area wineries. In every case, the winemaker that just wanted to talk about his grapes and upcoming wines produced the best specimens.

Some, unfortunately, know very little about the grapes they grow, and in many cases don’t actually craft their own wines. Mercenary winemakers never produce as well as those that do it from the heart.

A great bottle of wine, like the grapes that form it, the artist that crafts it, and the individual that drinks it, is always evolving, changing, growing. The glass of wine you enjoy tonight would not have been the same any other night of its life.

So savor it. Know that this moment, this experience, this convergence of winemaker’s passion, grapevine’s growth, soil’s history, sun’s rays, and your mood in the glass in front of you, will never come again.

Interested in learning more? Visit http://www.agritourism.travelok.com and click “Browse for an Adventure” to see Oklahoma’s 53 vineyards and wineries.

The measure of a man

He was the last great cowboy in that classic line.

Like Gene Autry and Will Rogers without the celebrity.

He was born and raised in Oklahoma. He had six sisters, two brothers and parents who knew only hard work.

They farmed and ranched through dust bowl and depression and never took what they had for granted.

After his mother died, he and his dad were “baching it” long before it was cool.

When he found a girl he liked, her mother didn’t return the sentiment. But that didn’t stop him.

He wanted to take care of her. So they set out in the dead of night and got married by headlight at the county line, where the preacher consented to meet them.

But times were hard.

They moved west. He got work. They found Jesus.

He went to work for Southern Pacific Railroad in California and slowly worked his way up, bringing home enough to put food on the table and wood in the stove.

Their first house in Bakersfield was little more than a one-room shack. He added on a bedroom that let occasional snow, frost and dew in through the roof at night.

He worked hard through the years – 22 with the railroad – and raised three boys who carried on his legacy of honest hard work, sincere compassion and integrity.

But he never forgot his dream of returning to Oklahoma, the wide-open spaces of his youth, where he could raise his own cattle and crops. Where a good dog and a good horse would get a man through the hardest of times.

And that’s where I met him.

To the Cranfords, Rooster and the Hortons, he was neighbor, advisor and friend.

To me, he was a playmate, a cheerleader and a champion.

He was my Grandpa.

And last week marked the seventh anniversary of his death.

He taught me to break, saddle and ride a horse. He taught me how to call and feed cattle.

He taught me that the simplest joys in life could be the most gripping if you take the time to notice them.

We spent lots of hours sitting on the porch, eating ice milk and listening to the whippoorwills. The cows occasionally mooing in the distance. The smell of horse sweat and leather on the wind.

My ordinary world didn’t invade there, and now that I’m an adult, when I come back to silence, I can feel those days running through me like electric current.

I don’t think of the final years. His struggle to stay strong with no farm work left to be done. I don’t think of the eulogy I had to write or the rain the day of his funeral.

I go back to the sweet-smelling fields, the company of the birds and bugs chattering all around, the huge blue sky, horizon as far as I could see, and the man who showed me how a person could love it all so much.

And in the end, I guess the measure of a man is not how much money he collected or to what corporate heights he climbed.

In the end, the measure of a man is what he was able to leave behind, in the people who loved him.

That’s a legacy I’m proud to carry on.

Mom’s kitchen

My mother’s kitchen was always filled with memories.

Through jobs and business ventures and busy days and tired nights, Mom peppered her cooking with bittersweet stories of the grandparents I never knew.

His strength, integrity and incomparable kindness; her boundless love, courage and support. She told me the stories of all the lessons she learned from them, stories about Jesus and sewing and loving your neighbor and, of course, cooking fantastic food.

I’m four years old.

Mom is always busy working, but she pulls down the big heavy mixing bowls and chooses the huge yellow one. It’s a baking kind of day. She gets out the big amber jar full of flour and lets me pack the brown sugar. My favorite part is when it all slides into the bowl in the shape of the little copper measuring cup. She shows me how to carefully separate the egg shell so no pieces fall in. We make the best chocolate chip cookies. We eat a few chips together while we’re mixing them, and she makes half with no nuts just for me.

She teaches me that sugar is a wet ingredient and how to multiply fractions and that if you pull the mixer out of the batter before you turn it off, batter splatters everywhere.

I’m six.

Mom gets me up in the middle of every night and carries me to the car. It’s time to make the donuts. She lays me in a lawn chair in the back of the donut shop and covers me with her jacket before she gets to work with dad. There, under her jacket and in the midst of all that hustle and bustle, I feel completely safe and secure. I get up and try to talk customers into playing Candyland with me before I catch the bus for school. I get to take donut holes for snack time. I’m everyone’s favorite snack-bringer.

I learn about friends and 80s music and that the way to anyone’s heart is through his or her stomach.

I’m seven.

I think that with a little water and some spices I find in the cabinet, I will make a delicious sauce just like the chefs do on TV. Mom teaches me to scramble an egg instead. Be careful of the gas when you light the burner. Carefully crack the eggs so no shell falls in. Keep stirring or the eggs will stick and burn on the bottom. Don’t leave the spatula in the pan too long or it will melt, and don’t use metal in a new Teflon pan.

I learn to get up before my mom to make my own hot breakfast and watch the news, cause that’s what grown ups do. And that when I fall asleep in my chair, mom will pick up my dishes and clean whatever mess I left in the kitchen without ever saying a word to me about it.

I’m 10.

Mom takes me to the grocery store with her every day to get the ingredients for endless casseroles, meat loaves and fried chicken byproducts. I complain a lot.

I learn about budgets, green stamps and that all that stuff tastes better than I would ever let on.

I’m 18.

I make my first solo fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, all from scratch of course, and I start a fire in the kitchen. My date offers to help from the living room, but I save the chicken and he’s none the wiser about the fire.

I learn that no matter how old and wise I get, my mom is never more than a phone call away when I realize I’m out of my depth. And, later, that they actually make mixes for things like mashed potatoes and gravy, but that that would be cheating and it probably wouldn’t taste as good anyway.

I’m 28.

For my birthday, I ask my mom to finally show me the trick to her famous pies for which there is no recipe. She shows me how to mix the ingredients for the crust, just as her mother showed her. She tells me that we’ll pre-bake these for cream pies but that you don’t do that for custard-style pies. We whip egg whites and double-boil pudding for hours.

I learn that regardless how detailed your notes, nothing can replace practice and an inherent knack, and that using my great-grandmother’s rolling pin, my maternal grandmother’s recipes and my paternal grandmother’s pie pan while cooking with my mom creates a feeling of connection I can’t explain.

I’m 30.

I finally pin my mom down on her homemade dressing and giblet gravy. Like the pies, she learned from her mother, and there is no recipe. She can’t tell me any specific measurements, but she can go on forever with that dreamy look in her eyes about how special it was for her mother to impart to her these same skills.

I learn that I really can pull together an entire holiday meal and that no matter how great a cook and wonderful a woman my grandmother was, she couldn’t have been better than my mom with all her love, devotion and ridiculously delicious food.

I’m 31.

I’m standing in my mother’s kitchen with her and my sister, my memories so thick I can hardly breathe. I’m helping her weed through a lifetime of collected utensils and appliances for their immenent downsize. Throw that away; sell this; keep that. Yes, sell all the new-fangled, modern plastic stuff. But I will never part with those multi-colored glass mixing bowls, the copper measuring cups, the old pie plates and baking dishes and cookie jars from my childhood. With my mom.

I learn that sooner or later, we all have to let go of the things, because the memories are now a part of who we are. But I also learn why my mom was always so happy in the kitchen. With her mom.

And now, no matter what happens, I’ve learned that my mom will always be with me in mine.

So what do you do?

If you asked me that question right now, I would answer with the title of my day job.

You and I ask that question to mean, “What work do you do?” It’s a way to categorize people; to infer something about their personalities and characters quickly without really knowing them.

Think about the different images you get with different answers to that question: I’m a Banker… a Clerk… a Used Car Salesman.

The question is innocent enough, but what about the answer? When I answer that question with “Advertising Director,” I am telling you that that is the thing in my life that defines me. That while I may have many other hobbies, interests, obligations and passions, my job is the part I’m really serious about.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as some of my hobbies and passions are becoming more important – and lucrative – for me.

While I enjoy the work I do for my company, I resist the urge to let it define me completely. As part of a complex species, one particular role in life could never fully do that. But if you believe your thoughts define your reality, as I do, what is clinging to that one label doing to yours?

I started a jewelry design company with a friend last year. It’s doing quite well, getting very good feedback from people and selling quickly, too. In fact, we are now in talks with a Swedish management agency to sponsor the front woman from our favorite rock band.

Still, none of that really seems real to me. I’m just playing around with a soldering iron, I’m not a professional! And yet the fact that I have a successful web store and may have the opportunity to make pieces for an international celebrity points to the reality that I am a professional in the jewelry industry.

I would still not tend to answer your question with “Jewelcrafter.”

Jeff, my boyfriend, tells a story about his experience directing a movie for the first time. Though he had worked on film projects for ten years, when asked the question by someone in film circles, he would have struggled to come up with a title. He felt, like I do, that he was just playing around. That it wasn’t serious enough to really give people the impression that anything in film would be an accurate professional label for him.

But when he decided to write, produce and direct his own project, he knew he had to get serious about it. So, long before he developed the story for Contactee, before he ever received a cent for directing a movie, he began introducing himself as a Director.

As he shook the hand of a potential crew-member or investor and delivered that title, I’m sure his brain went wild. “No you’re not! Liar! You’ve never directed a movie; you’re not a director!”

But the guy shaking his hand now believes he should treat Jeff as a Director. If Jeff answered the question by saying, “Well, I’ve been a sound recordist, gaffer and cinematographer on some amateur productions, and I’m planning to develop my own movie, but really I work as a Graphic Artist for a newspaper,” the other guy would walk away not knowing how to deal with him and would probably not seek out the opportunity to work with him.

The thing is, other people will take your labels as seriously as you do. If I don’t take my Jewelcrafting, if Jeff doesn’t take his Directing, seriously enough to use the label, no one else will either.

So are you a grocery store clerk? A waitress? An insurance agent? A dog groomer? Or is there something else you will do yourself the favor of making serious in your life?

I watched a TV movie with my daughter last night about a Barbie doll that was brought to life with a magic spell. She told everyone she met that she had been everything from a lawyer and doctor to a police officer and massage therapist. Though it didn’t seem possible to be all those things in one young lifetime, people believed her.

When a man asked her if she was a lawyer, she responded, “I have been.” Inevitably, he followed with, “So what do you do now?”

Her answer?

“It depends on what outfit I’m wearing.”

I’m determined to start using that line. At least it doesn’t dictate what I can think is important in my life.

So what do I do?

I’m a Mom, a Jewelcrafter, a Producer, an Agent, a Traveler, a Clarinetist, a Production Assistant, a Writer, a Marketing Professional AND an Advertising Director.

But really, it just depends on what outfit I’m wearing.