I came here almost 7 years ago, driving in on I-40 from Arizona in my 1965 vintage motorhome. It was quite the adventure to be here when the long drought was broken. Having grown up near Wichita Falls, Texas, I’d heard tornado sirens before, but after living in Central Texas and Arizona for 35 years, I was unaware of the new radar technologies and just how weather reporting during storm events had evolved. As I listened to AWACs head for Arizona, I felt more vulnerable in my motorhome than I actually was as sirens sounded all around me and my RV neighbors.
I came here specifically to work for a startup state-level think tank called the 1889 Institute. For three years I toiled mostly all by myself with only some direction from our Senior Fellow, to build a body of high-quality research. Funding was made available for some expansion, and eventually our team included as many as seven total individuals researching issues and government programs in an effort to make it as easy as possible to earn a living in this state, to make government efficient, and to maximize individual freedom. I’ve had the honor to work with dedicated individuals whose motives were selfless, only wanting to see Oklahoma be its best self.
We’ve had some impacts. It’s rare to hear about consolidating small school districts these days because our research showed that while there were potential savings, they weren’t that high; the savings are more likely in dividing huge districts. We told the truth about COVID-19 from the beginning, because the scientific evidence has always been there, and it helped to see the state opened again. School funding has been reformed, partly influenced by our research. We’ve helped to keep the school choice conversation going. We influenced the occupational licensing review that is ongoing in the state, though the results have been disappointing. Our state supreme court now has a docket online, a result of our criticism. And, the state’s finances are more transparent than they once were, though there is definite room for improvement.
There have been other impacts that we’ve had, and it’s too bad that we will not be able to see all our ideas through. We’ve had the good fortune of often hearing our words come back to us from others who had no idea we’d uttered them, even occasionally in politicians’ speeches.
Unfortunately, we found out two weeks ago that the 1889 Institute is not funded beyond January 1, 2022, meaning it’s time for those of us who built it to move on to, hopefully, bigger and perhaps better endeavors, though that last is hard to believe. Those of us who worked here full-time loved our work and even if our lives were not disrupted, are profoundly sorry to lose the gig.
We sincerely believe that no one has a better, more prosperous, or more just vision for Oklahoma than we do. Nobody in this state does better policy research. Nobody applies the lessons of human history better than we do. Nobody is more independent, more objective, more self-reflective, or more honest. But, lots are better funded. Unfortunately, we have to say goodbye.
So as Walter Cronkite might have said…That’s the way it is. Goodbye, and may God bless Oklahoma.