The Norman Transcript

March 31, 2013

State public health committee not open to civil discourse


The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Editor, The Transcript:

An article appeared in an area newspaper regarding the indecorous behavior of members of the Oklahoma Senate and the House (Daily Oklahoman, March 18, 2013, page 6A). The article suggests that it is mostly Democratic Party members who are the cause of this disrespectful behavior.

However, I wrote a letter recently to Speaker of the House T. W. Shannon about an experience I had at the state Capitol that suggests the Republican Party may have some serious misbehaviors of its own to be concerned about. Here follows my letter to Speaker Shannon.

As a citizen-lobbyist for women’s reproductive justice, I have spent many days at the Oklahoma Capitol, encouraging legislators to remember all of the women in this state and their right to be considered and heard on any issues that directly affect them.

I have generally been pleased with the treatment I have received from the legislators and their assistants. It is clear to me that they have received training in how to respond kindly to all visitors.

While at the Capitol recently for Women’s Health Day, I was visiting all the legislators who are on the public health committee.

My trip to the Capitol suddenly turned ugly when I visited the office of the representative from Broken Arrow, Mike Ritze (Republican).

Immediately after introducing myself and offering my hand, I told him I was there to speak with him about the bills concerning women’s reproductive justice issues. His immediate and only words to me were, “Baby killing, you mean!” He turned his back on me walked into his office, and closed the door.

At a public health committee meeting I attended a few weeks ago, I heard Rep. Ritze call the members of the committee who disagreed with him, “Baby killers!” and thought that remark was uncalled for.

An audible gasp was heard from people in attendance. Surely, I thought, Rep. Shannon will speak to Ritze about the importance of maintaining civil discourse and avoiding name-calling, widely considered to be counterproductive to effective communication.

I understand that a majority of the legislators that I talk to do not agree with me, but I have never encountered anyone who behaved as self-righteously as Rep. Ritze behaved with me.

The holier-than-thou reception I received was a shock to me. I understand and respect the opinion of those who believe differently than I do. I expect the same treatment in return.

I am a non-threatening grandmother of two and a lifelong Oklahoman who just celebrated my 46th wedding anniversary. I have never felt any intimidation about going to the Capitol until this year. I tried to see you about my experience, but our assistant was unable to make an appointment for me.

Your press secretary took my name with contact information, but I have had no reply to my concerns, and for this reason, I am writing this letter.

What am I left to conclude about exercising my First Amendment rights at the Oklahoma Capitol? I have to think that a visit to the Capitol is an exercise in futility at best, a potential verbal assault at worst.

What should I expect the next time a bill comes before the public health committee that I want to discuss? Should I not go? Should I bring my brother along as a body guard in case the hostility toward those with my opinion should escalate?

I am certain that had I spoke to Rep. Mike Ritze in the manner he spoke to me, I would have been escorted out of the building.

I am very disappointed in the legislature and its disregard for a voter peacefully exercising her duties as a citizen.

Judy Drury

Norman

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