If you live in Moore, Oklahoma you're starting to get sweaty palms right about now. May is just around the corner and it has never been a kind month to your home town, or a lot of other places in the state of Oklahoma.
As a rule of thumb prime time tornado season starts around the middle of April and peters out about the same time in June. Earlier in the year it is generally too cold, after the middle of June it is too hot. Throughout May the conditions are perfectly ripe, making it the deadliest month. Those of us who have lived here for most of our lives can almost smell them coming. The day grows overly warm and humid while the sky is crowded with white puffy cumulus and alto cumulus clouds. Then cooler air floods into the atmosphere from the Rockies and some of those benign pieces of floating cotton candy begin to merge and grow like some great malevolent beast. Inside of them is a witch's brew of violence.
Lines of thunderstorms form, then move as if they're a vast and terrible army advancing across the state. In theory they can come from any direction, but the bad ones, the killers, usually come up from the south west and track north easterly.
Last year in May a tornado ripped the heart out of Moore, leveling not only much of the town, but two elementary schools. In all it killed seven students and 17 others. After the storm, Senator Tom Coburn strolled through the devastation offering bright assurances the odds are Moore would never get hit again. Unfortunately the May 20, 2013 storm was the once again disaster. In May 1999 a deadly twister followed almost exactly the same path, although later in the day, so schools were already out. The winds in that storm were clocked at 318 miles per hour. It is the fastest wind speed ever recorded on the face of planet earth. Despite Coburn's optimism, only 11 days after the 20th, a second tornado tracked just north and west of Moore. It turned on a dime, killing an experienced storm chaser from The Weather Channel.
After all that, who can blame more than a few people for beginning to think they are in the middle of some great celestial bull's eye.
Given what has happened a group of locals calling themselves "Take Shelter Oklahoma" circulated a petition calling for a law which would mandate storm shelters be built for all Oklahoma public schools.
Well what idiot would argue with that? I mean, for God's sake, when the television meteorologists are saying things like, "to survive this tornado you must be underground," as they were last May, it would seem to make undeniable sense.
Actually several people have problems with it. The petition called for the state to sell $500 million in bonds in order to finance the project. However, to jump start things before the bonds are sold, it also had a provision to use $40 to $50 million in business franchise taxes, because--you know--at this point May is only 24 fucking days away.
What happened was this--late last year republican state attorney general, Scott Pruitt re-worded the gist of state question 767 to the point it sounded like local businesses were going to have to foot the entire bill. Some people sued, claiming Pruitt was an abject tea party asshole sucking up to business interests. They took their case to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. It promptly ruled Pruitt could word the bill any damn way he pleased. His office issued a statement saying, "Throughout the process my office acted as a neutral legal advisor." Tellingly, a Pruitt spokesperson also said, in perfectly pronounced tea party dialect, a private non profit organization has been set up which would issue grants to school districts so they could build shelters.
Right, so why worry? There is no need for government when private enterprise is hard at work and on top of the situation. At this time the amount of money collected by the non profit is a little over $2 million--just a tad short of the $500 million Take Shelter Oklahoma says is necessary.
Attorney David Slane, is one of several lawyers representing Take Shelter Oklahoma. His response to, Pruitt's edit job was it's, "Biased, misleading, and confusing to voters." He also said a few things about the Oklahoma AG being in the hip pocket of business leaders, which of course everyone perpetrating this stall job is denying vehemently.
Republican governor Mary Fallin says she has her own plan which will allow "more local control" of the shelter building. She is proposing each school district hold a special election to decide whether, or not to raise property taxes to finance safe areas. She is the same woman who refused to be seen with President Barack Obama last year when he flew in to view the carnage.
State Representative, Joe Dorman, a democrat running for governor, calls Fallin's idea, "unrealistic." He also notes, at this very moment, 506,000 Oklahoma students and teachers are currently unprotected from deadly storms in 1,109 schools across the state.
And they are going to remain that way for this and probably many future Mays.
The brutal truth is conservative politicians hate public education, the men and women who teach there, and the administrators who run it. All those people are unionized, they are noisy, they're always demanding more money for education and themselves, not to mention a lot of them tell their students about anti born again Christian stuff, like evolution.
So screw 'em. Those kids should be home schooled anyway.
They test the storm sirens nearly every Saturday at noon in this town. As we've seen there is a reason they do. As we've also seen, a warning is one thing, but getting safely into a steel reinforced hole under ground is another entirely.
Welcome to spring and politics on the southern plains.