Linda's Blog - Drew Edmondson for Governor Linda's Blog - Drew Edmondson for Governor

The DHS/DDS Waiting List – We must do better

The DHS/DDS Waiting List – We must do better.

I went to a meeting of the DHS/DDS Waiting List group recently. That is the Developmental Disabilities Services (DDS) division of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (DHS). Crowded into a room in the Sequoyah office building near the capitol were parents of children and adults with developmental disabilities, a few of those children and adults, some state employees who work with the programs serving, or not yet serving, the children and adults, and a few legislators and legislative candidates. And me. Erin Taylor, family advocate and mom, invited me. Wanda Felty, a mom and advocate, chaired the meeting.

This is a “waiting list meeting” because there are 7,669 children and adults who have signed up for services available from DDS/DHS who have not yet been evaluated or served by the Medicaid waiver funds designated for them. More than half the people have been waiting for five years or longer. Almost 2,000 have been waiting more than 10 years.

Why? Because funding is lacking. DHS has had to allocate its general appropriations to higher priority services. Since 2008, responding to increased advocacy efforts from this group, the legislature has directed funding to “work the list” five times, most recently two million dollars this spring. As a result of this money, DHS is evaluating people who went on the list on the first six months of 2006, twelve years ago. Twelve years.

Some of the kids and young adults who were with their parents at the meeting did their best to sit through the long session. One stared wordlessly at the floor, another played on a phone, one lost her temper with her mom and hurried out of the room. Another asked some questions about the math on the waiting list chart. Parents were polite, eager, questioning, resigned, weary, frustrated, and in one case, ready to block Oklahoma City highways until more action is taken.

Answers from state employees were direct, sometimes encouraging, sometimes uncertain, but never hostile or condescending. Acronyms were in practically every sentence: DHS, DDS, CMS, ICF/IDD, TEFRA, BCBA. As a social worker I’ve worked with these issues for decades but I was still having a hard time deciphering all that was said.

We have a revenue problem in state government. I don’t know how we could ignore the waiting list or somehow make it more efficient in the name of fiscal responsibility. The names on the list are real people, whose caregivers need help with things like job training, job coaches, occupational, speech, and physical therapy, transportation, special equipment, home nursing care, and for some, 24-hour living support.

As children become young adults and continue into middle age, their caregivers age too. You know those parents worry daily about what will happen to their child if something happens to them. Most kids grow into independent adults who can manage on their own. The people with developmental disabilities on this waiting list will never be able to take that step without long-term support

We have to do better. These are people – not statistics – and 12 years is just too long to wait.

On Father’s Day

On Father’s Day

With Father’s Day coming up, our family, like many other families, has been reflecting on one of the best dads we’ve ever known – Drew.

I recently asked our kids, Mary and Robert, about their favorite memories of their dad and they remembered some things I hadn’t thought of in a while.

For example, as soon as the kids could walk we were taking them to the Illinois River and the Baron Fork for day trips and camping. Robert says Drew could always start a fire, in the woods or in a fireplace, and “…taught us that a few ashes on a hotdog would just add flavor.” Robert also remembered Drew has never lost interest in “…rising before dawn to savor the fresh country air of rural Oklahoma – and shoot birds.” I know those early days with our kids spent on the banks of the Illinois River influence Drew today; as he advocates for clean water, he does so with a sentimental nod to some of our best days with our children.

Robert also says he learned from his dad, “If you keep your boots polished, you can wear them with a suit.” And he adds, “Dad says always save your ties; at some point, they will be in style again.”

Both kids remember other skills he taught them, like how to use chopsticks, how play poker, and how to change a flat tire.

Mary says her dad makes the best on-top-of-the-stove popcorn in the world, and Robert and I agree with that. Popcorn and peanut butter sandwiches have always been a nutritious meal as far as he is concerned. Mary also remembers that Drew “…read The Hobbit to Robert and me when we were kids, bringing Bilbo Baggins and Gollum to life with his voice.” She is now reading that same book to her twins, Andrew and Catherine.

Drew is a fun grandfather to the twins. Since they were tiny he has been bringing old coins to them when we visit. Andrew and Catherine search his pockets, and sometimes the coins appear behind their ears by magic. He has taught them how to spin a silver dollar too. Drew has taken them both on in games of chess – at the same time! He told me recently he thought they would beat him soon, at least if it is two against one. Drew is a great tease and his favorite joke with Catherine is that her bunny really likes Drew best. Bunny can often be found in Drew’s pocket or hiding on his shoulder, but Catherine and I know Bunny has just been tricked into teaming up with Granddaddy.

Mary and Robert grew up in Muskogee while Drew was District Attorney. Robert remembers those years, “Dad made it easy to be related to a politician because even his enemies respected his integrity.” Mary pointed out he marched for women’s rights and has always fought for clean water. “He stands up for what’s right and fights the good fights,” she said.

Drew often speaks about building a state for our grandchildren. His vision for Oklahoma sees the long view, down the generations, far past November 2018. It’s true, I think, that a lot of people admire Drew, and I’m proud of that. He would tell you he is most proud of the admiration he has earned from his children and grandchildren. That’s true on Father’s Day, and every other day of the year, when we are lucky to call him ours.

Businesses, Volunteers and Programs Work Together to Feed Hungry Oklahomans

Businesses, Volunteers and Programs Work Together to Feed Hungry Oklahomans

One out of every four children in Oklahoma may be hungry every day. When I think of kids worrying about where they will get their next meal–well, I almost can’t think of it. Most of us were fortunate to not grow up feeling the constant nag of hunger pains, but for far too many children, that’s the reality.

We are so fortunate that there are good programs in our state and across the nation that work to feed hungry children, senior citizens, and others in need of nourishment.

A few weeks ago I took a tour of the Regional Food Bank with its amazing CEO, Katie Fitzgerald. In one way it is a big (non-profit) business with a huge warehouse and a fleet of big trucks. But in another way the food bank, through the agencies it serves, is all about getting food to people who are hungry, one child, family, or senior citizen at a time.

Donated food comes into the food bank in a lot of ways, from a single plastic sack with random canned goods to huge pallets of non-perishables from corporations. It takes a lot of volunteer work to sort, package, load, and ship the goods to the 1,300 partner agencies and groups that distribute the food. The food bank needs volunteers every day and evening, and they make it easy and fun to help out.

The Regional Food Bank serves 53 counties in central and western Oklahoma. Eastern counties are ably served by the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma in Tulsa and McAlester. These two non-profits provide food to almost 1,800 food pantries, emergency shelters, senior citizen programs, soup kitchens, and after-school programs.

Many school districts continue a feeding program during the summer in partnership with the food banks, so families who rely on free or reduced cost lunches and breakfasts for their kids have help when school is not in session. Contact your local school or check the food bank websites at www.regionalfoodbank.org (OKC) or www.okfoodbank.org (Tulsa) for more information.

Good-hearted volunteers, supported by the business community and government programs, do wonderful work. Surely there is no better cause than getting food to hungry people. If you can help feed our less fortunate friends and neighbors, I hope you’ll find a way to get involved.

I’m proud to know that Drew will be a governor who will support programs like the Regional Food Bank, and that the business community, volunteer organizations, and government programs will all work together to feed kids and families across our great state.

What You Can Do Now

What You Can Do Now

Every day on the campaign trail, folks tell us they want to help Drew get elected Governor. Nothing is more gratifying! Now that so many candidates have officially filed for office, people are really ready to get active and help change the direction of our state.

Here are some ways to help Drew’s campaign—right now, in no particular order.

  • Go to our website. There, you can sign up to get e-mails, request a yard sign and volunteer. (Oops, I guess you are on our website or you wouldn’t be reading this blog… Well, check the home page to see what else you can do!)
  • Search for us on Facebook, “Drew Edmondson for Governor,” and like our page. This is how you can keep up with where we are going and what we are doing. Every time you “like” a story or picture, or make a comment, it helps our numbers. If you share our posts you can add your own thoughts for your friends to see.
  • You can follow us on Instagram and Twitter too.
  • Be sure your voter registration is up to date. Check on the state Election Board website for information about your registration, your voting place and other details.
  • If you aren’t registered to vote, DO IT NOW! You can find the form at the website listed above. You can also sign up to receive mail-in ballots for the rest of the year. You don’t have to be going out of town or anything—anybody can ask for the ballots to be mailed. That way you have time to study the ballot, especially the state questions (!), and mail it in.
  • Make a plan to vote in the primary election on Tuesday, June 26 and mark your calendar right now for Tuesday, November 6.
  • You can make phone calls for Drew every Tuesday and Thursday evening at our OKC and Tulsa headquarters. We are already knocking doors in OKC and will be soon in Tulsa as well. Call 405-652-1999 for the Oklahoma City office or 918-932-8443 for our Tulsa office if you can help.
  • Email or text a few friends and tell them you are supporting Drew for Governor. Include the link to our website, and ask them to sign up too.
  • Talk to your kids and grandkids about how important the elections are this year. Be sure they are registered to vote when the time comes. Seventeen-year-olds can register if they will be eighteen before the election. A registration form might be a good gift for graduating high school seniors!
  • Contact the campaign and ask for a few window stickers. Put a sticker on your car and share them with your friends. Nothing is more fun than seeing a Drew bumper sticker on a car driven by someone we don’t know!
  • If you can, donate to the campaign. I’ve left this to last because it is hard to ask for money, even when it is for a good cause like electing Drew as Governor. It is easy, safe and secure to donate on our website. All amounts are welcome! Some people choose to sign up for a monthly donation that doesn’t pinch their budget. You can also mail a check and a note to us at: P. O. Box 18922, Oklahoma City, OK 73154. We’d love to hear from you!

You can probably think of other things that can help us get the word out about Drew’s campaign. Your personal contact with your friends, however you choose to do it, is so important. The enthusiasm is building and you can help! One final thing – thank you so much.

Drew for Oklahoma

A Schoolhouse Essay from Linda’s Mom

A Schoolhouse Essay from Linda’s Mom

My admiration and respect for teachers started with my mother, who taught me English and Oklahoma history at Fargo school. Like the teachers I know today, she was dedicated and determined.

Mom started in 1935 at a one-room schoolhouse north of Shattuck in Ellis County. She was paid sixty dollars a month for eight months of work. Decades later she wrote about that year. “The schoolhouse looked like many others in this area. Longer than it was wide with a high peaked roof, it had originally been painted white. Inside, at the back of the classroom was the teacher’s desk with the blackboard covering the wall area behind it. There was a recitation bench, long enough for five or six students, where each class came to recite its lesson so the discussion would not interfere with the other pupils who were studying.

“Facing the blackboard were the rows of students’ desks, graduated in size from the smallest in front to the largest in the back. Dominating the room was the big old pot-bellied heating stove, the long black stovepipe going straight up through the ceiling.

“I had a desk, a blackboard, a box of chalk, a set of maps in a wooden case on the wall, a pointer, a school bell, an attendance register, a dictionary, a set of phonics flash cards and a set of state-adopted textbooks. There was no library. There were no extra sets of readers. There were no reference books. I was in charge of a group of children in various grades from the first to the eighth, to whom I was to teach all subjects, with all the children in the same room all the time.

“I knew that the teacher must supervise the playground, ring the bell, have the children line up in straight lines and march in, have opening exercises, keep perfect order, and read to the pupils after lunch each day. In addition, the teacher must make out a schedule for recitation with arithmetic classes in the morning and spelling the last thing in the afternoon, with everything else sandwiched in between. And, most important of all, the teacher must always know the answer to all the questions and know how to work all the hard arithmetic problems.

“The schoolhouse was surrounded by a plowed wheat field. In those days of drought, it meant that no blade of grass, no spear of wheat, not even a weed, grew on that ground. It was bare. And when the wind blew, the ground blew also; in gusts and spurts, the dirt blew. It would begin by mid-morning. Long before noon the sun would be obscured, and the dirt would continue to blow until nightfall when the wind died down. Sometimes it would blow all night without ceasing, but generally it would be clear early in the morning.

“I would walk to school and hope that today the wind wouldn’t blow. When I first got there, I would start the coal fire if it was cold. Then I would take a whisk broom to sweep the dirt out of the window sills onto the floor. Sometimes the sills would be so full of dirt that I used the little coal shovel to help. The dirt came into the schoolhouse through the old windows, through the cracks in the floor at the foundation, through the very walls, it seemed. I would sweep the dirt into piles which I would scoop up into the coal bucket and carry outside.

“Some days were so bad the children were not allowed outside at all unless I went with them. On the rare days when it was clear and nice we would open all the doors and windows. Everyone would pitch in, and we’d sweep all the dirt out and dust all the desks and think perhaps times would be better someday.

“One of the families in the district was desperately poor. Early in the year I noticed that these children never ate lunch at their desks in the main room with the rest of us. One day I looked in their dinner buckets and found only pieces of coarse dry bread. The other children brought sandwiches of some kind or fried chicken and fruit or cookies.

“I could not eat my lunch while those children were hungry. The next day my landlady gave me a gallon bucket of milk and enough sugar and cocoa to make hot chocolate on top of the old heating stove. That was the beginning. Most days that winter we had something cooking on top of that old stove. I would bring milk and other things from home on weekends. We made potato soup, vegetable soup, cooked rice and raisins, cornmeal mush, and beans, all kinds of beans. Everybody could share.”

The problems are different, but somehow the same, for teachers and schools today. I hope no teacher in the state is cooking on a coal stove to feed hungry kids, but I know many of them provide mid-afternoon snacks for kids whose parents can’t afford to send them. Many teachers buy their own paper, extra pencils, markers and supplies so their students can learn, in spite of a legislature and a governor that refuses to face the fiscal facts. We’re hoping to change that in November. This fight is personal to us.

Drew and I stand with teachers.

Love notes and coffee

“Love Notes and Coffee”

Drew left the house the other morning at zero-dark-thirty for a breakfast meeting in northeast Oklahoma. When I got up at a more civilized hour, I found this note propped up by the coffee pot, “Coffee is ready—just push the button. Don’t forget to put your mail out. Love you—see you tonight. Drew”

For our entire 50-year marriage Drew has written sweet notes to me. I’ll find them tucked in my suitcase when I’m traveling without him, or left on my pillow when he goes out of town. One of my most-cherished treasures is an old to-do list I wrote some years ago that Drew got ahold of and added one last item: “Hug and kiss Drew.”

I have a beloved trove of poems he’s written to me on Valentine’s Days, birthdays, and anniversaries, too. He’s a romantic at heart. Our campaign material even says “Asked Linda to marry him on their very first date.” Actually, what Drew verbatim asked on that first date was, “When are we getting married?” I think I replied, “Not soon.”

We did get married while we were still in college. Drew enlisted in the Navy after he graduated, and we went to south Texas near a naval air station. When Drew served a year in Vietnam I moved home to Oklahoma with our two kids. Since then we’ve lived in Muskogee and Oklahoma City, working a variety of jobs, going back to college, and getting into politics. Fifty years! I can’t believe it has been that long, but after all these years he still opens doors for me and helps me with my coat.

I know I’m not an objective observer, but Drew believes in old-fashioned values, and not just good manners and romantic gestures. Patriotism and love of country. Respect for the law. Belief in every person’s value and right to freedom and equality. Because of these values, Drew has always been a fierce fighter for ordinary folks, standing up to powerful interests that are only looking out for themselves.

But inside, like I said, he’s a romantic. Sometimes people ask me what the secret is to our long marriage. Maybe that’s it … not to mention making the coffee before I get out of bed.

“What Is Important For Us To Remember”

“What Is Important For Us To Remember”

A few weeks ago Drew and I had a chance to visit our grandchildren’s school in Arlington, Virginia. Andrew’s teacher had invited Drew to talk about his efforts to protect the rivers and lakes of Oklahoma from pollution, because the class was studying the environment and how they can help take care of it.

Our grandchildren, Andrew and Catherine, are twins. They attend a typical public school, full of colorful art in the entry and hallways. Every child in the school has colored and cut out a drawing of his or herself, and they were all displayed on the walls of the lobby. The title of the display is “Better Together.” Beautiful.

The third-grade classrooms are in temporary buildings behind the main building. The day that Drew visited, the sun was shining as the kids came in and sat down. They pulled out books to read until class started. Then Catherine’s class came in to listen. They sat on the floor as Andrew introduced his granddad. It was a proud moment.

Drew told them about how chicken poop (Yes, he said the word!) from giant poultry houses is spread on pasture land and rain washes the waste into the rivers and streams of eastern Oklahoma. He then explained how the nitrogen in the poop causes algae to grow in the water, using up the oxygen and making it hard for fish to stay alive. He showed them pictures of the beautiful clear Illinois River and also the dirty brown water with algae growing. He asked them questions about the Table of Elements and wrote symbols on the board. He then explained that when he was Attorney General he filed a lawsuit against the big poultry companies, which were causing the pollution, to protect his state’s rivers, citizens’ health and the lives of the fish.

The kids were attentive and had lots of questions. I loved their interest and earnest concern. The best question was “What is important for us to remember about what you’ve said?” Granddaddy Drew had to sum it up and was happy to do so.

Back here in Oklahoma, we have our own questions about what is important for us to remember and what we need to focus on going into this year’s elections. Many of our questions center on education and our collective future. Oklahoma families are justified in their worries. With the teacher shortage and prevalence of four-day school weeks, many worry whether their kids are getting the classes and instructional time they need to succeed. If more rural schools are consolidated, many worry about the time and distance their kids will have to travel to school each day. And it seems everyone is anxious about whether an Oklahoma high school diploma will be good enough for their kids to be ready for college or work after high school and whether eight years of budget cuts and tuition hikes have priced college out of the budgets of middle-class families.

So “what is important for us to remember” about all of this, you might ask? It’s that change is absolutely vital to our future. Oklahoma can and must do better. Just as Drew showed when he took on big poultry, we need leaders with political courage at our state capitol. And we must really scrutinize the motivations of anyone seeking elective office who tries to convince us the status quo is OK and we are better off now than we were eight years ago.

We aren’t. And on Election Day, it’s important for us to remember that.

“I Hope to Vote for Drew”: One Man’s Take on Civic Duty

“I Hope to Vote for Drew”: One Man’s Take on Civic Duty

Before the holidays, I attended the Sequoyah County Democratic Christmas dinner. I met a gentleman there whose name I will keep private … but I will never forget him.

He and I chatted before the buffet line got started, and he told me that he had been a deputy sheriff when Drew was District Attorney in Muskogee County. He said they worked on some cases together. After dinner we talked again. He told me he had applied for absentee ballots for the whole year.

He said he hoped to vote for Drew in 2018. Then he went on to say he was in cancer treatment, his doctors hadn’t offered much hope, and he honestly didn’t know what the future held. But he had applied for the ballots just in case he was ill on any of the election days. I hugged him hard and told him that I hoped he could cast those votes, too, and more importantly, that he would be in my thoughts and prayers. His story was heartbreaking and his continued devotion to staying involved with his state and country was humbling.

We can all follow his example and request absentee ballots for the whole year. None of us knows what the future holds, really. Any of us could be ill or unexpectedly out of town. Or perhaps the weather or our work demands could make it difficult to get to the polls. Who knows? But by having absentee ballots mailed to us for the entire year, we don’t have much of an excuse for not voting.

Drew and I always request our ballots this way. We like being reminded of all the elections well in advance, and to read the ballot ahead of time (particularly those state questions). If you enjoy going to your polling place on election day like I do, you still can. The precinct official will give you a form to sign saying you didn’t vote your absentee ballot, and then you go ahead and vote in person.

In 2018, your absentee ballots will allow you to vote in the primary this summer as well as the general election in November. Your request will also cover any municipal elections or school elections in your area. They are often held on dates other than the primary and general election. It’s this easy to request an absentee ballot for the entire year:

  1. Visit https://services.okelections.us/AbsenteeApplication/ and complete the information requested.
  2. Make sure to check the box that asks if you wish to have absentee ballots for all elections in the calendar year, rather than just for one specific election.
  3. At the bottom of the page tap “Continue” and you will be directed to a few more automated steps.
  4. You’re done! The request can be successfully completed in just a minute or two.

If my new friend in Sequoyah County, with all the burdens he carries on his shoulders, can take a few moments to ensure he continues to be a good citizen, we all can. If you’re reading this blog electronically, then you can visit the website I listed above right now. Do it! I hope you will, and thank you so much.

Resolutions

Resolutions

Most of my New Year’s resolutions don’t last long. Too ambitious. Too difficult. Or too easy, over and done. But I always make some. It is a time for new beginnings and new efforts to avoid old mistakes. For 2018 my resolutions are as wide as the state and as energized as the people I’ve met everywhere in 2017. All over the state Oklahomans want to change direction.

This past year, just like recent years, we saw failure and scandal at our state Capitol. There were stalemates and ultimatums. Partisanship seemed to be more important than real people’s problems. Passing the buck and ducking from duty were commonplace.

We can resolve to change all that. I have a vision for what change can look like.

We need an economy where all Oklahomans have access to good-paying jobs. Our kids need better-funded schools and our great teachers need increased pay for their hard work. We must make changes so that babies and children have access to doctors and medicine and hospitals close by.

We need leaders who exhibit good character, show the wisdom to understand our problems and the tenacity to make changes. We want leadership that is focused on ordinary people and how to make things better for them. Some politicians are focused on the politics of the next election because they want to keep their job. True leaders are focused on the 2018 election because it is our chance to make a change.

There is a lot of work to be done in this state. There is no doubt we are in a big hole. And while it won’t be quick or easy to move in a new direction, it can be done. We have to resolve to start now. We must resolve to keep the energy building toward the election in November 2018.

This year is crucial—we can’t continue doing things the same way.

So let’s enjoy these last few days of 2017, watch bowl games (or find things to do instead), keep eating holiday leftovers, take down the decorations.

On January 1 we need black-eyed peas for good luck and the biggest New Year’s resolution of all: In 2018, together, we can get going in a new direction. We can take back Oklahoma.

December Holidays

December Holidays

When you’re on the campaign trail, the December holidays can really sneak up on you. Hanukkah began this week and Christmas is less than two weeks away. I’ve been worrying like so many others: Do I have a gift for everyone? Where did I put the red ribbon? Who is cooking what and where are we going to gather to eat it all?

We are going to try to have a quiet, simple celebration this year. I was so lucky to hear Handel’s “Messiah” recently and the music instantly relieved holiday stress. It was a wonderful production presented by Canterbury Voices and the Oklahoma City Philharmonic at the Civic Center. My favorite part is the very beginning, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people…” That clear high recitation always brings a welcome peace and calm to me.

But there is another song, “Getting Ready for Christmas Day,” that runs through my mind this time of year, too. It is written and sung by Paul Simon. While the lyrics invoke Christmas, the feelings they inspire are relevant to people of all religions. They convey our longing to provide well for our families, how we are lonely for those who can’t be with us, how we want to remember the real reasons we celebrate.

I can’t sum up my feelings better during the holidays than Simon does in this song. [You can listen on YouTube here — you will love the melody.] So I share his words with you now with sincere wishes that the holiday season brings you peace and joy.

From early in November to the last week of December
I got money matters weighing me down
Oh the music may be merry, but it’s only temporary
I know Santa Claus is coming to town
In the days I work my day job, in the nights I work my night
But it all comes down to working man’s pay
Getting ready, I’m getting ready, ready for Christmas Day

I got a nephew in Iraq it’s his third time back
But it’s ending up the way it began
With the luck of a beginner he’ll be eating turkey dinner
On some mountain top in Pakistan
Getting ready, oh we’re getting ready
For the power and the glory
And the story of Christmas Day

If I could tell my Mom and Dad that the things we never had
Never mattered we were always okay
Getting ready, oh ready, ready for Christmas Day
Ready, getting ready
For the power and the glory and the story of the Christmas Day