In federal terms, Tuesday's election is a "midterm," meaning that the president is not on the ballot, even though he apparently wishes he was. But in state terms, this is the year we Okies select our chief executive, and our options are not good.
The incumbent is Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican. Gov. Fallin has done little memorable while in office. She can point to no landmark legislation or accomplishment, which is about what one might expect from her given her previous record in elective office. Her 2010 campaign was essentially about being in the right place at the right time. She timed her candidacy to follow a popular Democratic governor who had done nothing to build the party and bring forth a good successor. Although the state Democratic nominee who did emerge -- then-Lt. Governor Jari Askins -- was clearly better qualified as an executive and leader, Gov. Fallin was able to take advantage of nationwide anti-Democratic sentiment and state Democratic party futility to win handily. Gov. Fallin offers no more reason to vote for her now after four years in office than she did in 2010.
The Democratic nominee is Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs. Rep. Dorman has heavily stressed his commitment to improving Oklahoma's educational system, and attacked Gov. Fallin's role in the system's current struggle. Many people support him because of the changes he advocates, even though he is almost certainly doomed to see few, if any, of his proposed reforms clear a legislature dominated by the opposing party. Oklahoma's system, which elects its state superintendent of education, will probably hamper him even more, even though the unpopularity of incumbent Janet Barresi offers him a weight to hang around Gov. Fallin's neck, as they are both of the same party. Supt. Barresi lost in the primary, meaning she has no real bearing on this election. GOP candidate Joy Hofmeister does not seem to share Rep. Dorman's proposals, and even if Democrat John Cox wins, he may have his own version of a reform agenda and divide support for whatever a Governor Dorman might seek to implement.
I know people who have met Rep. Dorman personally and who consider him a good person. I have not met him but have no reason to doubt their opinion. But I could under no circumstances vote for him, because of some of the mechanics of his November 2013 proposal to allow executed criminals to donate their organs. I snarked on it at the time, but right now I'm scared of it in all seriousness.
In a practical sense, the proposed legislation is an excellent example of someone not thinking their idea through. No Oklahoma prison currently has the medical facilities necessary to remove organs in such as way to maintain their viability for donation. Either a state prison system that has had to reduce personnel even while incarceration rates rise would have to spend its limited budget to build this facility, or condemned people would have to be transported to a surgical center capable of these operations -- a security risk and a considerable expense added to the already pricey death penalty process. Rep. Dorman is neither the first nor last politician to put forth as legislation an idea that is unworkable in the real world. But when the centerpiece of your campaign is a proposed package of reform legislation, a record of proposing poorly-thought out legislation doesn't recommend you.
It is the moral arena, though, where this idea crosses over from impractical to horrifying -- and disqualifying. Oklahoma's current method of execution is lethal injection, which generally renders a person's organs unsuitable for transplant. The drugs used to kill the condemned shut down much more than just the heart, and they do it in ways that create permanent damage. Therefore, Rep. Dorman proposed that the condemned be anesthetized and the organs then removed before brain death occurred -- literally death by vivisection.
This idea is nightmarish and represents the first rung on a ladder that could climb to the same kind of action in other people whose lives are somehow determined to be not important enough to continue, either by society or by themselves. Persistent vegetative state? Late stage Alzheimer's? Late term aborted baby? Depressed person who wants to end it all? Person serving life without parole? Quadriplegic? Wherever the line would be redrawn after accepting that a person's parts are somehow more than their whole would be just a temporary slowdown en route to the next catalog of spares.
Some folks would probably suggest that Rep. Dorman didn't think about the idea that way and didn't consider the moral implications of proposing that the state kill someone by removing their vital organs while they were still alive. Fair enough; but being dense about a monstrous idea instead of intentionally monstrous about it is also not a qualification for my vote.
Rep. Dorman already has little enough to recommend him, even against a second-rate candidate like Gov. Fallin. The inadequacy of the GOP candidate and the significant likelihood that the Democratic candidate doesn't think very deeply about his actions make me glad there are not one but two Independent candidates on the ballot.
Because, you see, at least I still have a choice.