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Watching the feds

Concerns arise over a state House committee designed to guard against federal encroachment.

Greg Horton January 30th, 2013

The prerecorded message encourages listeners to dial a number to “hear more about God’s hand in America’s history.” Callers to David Barton’s WallBuilders ministry hear it while on hold. Barton, who holds a religion degree from Oral Roberts University, presents himself as an expert on America’s history, especially as it relates to religion and politics.

Speaker T.W. Shannon

State legislators in 2011 attended a WallBuilders conference in Texas for “pro-family” lawmakers. According to Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia, the idea for a States’ Rights Committee emerged from that gathering. Moore, who will chair the panel, said he approached House Speaker T. W. Shannon, R-Lawton, following the conference.

“I asked the [then] speaker-elect if we could put the States’ Rights Committee together,” Moore said. “When it came time, he entrusted me with it.”

Moore said the committee will be “nothing crazy.” The goal, he said, is to stop federal government encroachment into areas where it shouldn’t be happening.

“We’re not going to secede,” he joked. “The federal government gives us a lot of money, about half of what we spend in Oklahoma, but there is always a condition. Those conditions allow them to encroach on our state’s sovereign rights.”

Shannon, who also attended the Barton conference, told Oklahoma Gazette that he created the committee to ensure and reassert Oklahoma sovereignty.

“It is essential, as elected officials, that we look into any federal mandate and determine whether or not it is beneficial to the people of Oklahoma or if it infringes on the rights of state and local governments and individual citizens,” said the speaker.

‘Tinfoil-hat wing’
The committee has its skeptics. Among them is Brittany Novotny, an Oklahoma City civil rights attorney.

“T.W. Shannon’s creation of a States’ Rights Committee is a good signal that this year, the biggest battle in Oklahoma won’t be between Democrats and the GOP. Rather, it will be the ongoing battle between the business wing of the GOP and the tinfoil-hat wing.”

Novotny said she worries about the ability of Oklahoma businesses to work across state lines.

“Businesses are generally in favor of having more uniformity across state boundaries,” she said, “because that allows more predictability in their business and ease of interstate commerce.”

Others are concerned that the idea for it stemmed from a WallBuilders conference. Barton, whom critics have roundly assailed for not being a credible historian, suffered a public humiliation in August 2012 when Christian publishing house Thomas Nelson pulled his book, The Jefferson Lies, from publication due to multiple inaccuracies. The company told National Public Radio it had ceased publication because “basic truths just were not there.”

Brad Raley, an assistant professor of history at the University of Oklahoma, said his concerns with Barton are not about credentials. “Legitimate historians don’t all have Ph.D. after their name,” he said. “My issue with Barton is not his training but his product. It isn’t history. It is partisan propaganda.”

Raley said Barton’s methodology as a historian is suspect.

Rep. Lewis Moore

“He clearly approaches the past with his conclusions already decided and then examines the documents,” he said. “Trained historians take the opposite approach.

They ask informed questions about the past and then examine the documents. Also, he is — perhaps out of necessity — offensively selective in which documents or facts he includes. That allows him to insist on that pre-ordained conclusion but does not accurately or fairly reflect the past.”

Shannon said he believed “opinions vary on Barton as a historian.”

The speaker said Barton had very little to do with the idea that led to the committee, although he likes Barton’s views on the foundations of America.

“I have not read Barton’s book and have no opinion,” Shannon said. “Regardless, the need for our state to focus on our sovereignty is crucial to the future prosperity of Oklahomans. My creation of this committee is in response to concerns voiced by my fellow representatives and citizens of Oklahoma.”

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