StateImpact Oklahoma

StateImpact Oklahoma is a collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU. Joe Wertz, Emily Wendler, Jackie Fortier and Quinton Chandler travel the state to report on energy and the environment, education, health, and criminal justice — and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans.

StateImpact Oklahoma is funded with private contributions from listeners and readers. Donate here.

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Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

About 100 teachers and school administrators filed for political office in the 2018 election. Most are not shy about supporting the first tax increase in nearly three decades, even though it’s a progressive political message in a deeply conservative state.

Pro-tax campaigns from educators seem to be resonating with voters in many parts of Oklahoma — but not everywhere.

Polarizing tax package

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

When Frank Taylor moved to Taft, Oklahoma from California six years ago, his friends asked how he could live in a town of about 300 people right next to two prisons. He laughed it off. 

“I got two big pit bulls,” Taylor said. 

Taylor says the small Oklahoma town is a place where he thought he could leave his doors unlocked. His home, near the center of town, is less than a mile from one of the prisons, Jess Dunn Correctional Center.

The minimum-security men’s prison has a problem.

Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

UPDATE (July 27 at 12:17 p.m.) A new draft of medical marijuana rules was released late Friday morning. The pregnancy test requirement is among provisions not included in the new draft. The state board of health will vote on the new rules on Wednesday, August 1.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Benji White pulls into a field and honks his horn. Before the shifter hits park and the doors close behind him and his wife Lori, the silver Ford pickup is surrounded by dozens of Red Angus eager for a handout of cattle cake, a protein-dense pellet.

“You definitely don’t want to get in the habit of feeding bulls cake out of your hand because that kind of can create some aggression when you don’t feed them,” Lori said.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

It’s been three weeks since Sarah Sinkinson last saw her children and she’s ready for a visit from her daughter, Madeline. Sinkinson lights up as her daughter is escorted into a small visitation room and sits down at a desk opposite her.

Emily Wendler / StateImpact Oklahoma

On the night of the primary elections, Ainsley Hoover was at a small watch party at the Chili’s restaurant in Enid. She had helped her friend, a fellow teacher, campaign for House District 41,  and they were anxiously awaiting the results.

Hoover, who was also tracking the vote totals for House District 40 with hopes the incumbent in that seat would lose, says she didn’t use to be political. When Hoover did vote, it was usually in the presidential election.

Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma

The air medical field has grown tremendously since the 1980s. Air ambulances take patients to the nearest hospital, which often means crossing state lines. But a legal quirk means paying for a life-saving flight can lead to financial ruin. Congress is mulling a fix, but some air ambulance companies say it could have unintended consequences.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Nearly 20 years of chronic pain hasn’t killed David Rowden’s sense of humor. 

The 62-year-old army veteran looks at a family picture standing on a coffee table and points out that the man on a nearby magazine cover isn’t family. 

“That’s Willie Nelson,” Rowden said with a heavy laugh. 

Rowden eases himself into an armchair and sets a glass of beer on a side table. His tone becomes serious as he describes the freak workplace accident that brings him chronic pain. 

When the Oklahoma Legislature passed House Bill 1010xx in March, it was the first time lawmakers had increased state taxes in 28 years. Both the House and the Senate applauded themselves.

The governor acted swiftly to sign the bill, and at first, it seemed like a reason for school leaders to celebrate. They had been begging lawmakers to increase teacher pay for years, and it finally happened.

But the excitement quickly faded.

Quinton Chandler / StateImpact Oklahoma

Canadian County Sheriff Chris West sits in a dimly lit office decorated with hunting trophies and law enforcement memorabilia. 

West is visibly frustrated when he says the Oklahoma Department of Corrections owes his county $88,691 for at least two years of jail costs — and he isn’t the only one complaining. The Oklahoma Sheriff’s Association says the state is shortchanging most counties for housing state prison inmates.

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