What can a man do? If the man is Dr. David Brown, founder of the Oklahoma Public Affairs Council, the answer is “a lot.” Thanks to Dr. Brown’s vision and tenacity, many Oklahomans today enjoy greater opportunities and a better quality of life.
A successful orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Brown lived the American dream. But he knew he had to be defended if others were to do the same, which is why he was active in public policy for many years, including serving on the board of the Heritage Foundation, a major national free market think tank. At a Heritage board meeting, a peer from South Carolina mentioned that his home state was creating a state-level think tank that would mirror the work of the Heritage Foundation. . Dr. Brown concluded that Oklahoma should do the same.
This was the birth of the Oklahoma Public Affairs Council, which was launched in 1993. Its survival in those early years was due in large part to Dr. Brown’s focus and financial support, as well as his that of his wife, Ann, who was also all-in. They ran the organization until it became financially self-sufficient.
When the OCPA was founded, Democrats held the governorship of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Legislature by margins of 35 to 13 in the Senate and 67 to 34 in the House.
Certainly, those Democrats in Oklahoma were not as liberal as the Democrats in Washington DC or the “progressive” Democratic Party of today. But they were more liberal than some revisionists would have you believe. To cite just one example, the Democratic-controlled legislature emptied the state’s Rainy Day Fund two minutes before adjourning in 1993, even though there was no budget emergency. Such fiscal mismanagement was common.
Under Dr. Brown’s leadership, the OCPA worked to change the political conversation. The organization advocated for what it called “Truth North” – limited government, restrained taxation, and economic freedom. It took many years to achieve OCPA’s early goals, but progress has been steady.
Oklahoma has become a right-to-work state. The workers’ compensation system has been reformed to reduce business costs. Personal income tax has been reduced from 7% to the current rate of 4.75% and, as expected, economic growth has followed. School choice, nonexistent in 1993, is now provided by charter schools and limited private school choice programs with significant expansion currently being debated.
The cumulative result of these policy changes is an Oklahoma where people keep more of their money and are freer to pursue new opportunities. Without Dr. Brown and his vision, things could have been very different.
I hope all freedom-loving Oklahomans will join me in extending their deepest condolences to Dr. Brown’s family on his passing. His life is proof that one man can make a huge difference in our state.