Human Rights/Social Justice Advocate Leaving Legislature After 18 Years

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November 12, 2014

 

 

Human Rights / Social Justice Advocate

Leaving Legislature After 18 Years

 

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Rebecca Hamilton retires from the Legislature next week after 18 years of service during which she exhibited a bulldog’s tenacity on social issues such as abortion, domestic violence, abuse/protection of the elderly, and human trafficking.

“Throughout my legislative career I tried to do things that would give people a sense of hope and a brighter future,” the Oklahoma City Democrat said.

Retirement doesn’t mean Hamilton is slowing down. She’ll just devote her time to various other projects.

She maintains a blog, Public Catholic, at Patheos, “the nation’s fastest-growing faith blogging site,” she said. She also is writing two books: one about the effect of abortion on America’s feminist movement, another that she described as a meditation. “After I finish them, I have more books in the pipeline,” she added.

Hamilton is one of only a few Oklahoma lawmakers to have served split terms in the Legislature. She was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1980 and served three consecutive two-year terms before bowing out in 1986, while chair of the Public Health Committee.

Afterward she reared and home-schooled her two children; “did a turn” as Oklahoma director for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church; and volunteered at Birth Choice of Oklahoma, a pro-life crisis pregnancy center.

Sixteen years later, after her children were older, Hamilton campaigned for, and was elected to, the same House seat in southwestern Oklahoma City that she had previously occupied. She represented House District 89 for 12 more years before retiring this year because of compulsory term limits.

The Oklahoma City native once endorsed abortion, but became a pro-life champion after her religious conversion almost 30 years ago “while driving to Enid to give a speech,” she remembers vividly.

Hamilton authored the bill that “broke the 16-year logjam on pro-life legislation.” House Bill 1686 required informed consent prior to an abortion, and mandated parental notification before an abortion could be performed on a minor. The measure was signed into law on May 20, 2005.

Two years later Hamilton was the House sponsor of Senate Bill 139, which forbade state employees and resources from being used to perform an abortion that is not necessary to save the life of the mother, unless the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. That measure became law on May 24, 2007.

Hamilton also was the principal author in 2008 of House Bill 3059, which would have required an identifying sign to be posted at all facilities in Oklahoma where abortions are performed. The bill received a “do pass” recommendation from the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee but was never brought up for a vote by the full House.

Because of her anti-abortion stance, Oklahoma Democrats “came within 50 votes of censuring me” during the statewide convention at which delegates were picked for the 2008 national convention, she said.

Hamilton filed a handful of domestic-abuse measures while in the House, including the 1982 legislation that authorized protective orders. “This was considered outrageous back then,” she recalled. “Some people called me a Communist because of it.” House Bill 1828 cleared both the House and the Senate and was signed into law by Gov. George Nigh.

In one four-year period Hamilton authored or co-authored five House bills that proposed penalties for domestic abuse against pregnant women. Her House Bill 1897, which was introduced in 2007 but languished on the House calendar, was revived in 2008, passed the Legislature and was signed by Gov. Brad Henry.

In related matters, Hamilton was one of the six founders of the first rape crisis center established in Oklahoma, and, along with Catholic Charities and the YWCA, was a leader of the Day of Prayer for an End to Violence Against Women.

For three consecutive years she filed legislation proposing income-tax checkoffs for a Domestic Abuse Prevention Taxpayer Support Fund plus a Crisis Pregnancy and Abortion Prevention Taxpayers Support Fund. However, all of those proposals died in committee.

During her legislative career Hamilton was the principal author of six measures to prohibit the abuse, neglect, and/or financial exploitation of elderly persons.

She also secured funding for a pilot program that authorized adult day-care centers in Oklahoma. “This program allows people to stay out of nursing homes,” she said. “It costs less than warehousing our elderly citizens in nursing homes, and provides both them and their families with a much higher quality of life.”

She secured passage of a bill to channel more state resources into inner-city schools, “where they should be.” Oklahoma’s two-tier educational system is “a travesty that creates despair and all the terrible social consequences that go with it,” she contends.

In 2006 and again in 2007 Hamilton sponsored the state’s first legislation to outlaw trafficking in human beings for forced labor or sexual exploitation, and in 2008 she co-authored House Bill 1021, to make human trafficking a felony offense; that measure was adopted by the Legislature and was signed into law by Governor Henry.

The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control established a Human Trafficking Unit in 2012 because contemporary slavery has gained some traction in Oklahoma, OBNDD spokesman Mark Woodward said. Wiretaps of members of drug cartels revealed that “these people traffic in anything that will turn a profit,” including narcotics, weapons and humans, adults and minors alike, he said.

During her tenure in the Legislature, “If I could do something to save human lives, I did it, regardless of the political consequences,” Hamilton said.

“What I’m most proud of is that there are people alive today who would be dead if I had not been in the Legislature. The lives of our elderly and disabled are better, more hopeful, than they would be if I hadn’t been there.”

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Fall Cleaning. Life Cleaning.

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I cleaned out my office the Monday after session adjourned.

My son and one of his friends drove over and carried it all out.

Now, after leaving them stacked up for months, I’m figuring out what to keep and what to toss from the things I brought home. I remember Princess Diana, after her divorce, selling all her old clothes. That was a smart move.

I’m going through a decidedly low-brow version of that this week. I’m tossing out clothes, shoes, books, files and all manner of things I don’t plan to ever use again.

In the process, I’m also deep-cleaning my house. My asthma has reared its ugly head after a couple years’ grace. I usually shampoo the carpets and clean behind and under all the places I don’t ordinarily clean behind and under a couple of times a year.

But I haven’t done it since before session started last year. Too busy. Too distracted.

Now, the asthma has brought it home that the carpets are holding dirt and the places back behind where I never clean are dusty, too. So, I’m going to take this place apart and put it back together again.

In the process, I will toss the detritus of my “official” life. The Representative Suits and all the stuff that goes with them are going to Goodwill. I’ve also got to figure out where I want to hang paintings and similar things that I brought home, as well as what shelves will hold which whatnots.

Some of these things are deeply meaningful to me, and I want them where I can cherish them as my life goes forward.

At the same time, I’m considering what software I need as a writer vs what software I needed as a legislator. The difference is the difference between a Honda Fit and an 18 wheeler. I used Microsoft Publisher to create my campaign literature, Microsoft Access and then later Filemaker Pro to run my databases, Excel to track financial records, and Word to communicate with my office.

I can’t think of a reason why I will need any of that going forward. I have, just by my daily usage, pretty well switched over to Mars Edit for blogging, Scrivener for book writing, Numbers for spreadsheeting, a free-form document filer for the research on my books called DevonThink Office Pro (Oh, how I love typing that phrase: “my books.) and a combination of Nisus Writer Pro, Mellel and Pages for word processing. My new database is a bitsy little thing called Tap Forms, which I use to keep such things as the serial numbers of my software, and smallish personal mailing lists.

If I had to cull it down to the things I really need for work, I could get by with Scrivener, Mars Edit, Pages, Numbers, DevonThink, Tap Forms and iPhoto. All of these (with the exception of DevonThink) are lightweight and inexpensive.

My only heavy duty software is Aperture and a suite of digital darkroom software from Topaz. But that’s not work. It’s hobby.

As for hardware, I have a desktop and a laptop and I use both. I plan to keep both. No way could the laptop handle the things the desktop does, and no way could I put the desktop in my purse and go.

I’m changing my life around the edges because I’ve changed it at the work core of it. It’s a bit discombobulating, going through such a fundamental change in my life. But it’s also exciting and liberating.

It took me a while to figure out what this lightness and happiness I was feeling actually was. Along with the files and the heavy-duty software, I was tossing away responsibility for tens of thousands of people. I grieved that a bit. I worry about my constituents, about who is going to take care of them.

But I have to let go of taking care of them and move on.

Aside from that, which is a little bit like sending your 5-year-old off to his first day of school, I feel incredibly light and unencumbered. I am awash with choices and the possibilities of new beginnings.

But it’s more than that. It took a while to figure it out, and then one day, it hit me what I was feeling.

I feel free.

Saying Goodbye.

 

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Photo Source: C-SPAN

I am leaving the Oklahoma legislature. Last week was a week of formal goodbyes.

I gave a farewell speech to the House, which you can watch, if you’d like. Go here to see the video. The House Democrats held their annual Sine Die Party, and roasted me and other departing legislators. The Democratic Legislative Assistants prepared a delicious luncheon (Covered dish. All their best cooking. It was to die for.) with a cake with all our names and said another round of good-byes. I even got a small — and lovely — good-bye editorial in the Oklahoman.

We are still in the busiest time of the legislative process. We haven’t shut down. Not at all. That means I’m going to be tres busy until we actually do sine die. (Sine die is the motion we make to adjourn the legislative session.) But I am grateful beyond words to my colleagues for giving me these many avenues of good-bye.

Each of these things is a rite of passage for what has to be a huge transition in my life. Leaving the legislature is a little bit like a soldier, coming home from a war. You are leaving a combative, total environment which engages you on every level and returning to a world that now seems out of kilter by comparison.

Wherever people are for a period of time, that becomes their normal. Normal for me has long ago become the totally unreal world of elected politics.

At the same time, I am way past glad to be leaving. God gave me something like marching orders for the rest of my life a few years ago when I was sitting in the cathedral at Fatima. I’ve dithered since then, occupied and preoccupied by the legislative wars and the many needs of my constituents. If you don’t think that these things are a 24/7 occupation that devours of all your thoughts and passions, then, you my friend, have never been a legislator.

Those of us who legislate or who have legislated know that there are very few jobs that swallow you whole like legislating does. It is difficult to disengage enough to maintain your friendships and family and retain something of your personality.

As for fulfilling the call that God gave me, I found it well nigh impossible. I need more than corners of time in my days to write the things He wants me to write. I’m not going to discuss in detail what I think this is all about. I have a lot of praying to do first.

I do know that I am not going to abandon the political process. I am also not going to stop writing about the intersection of public life and Christianity on this blog. I will, if anything, be a lot more free to talk about these issues now that I’m not bound to protect the privacy of so many people.

That is not to say that I will be talking about closed door conversations with my colleagues or divulging the almost endless private things that my constituents have shared with me through 18 years of elected office.

I have represented, cared for and cared about thousands of people for a very long time. In the course of that, many of them have opened their souls to me. I have never and I will never talk about the people who trusted me to be their voice in government and who honored me by opening their lives and hearts to me in conversations that were in fact and in truth non-sacramental confessions.

All these things I take with me to my grave.

What I will talk about is the intersection of public policy and publicly stated comments, actions, etc. I’ve operated for a long time using the standard that if something is published and circulated publicly, I can talk about it. That won’t change. It will, rather, be enhanced by the fact that I know what’s behind these things. I will be a lot less guarded in my opinions in the future when I do not have the responsibility for many thousands of people on my shoulders.

Christians in America have a mountain in front of us. After more than two hundred years of having things our way, we are faced with a society in which we are beleaguered. We live in post Christian America. Our task is to re-convert our nation to Christ.  Right now, we are not up to that task. We are, in fact, confused, divided and overawed by our opposition.

That’s what I’m going to write about. Because somebody needs to do it. And because I am uniquely qualified for the job.

 

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My favorite Representative Hamilton photo. From Rose Day 2014. 

I tried to remember to thank everyone in this speech, but I somehow forgot to mention — even though I wrote their names down and they were right in front of me — two of the most important people. Louise Scoles, who fought for my election and was my sponsor when I entered the Catholic Church. And George Violette, my brother by another mother, who is family in every way except blood. I love both of you.

The “Tony” I introduce in the video is Tony Lauinger, president of Oklahomans for Life and Vice President of National Right to Life. He is my friend. I know that he will remain my friend after I leave office.

If you want to watch the speech, go here.

 


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