Oklahoma Politics & Policies: Governing the Sooner State

By David R. Morgan; Robert E. England et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN
Contemporary Policy Concerns

UNDERSTANDING PUBLIC POLICY

What is public policy? Why is the policy process important? Before examining contemporary issues on Oklahoma's policy agenda, let us address these basic questions.

One expert defines public policy as "whatever governments decide to do or not to do."1 This definition captures the essence of what Peter Bachrach and Morton S. Baratz call the "two faces of power."2 The first face of political power is action; government officials can pursue a purposive course of action to deal with a problem or matter of public concern.3 The second face of political power is deliberate inaction. Because political leaders control the public policy agenda, they may confine the "scope of decision making to relatively 'safe' issues."4 Most of us are quite aware of the first face of power. We may experience firsthand the results of state action to address various policy concerns. Oklahomans must now buckle up when they drive, most restaurants must provide nonsmoking sections, and residents can now bet on horse races. All of these changes are the result of relatively recent state legislation. The second form of power is more subtle and often overlooked. Nevertheless, it helps explain why some issues are acted on and others are not, or why some groups are included in the policy process and others are excluded. Bachrach and Baratz argue that unless organized interests mobilize and push a particular issue, the matter may never reach the policy agenda.5 We might add that this is particularly true in Oklahoma, where the status quo is resistant to change because of the state's traditionalistic po-

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