— Editor’s note: One in a series previewing Tuesday’s primary elections.
Muskogee County voters on Tuesday will narrow the field of Democratic candidates competing for the District 3 commissioner’s post or possibly select a winner.
Three candidates — no Republicans declared candidacies for the position — are jockeying for the position Dexter Payne has held since he was elected in 1997. Payne announced in March that he will step down at the end of his fourth full term.
Competing for the office are his son, local businessman and former City Councilor Kenny Payne, longtime Taft Mayor Lelia Davis and political newcomer Willie Keifer, a consultant and semi-retired auto service director. All three said roads and bridges are an important aspect of the job, but serving as a commissioner entails much more.
Overseeing the county’s annual budget, which has consistently been flat during the past several years, is one of those aspects. All three candidates competing for the District 3 post cited their budgeting and management experience as selling points for their candidacies.
Davis, who has the distinction of being the first black woman in the United States to be elected to a mayoral post, said she has dealt with budgets both large and small during her 30 years in the political arena. To make the county budget stretch, Davis said she would work to initiate a program that would put county and state prisoners to work for taxpayers.
“We have two prisons here (in Taft) and a big county jail with lots of people we can put to work,” Davis said, noting she would have no problem going to Oklahoma City or Washington seeking state and federal dollars to shore up the budget. “We have the equipment, all we need is to find some people who can oversee the work crews who can go out on these roads.”
Keifer said his professional experience in the private sector would enable him “to bring fresh ideas” to the office. New ideas, he said, is what Muskogee County needs to grow again.
“As the only candidate without previous government experience, I am free to bring fresh ideas from the private sector to government,” Keifer said. “I am not tied to past policies or decisions and can evaluate ideas solely on their merit.”
Payne said getting “the funding sources right” would be one of his top priorities if he is elected to the post. He said the completion of the county’s hazard mitigation plan — similar to what he helped pass for the city of Muskogee as city councilor — would open the doors for new opportunities for grant funds for county use.
“I think the main thing is to handle the county’s money wisely and get as much out of each dollar as we can,” Payne said, noting his experience on the city of Muskogee’s purchasing committee as proof of his capability to get that done. “I will be diligent to make sure that gets done and do everything I can to open doors to new funding opportunities.”
All three candidates cited the importance of having a good working relationship with Muskogee County residents and civic leaders in municipalities both large and small. Keifer pledged to meet monthly with all municipal leaders to help them resolve problems, while Davis and Payne said they would do what they can within the law to help town leaders upon request without being overbearing or imposing.
Voters may cast in-person absentee ballots from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the county election office. Precinct voting will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.
If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the primary vote, the two who earn the most votes will square off Aug. 26 in a runoff election, which will decide the incumbent’s successor.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or email@example.com.