One in a series featuring candidates who are competing during the 2018 election cycle. This article focuses on three candidates for Oklahoma governor — Democrat Drew Edmondson, Republican Kevin Stitt and Libertarian Chris Powell. The general election will be Nov. 6.
1 What do you consider to be the most important issue that affects your constituents today?
Drew Edmondson: Fixing education in Oklahoma is a must because it’s the right thing to do and because it impacts every aspect of society, from quality of life to economic development. I was at the capitol day after day during the teacher walkout to talk with teachers and I learned much from those visits. I believe we need to increase funding for our schools. That includes classroom resources like books and technology, reduced class sizes and increased teacher pay. I attended public schools and graduated from Muskogee Central High. After returning from Vietnam, I taught school in Muskogee. I have and will always continue to support our public schools.
Chris Powell: Education consumes most of state appropriations and shapes the lives of all the young people in our state. As political control of the classroom has increased our teachers have been robbed of authority and respect, the educational process has become less responsive to the needs of students, and the results have become much less than what we want for our children. The establishment parties have created an unacceptable situation in our schools.
Kevin Stitt: I believe the most important issue that affects our constituents is a lack of accountability and transparency at the state capitol. Currently, we have a system that functions with a mindset of waste and red tape, not efficiency and accountability. Last year, Oklahoma had multiple state agencies, such as the Department of Health, under investigation for mismanaging our taxpayer dollars. Our constituents deserve a government that is honest and accountable. I have a vision to make Oklahoma a Top Ten state in education, economic growth, and infrastructure, but we cannot make effective change in Oklahoma without first reforming the system.
2 What specifically would you do to address that issue for the benefit of your constituents?
Powell: We must reduce the control of education by the politicians and bureaucrats at the state Capitol and migrate authority and responsibility back to the local community within reach of parents and teachers. Top-down one-size-fits-all testing regimes and curricula mandates do not serve individual students and prevent teachers from using their education and training to maximize results in the classroom. We can and should continue to address funding and salaries, but if we fail to empower parents and teachers by putting authority at the local level no amount of funding will lead to improved results.
Stitt: My priority will be to deliver reform that makes our state government accountable and transparent to Oklahomans. I will ask the Legislature to give the governor authority to fire underperforming agency heads. Right now, many boards and agencies are untouchable and they are unaccountable to elected officials. This has to change. I will also work with new agency leaders to provide performance metrics so that Oklahomans can see how agencies are delivering core services and to drive efficiency. Finally, a Stitt Administration will put Oklahoma’s checkbook online to ensure agencies are transparent and accountable for how they spend taxpayers’ dollars.
Edmondson: To improve education we must properly fund education. To do this, I propose restoring the gross production tax back to its previous level of 7 percent, repealing the capital gains exemption for millionaires and increasing the cigarette tax by 50 cents. I do not support increasing income taxes on Oklahoma families. Meeting with teachers over the last several months, they told me additional funding alone will not solve the problem. Teachers said they feel a lack of respect for their profession, which I believe is a result of the deliberate indifference to the plight of our schools over the last eight years.
3 How do you and your opponents differ on the issues you believe are important in this election?
Stitt: Drew Edmondson is a tax-and-spend liberal. I believe that we should not increase the financial burden on hard-working Oklahomans, but instead find efficiencies and implement real accountability around government spending in Oklahoma. Drew Edmondson also believes our government system is okay as is. I think this is the viewpoint of a career politician who does not want to make difficult changes in order to create efficiencies, cut red tape, and deliver direct accountability. As governor, I will audit all state agencies, ask for permission to fire underperforming agency heads, and put Oklahoma’s checkbook online.
Edmondson: There are many differences between me and my opponent. The biggest is that I offer concrete proposals for addressing the education crisis. My opponent speaks in vague generalities, and his only idea for raising revenue is for municipalities to increase property taxes. He says he would have vetoed the teacher pay raise bill. I would have signed it. Health care is another issue where we differ. I believe Oklahoma should accept its share of the Medicaid funding. This will provide a much-needed boost to our hospitals, especially in rural Oklahoma. These are our tax dollars which are currently being sent to other states. My opponent opposes bringing those Oklahoma tax dollars home.
Powell: One of my opponents is a career politician who presided over the creation of our mass incarceration crisis. The other is a multi-millionaire CEO who was so disengaged that he never voted in a primary until his name was on the ballot. I work 40 hours a week, make sure my kids eat and get back and forth, and pay bills just like most other Oklahomans and I understand the lives of regular people in ways my opponents never will, while I’ve also been politically involved since joining the Libertarian Party in 2000 and understand the process. I have experience dealing with the elites while not being one of them.
4 On what important issues do you and your opponents share a common perspective?
Edmondson: As I have traveled the state, often sharing a stage with Mr. Stitt, I have heard him speak many times of his family. I appreciate that his wife and children are always on his mind, as Linda, our children and grandchildren are always on mine. I agree that some business principles can be applied to state agencies and state government.
Powell: Both of my opponents understand that people want change from what we have had from state government and are working hard to distance themselves from the political establishment while trying to characterize each other as resembling the current governor. But as H.L. Mencken noted, both parties devote their efforts to proving that the other party’s candidate is unfit to rule, and both are usually right. If the people of Oklahoma don’t want to be ruled by creatures of wealth and political privilege there is another choice on the ballot for governor in this election.
Stitt: My opponent and I have the same stance on vaccinations. We both have vaccinated all of our children and we both support current state law. We both have discussed the importance for criminal justice reform. Oklahoma is failing when it comes to our high incarceration rates. We need to focus on incarcerating the right people, being smart with our resources, and delivering better outcomes for non-violent offenders. Where we differ is that I believe we must re-evaluate how we handle fines, fees and court costs, ensure that consistent sentencing is taking place across all counties, and review the 85 percent rule.
5 Please describe a time when you agreed with the position held by the opposite party on an important issue?
Powell: The two establishment parties agree on many things with which I do not. But one criticism they share is that we Libertarians are often too enthusiastic about quickly and dramatically increasing the freedom of individuals, and they have a point. If we are to reduce the power of politics in our daily lives I have come to believe that it must be accomplished in a steady and cautious manner in order to ensure that the changes we make to empower individuals to live, work, pray and play as they choose will be recognized as beneficial and sound decisions.
Stitt: We can all agree that Oklahoma has not had proper guidance over the past eight years. As an outsider, I am running to end politics as usual in Oklahoma. Career politicians have not provided the leadership needed to bring about positive change. I will use my business experience rooting out waste, applying performance metrics, and setting a vision to bring accountability and efficiency to Oklahoma’s government. Because I am not beholden to the political establishment, I will be a governor who serves all 4 million Oklahomans and focuses on making decisions for the next generation, not the next election.
Edmondson: No political party has a monopoly on good ideas. As governor, I’ll work with anyone who shares my same goals; to improve education, save our hospitals and make Oklahoma a better place to live, work and raise a family. The Step Up organization was predominately Republican, but I agreed with their call for additional revenue for education and virtually all of their recommended reforms.
— D.E. Smoot
Meet the Candidates
NAME: Drew Edmondson
HOMETOWN: Originally Muskogee, now Oklahoma City.
FAMILY: Wife, Linda, (married 51 years); children, Mary and Robert; grandchildren, Andrew and Catherine.
EDUCATION: Juris Doctor from University of Tulsa College of Law; Bachelor of Arts in Education from Northeastern State University.
HOBBIES: Playing with grandkids, hiking with Linda, reading, traveling and golfing.
WEBSITE / FACEBOOK PAGE: www.drewforoklahoma.com, @drewforoklahoma.
NAME: Chris Powell
OCCUPATION: Employed by the Oklahoma City Police Department in the Evidence Management Unit.
FAMILY: Married to Amy, three children.
EDUCATION: Graduated from Choctaw High School in 1989, attended college at Rose State College and Oklahoma City Community College.
NAME: Kevin Stitt
OCCUPATION: Founder and chairman of Gateway Mortgage Group.
FAMILY: I have been married to my lovely wife Sarah for 20 years. Together we have six wonderful children: Natalie, Drew, Kate, Piper, Remington and Houston. I am also grateful to have the love and support of my parents, John and Joyce Stitt.
EDUCATION: I graduated from Norman High School in 1991. I continued on to Oklahoma State University, where I completed my Bachelor of Science in Accounting in 1996.
HOBBIES: Cheering on my alma mater at Oklahoma State football games and spending quality time with my family on our little farm: riding horses, roping cattle, and enjoying the outdoors.
WEBSITE / FACEBOOK PAGE: www.stittforgovernor.com / Kevin Stitt for Governor