By MJ Brickey
Tuesday evening, the McAlester News-Capital and Kiamichi Technical Center hosted a candidate forum which included candidates Larry Boggs, a Republican, and J. Paul Lane, a Democrat, for Oklahoma state Senator in District 7.
In his opening statement, Boggs spoke of his upbringing and said he sees no common sense in the way things are being run in the state government. He said he would like to bring Southeastern Oklahoma common sense to the capital.
Lane’s opening statement included a “thank you” to the bodies that hosted the forum as well as a “thank you” to the audience and his family. He too, spoke of the function of current government and the roll of “we the people” with government. He said it is a contract between the people and the government and both should work together as a whole to see improvement. Lane said there are many issues that the state is facing, but he believes education, senior nutrition and taking care of one another are among the important.
Moderator McAlester News-Capital Senior Editor James Beaty asked the candidates their stance on the push for school consolidation, considering it is s big concern for rural Oklahoma schools and small schools.
Boggs and Lane both said consolidation would be the last resort. Boggs said it would be a last option, if even an option at all. Both candidates said school consolidation makes no sense to either of them.
Moderator McAlester News-Capital Page Designer Brandy Brackett asked the candidates their stance on the possible sale of Southeastern Oklahoma water to Texas and Oklahoma City.
Lane said the water is integral to the economic development of Southeast Oklahoma.
“The realization is that the development will follow that water and that we need to make sure that we take care of our water,” Lane said. “Beyond that, we need to have a voice in how that water is to be used.”
He said the first thing he will do if he is elected would be to file a companion bill to District 17 state Rep. Brian Renagar’s bill making sure that regional water boards are established. He said that would give the regions a voice in what is to become of the water.
“Presently we have no voice at all in water,” Lane said. “Fundamental to a democracy, we must have a voice.”
Boggs said he has been involved in the Sardis Lake water issue since the beginning and that it is a political issue.
“We’ve fought the battle with Texas and it is pretty well down to nothing,” he said. “We are now battling with Oklahoma City and we have no voice, because it is an urban-rural proposition... not a Republican, not a Democrat.”
Beaty then asked the candidates what they will do, if elected, to improve things for Oklahoma Department of Corrections officers who are working long hours — sometimes double shifts — in dangerous conditions for what many consider to be too little pay.
Boggs said state employees have been held back. He said the officers are out there in a maximum-security prison every day with buildings loaded with criminals and the government is not able to give them the pay or benefits they need. He said the problem is that moral ethics have went downhill.
Lane said, “we’re going to have to spend more money if we want to go ahead and encourage people to work in that environment.”
He said considering the relatively low pay, double shifts and all around horrible conditions, more money must be allocated for DOC.
“It is a function of government that we have to make sure we fund,” he said.
Brackett asked the candidates what do they think is the highest the state faces and what will they do to help the state get over it.
Lane said income tax cuts. He said there are services out there that we need to make sure are funded.
“Education is a primary way to provide upward mobility and opportunity in our communities. If we fund it, we’ll take care of it. If we don’t, we lose it.”
He said “we need to make sure we are willing to put money against the things that we need done.”
Boggs said there are many hurdles that we need to cover. He said rather than hurdles, to him, they look like high jumps. He said issues have to be taken in order.
“You can’t address all the problems at the same time, but, to me, the biggest hurdle is jobs, jobs, jobs,” he said.
He spoke of the possible loss of 300 to 400 jobs at McAlester Army Ammunitions Plant and said he is taking proactive steps in the prevention of the loss of these jobs.
“Jobs, that is where the revenue comes for schools, taxes and everything else, jobs,” he said.
McAlester News-Capital Editor Kandra Wells delivered two questions submitted by audience members.
The first question asked the candidates’ stance on whether they support the removal of sales tax from food in lieu of cutting state income taxes.
Boggs said he is not for cutting state income tax. He said there would have to be a way to do it and he said, “We don’t even know how you could do it.”
“That is a typical government move, not a business move,” he said.
“Wouldn’t everybody like to get away with paying no income tax? Of course, you would.”
As some of the crowd shouted “no,” he said, “Oh okay, some of you wouldn’t, you Democrats over there don’t...”
But, he said, “the majority of people would say, ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, as long as you can replace everything you get with some other tax, right?’” Then he asked why people are looking at state income tax being cut as a great and wonderful thing? He said he is not for cutting the state income tax or the sales tax. He said “I am for managing what you already have. We have to do it at home and in our businesses. Why does Oklahoma City not have to do that?”
Lane said he is not for any tax cuts, because all services that people have a common interest in that are provided need funding. The government has to make sure the current tax money is spent wisely.
“I wouldn’t be for cutting either one of them (state income tax and sales tax),” Lane said.
The last question brought some controversy. Wells read allowed an audience member’s question: “If Obama is re-elected, what would you do to make sure our Second Amendment rights are not violated?”
Directly after the question was asked, a low rumble of discussion and talking began in a section of the crowd.
Lane said as a 28-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force who lifted his hand and swore protect the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, “I believe all of the amendments are in fact there for a reason and so my stand on that would be that I am not interested in seeing any change that basically would basically affect the Second Amendment.”
He said he believes the people inherently have the right to bear arms.
He said he is not sure what he is expected to think Obama is going to do that and he said it sounds like there is a fear associated with the question. He said, however, he would stand for the Second Amendment to make sure that we protect those rights.
Boggs said, “If Obama gets elected, he will do his best to continue what he is doing now and that’s gun control.”
Some members of the crowd yelled, “boo” and at one point Boggs said “Boo yourself.”
Another audience member yelled, “you’re wrong,” apparently in reference to the gun control statement, and Boggs responded with “I’ve got proof of it. Ask those police officers up there. They will tell you.”
“I hope Obama doesn’t get elected and I am going to do the best I can to make sure he doesn’t get elected, OK?” he said.
“I’ll tell you why,” Boggs said. “Because I think he is a socialist-moving man taking our country places we don’t need to go, OK?”
Again he said, “I will do everything I can to keep him from getting elected, and by the way I am an NRA lifetime member, and I will lock and load my gun.”
And then a lady from the audience yelled, “NRA is special interest.”
The crowd continued to rumble for a bit until McAlester News-Capital Publisher Amy Johns said that was time for closing statements.
Lane thanked everyone for the evening and the opportunity to talk about the issues and things that are near and dear to him and recapped points he had made throughout the evening. He said he is afraid that the Republican legislature will come back to tax cuts even though the state is 20 percent down and that would hugely impact Oklahoma education, senior nutrition and the Department of Corrections.
Boggs closed by saying it wasn’t his intention to anger anyone, but his comments are the way he looks at things. He said one thing that everyone can count on is his straightforwardness and he will express how he sees things.
He said people should vote for him, because he is in the majority party and has a better chance of being heard.
Contact MJ Brickey by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.