OKLAHOMA CITY —
The two gubernatorial candidates have traveled nearly to every corner of the state in the past few months. From campaigning at county fairs or before local business groups, Democrat Jari Askins and Republican Mary Fallin want to prove they are best suited to address the many issues facing the state.
Askins and Fallin show similarities in their positions of opposing tax increases and making job growth their No. 1 priority. But the two candidates clash on issues such as strategies to cut spending and challenging federal policies.
Norman resident Don Griffith said he watched many friends and family members lose jobs since the state’s unemployment rate climbed from 3.5 percent in 2008 to 6.8 percent now. He said he worries if the state is not proactive, employers will not be convinced to start hiring again.
• Askins said jobs are not created at “21st and Lincoln” referring to the state Capitol. However, she said the state’s top focus should be to retain jobs and prepare students to enter high-paying careers.
“We’ve done this in areas such as biomedicine research and aerospace,” she said. “But we still need to continue efforts that will encourage students to go into engineering and high-tech research that is important to the knowledge-based jobs that will help us raise our per capita income levels.”
• Fallin said the state could prevent job losses and potentially woo new employers by creating a more business friendly culture in the state. She said this could be done by keeping taxes low, improving workers’ compensation programs, creating better tort reform and boosting career-targeted education efforts.
“We need to addressing the impediments of cost drivers (to businesses) as I call it,” she said. “We also need to be focusing on education, because a stronger workforce means a stronger economy.”
Looking at the budget
Lloyd Wold, an accountant from McAlester, said he worries about the longterm budget situation for the state as he sees a slow road to economic recovery. He said he would like the next governor to have clear spending priorities and ideas to balance the budget.
• Askins said she supports a ballot initiative that would change the state Constitution to create a two-year budget cycle with the legislature devoting every other session to only forming the budget. In addition, she said she would ask lawmakers to first tackle the budget before addressing other bills and issues during the 2011 legislative session.
“I want all legislators to be part of the subcommittee process so you have more time and more eyes looking at how each program is affected,” she said. “Looking at each agency, we may find similar programs that serve the same constituencies. This can help determine our priorities of where these next round of cuts need to come from.”
• Fallin said wasteful spending can be eliminated to “right size” the state’s government. She said would start looking for cuts by implementing a zero-based budget process that would make agencies justify every spending beyond what is necessary.
“The first thing I would do as governor is take a hard look at government itself and the mission of the various state agencies and divisions,” she said. “We need to look at if its mission is still relevant today, if it is cost efficient, cost effective and if there is waste or duplication of services.”
Pryor resident Ethel J. Pembleton, who works as part-time classroom volunteer in the public school system, said she sees firsthand the need to provide more resources and attention for students. But with other state agencies also in need, she said the solution isn’t as simple as just throwing money at the problem.
• Askins said she is concerned that schools might be targeted for more budget cuts during the next legislative session. She said the state could help school districts by loosening mandates of how they spend their money.
“I believe local school districts have the ability to solve their problems locally,” she said, “and we need to make sure we give them the flexibility to do that.”
• Fallin said the state must improve its education system. But with the budget shortfall, she said the state should address its financial problems before spending more money.
“There is never going to be the money needed to fund important priorities if we don’t first create the jobs and grow the economy,” she said. “That is why I’m always saying the focus should be on making a better business environment, because if we continue to lose jobs, we won’t have the money for education.”
Battling Washington and health care reform
Tim DeClerk, an Enid attorney, said he is concerned the next governor will be distracted by Washington, D.C., politics rather than addressing in-state problems. He said suing the federal government over health care would only cost taxpayer money and distract officials.
• Askins said she work with the state’s Congressional delegation and other state leaders in the region to fight federal policies that could hurt the state. However, she said would put state local issues first.
“I think the purpose of the governor is to promote the state of Oklahoma and help solve the problems within the state of Oklahoma,” she said.
• Fallin said fighting federal mandates would be a key part of her job as governor. She said she would use the platform of the governor’ office to speak out against federal polices, such the environmental cap-and-trade legislation or health care legislation. She said she would also push for Oklahoma to join other states in the ongoing lawsuit against the health care reform bill.
“I’m the only candidate who stood up to Washington on issues like the federal government taking over health care with Obamacare,” she said referring to her opposition to the bill while in Congress. “We need to stand up to government and talk about issues when they destroy jobs and hurt revenue in the state.”
Water quality and quantity
Luella Koehn, who owns Rolling Hills Farm in Chickasha with her husband, said she depends on the county to provide safe drinking water for their property. She said in communities, such as Chickasha, officials must look decades ahead to make sure drinking water will be available for the next generation.
•Askins said she looks forward to receiving the final report from the state’s ongoing Comprehensive Water Plan. She said she would involve many stakeholders in implementing any policy that the report recommends.
“We have many interested parties, and they will have to be at the table,” she said.
• Fallin said as a former chairwoman of the Tourism and Recreation Commission, she understands that protecting the state’s water supply is an economic engine in addition to supporting agriculture and infrastructure.
“Our responsibility is to be good stewards of the land and air of our state,” she said. “But there is balance of taking care of what we’ve been given with meeting the needs of our economy and making decisions based on sound evidence of how to protect our water quality.”
Trevor Brown covers the Oklahoma statehouse for CNHI. He can be reached at email@example.com.
-------- candidate profiles --------
Name: Mary Fallin
Hometown: Tecumseh but now lives in Edmond
Occupation: U.S. Congresswoman (2007-present)
Past public offices: House of Representatives (1991-1995), lieutenant governor (1996-2006)
Name: Jari Askins
Occupation: Lieutenant governor (2006-present)
Past public office: Special district judge of Stephens County (1982-1990), Oklahoma House of Representatives (1995-2006)