McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

State House

October 29, 2010

Voters, candidates say experience plays big role in election

Askins, Fallin look for ways to distinguish themselves

OKLAHOMA CITY — The two gubernatorial candidates agree more often than not on the issues.

On the campaign trail and at their two debates, Democrat Jari Askins and Republican Mary Fallin largely echoed each other on general themes that are at the focus of the election. Both have stressed the need to eliminate waste to close the state budget gap, vowed not to raise taxes and spoken of their shared opposition to the federal health care legislation and other mandates from Washington.

But supporters of the two, along with the candidates themselves, say their respective backgrounds and political ideologies are the main factors separating the political foes.

Dorothy Cook, an Askins supporter from Wilburton, paused outside of the gubernatorial debate Thursday in Tulsa when asked what are the issues that set apart the two candidates.

“Well I guess they are a lot of similarities,” she said after thinking about the question. “So I think it is the myriad of experience that (Askins) brings is why I’m supporting her. I think she’ll have a better manner of working with people.”

Each with their own lengthy history in political life, Askins and Fallin have argued their roles in past jobs should be a key factor when voters make their decision Tuesday. Askins, the current lieutenant governor, is a former special district judge, chairwoman of the state Pardon and Parole Board and state legislator. Fallin was elected to Congress in 2006 and was also formerly a lieutenant governor and state legislator.

After Thursday’s debate, Askins argued it is largely the knowledge she gained from her positions in all three branches of government that makes her more qualified to be the next governor.

“My biggest difference the way I see it is my breadth of experience in state government,” she said. “To my knowledge we never had a governor come into office with the background in the criminal justice system that I have. … Having a governor that understands criminal justice policy I believe will be a big asset, and that is something my opponent doesn’t have.”

The talk of who has the most impressive background even led to a national debate in recent days. That started during last week’s debate when Fallin cited being a mother as one of the differences between herself and Askins.

Although both candidates had little to say on the issue Thursday, voters remained split if motherhood should be a factor in the election.

Bobbie Jean Beavers, a Fallin supporter from Tulsa, said the media is overplaying whether it was right or wrong for Fallin to bring up the subject. However, Beavers said being a parent is an important job that can help a mother learn new skills that can be used in politics.

“Being a mother gives you a better understanding of people,” she said. “And just having kids helps you become a better negotiator.”

Donna Hardin, an Askins supporter, said Fallin’s motherhood comment went too far. She said it should not matter to voters whether a politician is a parent or not.

“The way I think about it is that I’m a grandmother and a mother, and I am totally unqualified to become governor or hold any office,” Hardin said. “I’m not putting myself down, that is just a fact.”

Outside of their different backgrounds, Fallin said there is a distinction in the political ideologies of the two women. Fallin repeated her ongoing claim that she is the most conservative candidate in the race.

“What separates the two of us is that I’ve had a long steady record of always being a conservative elected official,” she said. “Whether it by receiving the support of the (National Rifle Association), having a 100 percent pro-life voting record, a 96 conservative ranking as a member of Congress or just standing for conservative principals like low taxes, limited government and personal responsibly.”

Her comment followed Thursday's debate during which both candidates touted their conservative credentials.

After the debate, Askins said Fallin’s legislative record in Congress shows Fallin has not always voted for conservative polices. She criticized Fallin for voting to increase the federal debt ceiling and for supporting the bank bailouts.

“While she was doing that, I was laying off a third of my staff because of budget cuts in the state of Oklahoma,” she said. “For the last 24 months, I have written a check every month to the state of Oklahoma to repay a salary increase that came in 2008 that I don’t think we deserved. I think that shows I’m looking out for the conservative side of Oklahoma.”

Annette Capps, a Broken Arrow resident who supports Fallin, said she supports candidates who are conservative and Republican. Capps said even though Askins claims she is a conservative, Capps argued she is still a Democrat, which is enough to not earn her vote.

“Regardless if she is being a conservative, all Democrats are being thrown under the bus right now,” she said. “I just want someone whose main thing is that they want less government and more Republican (policies).”

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