GOP can­di­dates face friendly Tulsa au­di­ence

The Oklahoman - - NEWS - Staff Writer ccas­teel@oklahoman.com BY CHRIS CASTEEL

TULSA — The Repub­li­can Women’s Club of Tulsa County hosted a friendly fo­rum on Tues­day for GOP gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­dates, giv­ing them the op­por­tu­nity — though not a lot of time — to give scripted an­swers to broad ques­tions.

“It’s al­ways good to give all the cures for all the ills in 60 se­conds or less,” Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb quipped.

Though the fo­rum was held about 12 hours after the state House re­jected a tax pack­age meant to fund teacher pay hikes, the can­di­dates were not asked about the vote or any­thing about the Step Up Oklahoma coali­tion of busi­ness and civic lead­ers. Nor were they asked about how they would pay for the teacher pay raises they have all en­dorsed.

The fo­rum was the sec­ond in four days at which five of the an­nounced can­di­dates ap­peared, and it was a much more re­laxed one than the 2nd Dis­trict Repub­li­can fo­rum on Satur­day in eastern Oklahoma. At that fo­rum, in Crow­der, can­di­dates were chal­lenged with ques­tions about taxes, cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions, past po­lit­i­cal races and wa­ter rights.

In Tulsa on Tues­day, Oklahoma Au­di­tor and In­spec­tor Gary Jones vol­un­teered that he was the only Repub­li­can in the race call­ing for tax hikes, say­ing the state’s bud­get prob­lems couldn’t be fixed with­out more rev­enue.

“You have to have some­one who is will­ing to stand up and tell the truth,” he said.

Two of the con­tenders in the race are from Tulsa: Gary Richard­son and Kevin Stitt. Nei­ther has held elec­tive of­fice, and both are in­vest­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars of their own money.

Stitt this week be­gan run­ning 60-sec­ond tele­vi­sion around the state to in­tro­duce him­self. The to­tal cost of the ad buy wasn’t clear on Tues­day, though pub­lic records show the cam­paign has com­mit­ted about $77,000 for ca­ble spots into early April in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa mar­kets; the buy at a sin­gle net­work af­fil­i­ate in Tulsa was $50,000.

Stitt is the CEO of Gate­way Mort­gage Group.

At the Tulsa fo­rum, Stitt said the state had been run too long by lob­by­ists, spe­cial in­ter­ests and big in­dus­tries.

On day one of his ad­min­is­tra­tion, he said, he would stop al­low­ing school dis­tricts to limit school weeks to four days.

“It looks ter­ri­ble to the busi­ness com­mu­nity,’’ he said.

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cor­nett, on the ques­tion of school con­sol­i­da­tion, said it should start in Oklahoma City rather than in sparsely pop­u­lated ru­ral ar­eas. The city has 24 dif­fer­ent dis­tricts, he said.

“We’ve got school dis­tricts in­side school dis­tricts,’’ he said. “It’s ridicu­lous.”

Richard­son, an at­tor­ney, made his stan­dard pitch for get­ting rid of turn­pikes in the state, say­ing it was “Ex­hibit One” of Oklahoma cor­rup­tion.

“We are not a poor state,’’ he said. “We are a state with poor lead­er­ship.”

Lamb, a for­mer Se­cret Ser­vice agent, of­ten tells a fairly long anec­dote about guard­ing the pres­i­dent in a tense sit­u­a­tion in Cen­tral Amer­ica. Un­der tight time lim­its on Tues­day, he set­tled for a one-liner:

“If I was will­ing to take a bul­let for Bill Clin­ton, imag­ine how hard I’ll work for you,” he said.

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