Enid News & Eagle
By: Ryan Miller
Eleven gubernatorial candidates shared their opinions on several hot-button issues during Oklahoma Academy’s gubernatorial candidate forum Tuesday night in Enid.
Candidates attending were Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, Sen. Connie Johnson, State Auditor Gary Jones, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, Broken Arrow businessman Rex Lawhorn, Wynnewood businessman Joe Maldonado, Bethany businessman and former chairman of the Libertarian Party Chris Powell, former U.S. Attorney Gary Richardson, Blake Stephens and Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt.
Three questions were asked of each candidate, and three minutes were provided to answer each question.
Topics included wind energy and if it’s taxed appropriately, education and the work force, and state municipalities and taxation.
Richardson, Powell and Stitt mentioned the importance and value of wind industry to the state, but said either that there shouldn’t be a disadvantage amongst competition, that the wind industry would work without tax dollars supporting it, or that the playing field should be level.
“I think we all learned from our experience with the wind industry that giving corporate welfare to the wind industry is not what worked, it’s not what caused the wind industry to come here,” Richardson said.
Edmondson said he supports wind energy and that it’s unfair to compare gross production tax from the oil and gas industry because those resources will be gone someday, but that there should be no new tax breaks for the wind industry.
Jones said he’d make sure tax policy is fair and do what is most cost effective, Stephens also mentioned the importance of wind energy and that the state should embrace it but not at the expense of taxpayers; and Lamb mentioned that Oklahoma allowed $8.9 billion in incentive money out the door. Lawhorn also mentioned the prime opportunity for wind energy in Oklahoma, but that competing industries need to operate on the same plane.
“If they can’t stand on their own, they shouldn’t be standing, because it’s inefficient, it’s not fair to the consumer, it’s not fair to the business and it’s not fair to the government,” Lawhorn said.
Maldonado said wind farms are doing nothing except ruining the environment and destroying beautiful lands. He said the people aren’t getting any benefit out of it, and politicians are running bad business in the state.
Cornett also mentioned the importance and size of the wind industry, but that it’s over-subsidized and that other companies and groups have a right to be upset. Cornett added there needs to be a long-term exit strategy for the future when wind companies adapt better technology or current wind turbines become obsolete.
Johnson talked about the benefits and drawbacks of wind industry, but said ultimately renewable energy is the way to go.
“In spite of all these realities, wind, along with sun, is not going anywhere anytime soon in Oklahoma … this is a renewable, dependable, sustainable new source of revenue in the state of Oklahoma,” Johnson said.
When it came to the topic of education, the work force and its future, all the candidates were similar in opinion that education should be one of the issues brought to the forefront and invested in.
“Education is an investment, it’s not an expense,” Cornett said. “I would suggest the most important thing for Oklahomans is health and education. We’ve got to have higher standards in both of those areas.”
Lamb said there needs to be both fiscal reform and rigor reform in Oklahoma’s education system.
“The pipeline of talent for economic development and our economy is education,” Lamb said.
Maldonado said there’s no accountability in the state and that to an extent, many current classrooms are no more than a “babysitting service.”
“Oklahoma needs a plumber, because it’s plugged up,” Maldonado said.
Edmondson said, “it’s not rocket science” and education is the key, while Powell said barriers to the work force need to be reduced and there’s a current failure to prepare young people for the future.
“You fix education in this state, you fix our problems because it is going to be a ripple effect,” Stephens said.
The last question involved taxation revenue from municipalities, and opinions differed among the candidates.
Jones said caution should be taken with raising taxes such as property taxes until taxation is figured out across the board, and Maldonado said he’s against raising property taxes, and that many small businesses are being run out while large companies are “getting everything for free.”
Stephens said there needs to be transparency and audits, and that there’s fraud among Oklahoma’s towns, and a better job needs to be done. Lamb talked about diversifying the economy, worker’s compensation reform, and the opportunity that could be gained from exporting to places such as Taiwan or the United Kingdom.
Cornett said it’s “draconian” and that Oklahoma is the only state to rely so heavily on sales taxes, which creates a multitude of problems. Lawhorn mentioned it’s the state’s role to get out of the way and let municipalities have control, and Stitt said he’s not for any new taxes.
“I’m not for any new taxes. I am super excited that revenue projection s were up 15 percent in January and 7.4 percent in March,” Stitt said.
Other candidates, including Edmondson, Richardson and Johnson, talked about internet sales tax and their support for it. Richardson mentioned he’s opposed to raising taxes, and Powell discussed looking at revenue versus cost.
Due to time constraints, no audience questions were presented, and each candidate had two minutes for final comments, with all the candidates telling the audience why they should be elected governor, and that for more information, to check out their websites.