By: TERRY GROOVER
Drew Edmondson says he’s the right person to be Oklahoma’s governor, and the fact that he’s a Democrat won’t be a problem.
The former Oklahoma attorney general visited Yukon this week to make a pitch for votes in the June 26 primary, where he will face former state Sen. Connie Johnson.
The winner will face the Republican nominee in the Nov. 6 general election. There are 10 Republican candidates vying for the nomination. The nominee will likely be determined in a runoff election set for Aug. 28.
“I don’t think I could have drawn it up any better. It is going very well,” Edmondson said during a visit to the Yukon Review’s office.“The primary is in good shape, we believe.”
Edmondson said two statewide polls show Edmondson with a lead going into the Democratic primary, but trailing Lt. Gov.Todd Lamb and former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett in head-to-head polling.
“To be within five points without spending any money, I feel like we are in good shape,” he said.
While Oklahoma leans heavily towards Republicans, the former attorney general said he is not concerned because there is history on his side.
“When there is a first-term president, there is a tendency in Oklahoma to elect a governor of the other party. That has worked over the years, Democrat or Republican it doesn’t make any difference,” he said.
He also pointed out that every time Oklahoma has had a two-term governor, the opposite party has won the next election. He said that offers him a boost of confidence in his race. “We feel very confident there will be some crossover votes in November,” Edmondson said.
“Job one is to preserve what the Legislature did at the end of March, first of April with the $400-plus million tax package. They deserve our thanks for passing something even though it was less than half of what teachers had been asking for. Not just for pay raises, but across the board increases in expenditures,” he said.
The package, which includes increases in several taxes, including fuel and tobacco, is being challenged before the state Supreme Court. Edmondson said he expects a repeal measure to be on the general election ballot.
“Task 1 is to keep that in the budget and not let that be reversed,” he said.
The other issue with that package is that the money is earmarked only for the first year. Edmondson said finding a way to continue the funding is a priority.
“The next governor can’t count on that $400 million. He’s going to have to come up with money to fill that hole as well as fulfilling my commitment that this is the first in a series of pay raises. We’ve got some work to do there,” he said.
Edmondson said he would like to move the gross production tax, which is charged against the production of oil and gas, back to 7 percent for horizontal drilling.
He said vertical drillers already pay that amount, while horizontal drillers receive a break because horizontal drill was seen as experimental.
“They are extracting billions of dollars in assets from under the soil of Oklahoma. They need to pay their fair share,” he said. “It is time for the horizontal drillers to go back to paying what was the rate prior to the incentive.”
Edmondson also said he favors doing away with the capital gains exclusion on income tax.
He said when the exclusion was implemented in 2004, the idea was that taxes not charged on capital gains would be reinvested. That hasn’t worked, costing the state more than $475 million in lost revenue, while generating only $9 million.
“Good idea, but it didn’t work,” he said.
Edmondson said he was disappointed that Gov. Mary Fallin did not expand Medicaid services in Oklahoma with the creation of the Affordable Care Act. He said one of his first actions would be to “opt in.”
“It is 150,000 to 180,000 Oklahomans who earn just above the poverty level who would have had healthcare coverage. If you are a humanitarian, you would be concerned about that 150,000 to 180,000 Oklahomans. If you are a pragmatist, you should be concerned about the impact that decision has had on rural health, in particular,” he said.
Edmondson said that rural hospitals and nursing homes have gone bankrupt because of the decision.
“We’ve had to lower our reimbursement rates to hospitals, nursing homes and medical providers. If a candidate has any interest in keeping rural Oklahoma alive, that candidate should be supporting opting into Medicaid expansion,” he said.
Edmondson said Oklahoma would need to come up with some matching funds, but the expense is worth the cost.
“The flip side is we can’t afford not to,” Edmondson said.