SPENCER – Chris Harrison and Jason Lowe share a passion for community service.
But the State House District 97 Democratic hopefuls have different ideas of what that service would like at the State capitol.
Harrison said he is a champion for public education, while Lowe emphasized the need for criminal justice reform Tuesday evening during a candidate forum at Saint Luke Baptist Church.
Harrison stressed the need to increase funding for public education and expand opportunities for students. He said he would like to develop an agriculture program at local schools and a strong relationship with Langston University.
“We have plans to help those who need it the most, and that’s our children,” said Harrison, who is a small business owner and school board member. “A lot of times people do not realize how important that child’s life is when it’s not theirs.”
Lowe, a criminal defense attorney, said the district needs someone with a legal background in the State legislature.
“It’s about time we have a lawyer in that position who can file lawsuits and who can recognize when something is unconstitutional,” Lowe said. “Little tweaks in the law make major differences. For example, if a little tweak can get someone into drug court, a little tweak can get someone into mental health treatment, a little tweak can make sure a young man gets the assistance he needs instead of incarceration.”
The Democratic candidates will meet in the primary run-off election on Aug. 23. The winner advances to the Nov. 8 general election against Republican Tonni Canaday, of Spencer.
The candidate forum was sponsored by the Spencer Chamber of Commerce and Talley Community Services Foundation. Adrian Anderson served as the moderator for the debate.
The candidates tackled several other issues such as education, community involvement, economic development and legalization of marijuana.
Lowe said the state needs to increase funding for public education, while local school districts need to find strong leaders. He criticized the Oklahoma City School District for promoting assistant superintendent Aurora Lora instead of using a search committee to find a new leader.
“Education is an important issue, it’s a gateway out of poverty,” he said. “What I see with clients that come into my office is they usually don’t have a high school education. And usually both parents are not involved in their lives.”
Harrison said the state needs to stop labeling schools as “failing” and increase funding for public education. He also wants to bring programs such as Whiz Kids, agriculture and rodeo to local schools.
“I am thoroughly confused why in this prosperous community we do not have an agriculture program,” he said. “How do you not combine Langston University and the OSU-Extension to provide agriculture program here at Star Spencer high School?”
The candidates were later asked about their involvement in the community, if they are elected. Lowe said he knows the value of community engagement and has been regularly meeting with residents about legal issues for year.
“We have to get that engagement and we have to make sure the community knows what their rights and issues are,” he said. “And that’s what I’ve been doing for years — way before asking for a vote.”
Harrison said his first order of business would be to listen to the needs of the community.
“First and foremost is listening to the community and then bringing the resources down,” he said.
Both candidates expressed the need to grow the economy in places like Spencer. Harrison said the first step is providing a strong education system that teaches residents skills n
eeded in the workplace. He said they must also work with chambers of commerce to attract new businesses and support existing small businesses. Lowe said they need to work on providing support for small businesses and not large corporations.
“I think what the state of Oklahoma is focusing on is tax cuts for big oil and big businesses and not worrying about the little person,” he said. “I would focus on legislation where we can give tax cuts for small businesses.”
The candidates were later asked about their stance on legalization of medical marijuana. Harrison said he needs more information about the issue.
“We have a tendency to jump on something because it sounds good, but what’s most effective for my community is to make sure we have the healthcare necessary, the treatments necessary and coverage necessary with the myth of medical marijuana is needed,” he said. “If it needs to be used that will show up. But for me I’m very critical of it at this point in time until we’re educated on how it affects us as a whole.”
Lowe is a strong supporter of medical marijuana and decriminalization of the drug.
“I see the benefits of it, I see individuals that have cancer and use it and it relieves their needs,” he said. “I see the effect and I see what it’s doing to our kids.”
Lowe is a criminal defense attorney practicing law in Oklahoma City, Lawton and Tulsa. He received his Bachelors of Art in Political Science at Virginia State University and continued his education at Oklahoma City University School of Law. He began his career as a public defender in Oklahoma City. Lowe also organizes several community events that provide school supplies, haircuts and health screenings to children.
Harrison is a native of northeast Oklahoma City and attended Millwood Public Schools. He earned a bachelor’s degree and later a master’s in business administration from the University of Central Oklahoma. Harrison has also served on the Millwood Public School Board since 2003. He and his wife have two children.
Lowe finished first in the primary election with 1,676 votes (46.47 percent) but failed to capture a majority to win the nomination. Harrison was second with 915 (25.37 percent), edging Camal
Pennington by 7 votes for a spot in the runoff election.
Current Rep. Mike Shelton who cannot seek reelection due to term limits.
House District 97 includes Forest Park, Jones, Lake Aluma, Midwest City, Nicoma Park, northeast Oklahoma City and Spencer.
The candidates were also asked what committees they are interested in serving on at the state legislature. Lowe said his experience as an attorney would make him a strong member of the judiciary committee. Harrison said he would like to serve on education, insurance and public health committees.