EDITOR’S NOTE: State Question 779 was incorrectly identified in the print edition of the paper. The correction has been made for the online version. The Beacon regrets the mistake.
In a few weeks eastern Oklahoma County voters will send three new legislators to the State Capitol.
Hopefuls in two of the open races shared their views on a range of topics Tuesday morning during a candidate forum at the Midwest City Chamber of Commerce office.
State House 95 candidates Republican Roger Ford and Democrat Jim Cook, and State House 101 candidates Republican Tess Teague and Democrat Cheryl Mooneyham-Hesmman participated in the hour-long event. They will meet in the general election on Nov. 8.
The four candidates answered questions on issues of taxes, public education, economic development and transportation.
All of the candidates rebuked the notion of allowing municipalities to receive property taxes, but offered differing stances on school consolidation and State Question 779, which would raise the sales tax to fund public education. The so called “Boren Sales Tax” plan will add 1 percent to the sales tax rate to fund raises for public school teachers and increase funding for the state education department, career techs and higher education. The state question will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot.
In State House 95, Ford, a small business owner, agreed with the need to increase funding for public education and pay for teachers, but does not believe the Boren Sales Tax is the vehicle to get there.
“I’m absolutely for raises for teachers and more money for higher ed, especially at the smaller colleges,” Ford said. “If I thought 100 percent of the money would go there I’d be the cheerleader for it. But the tax is expected to raise $650 million and only $250 million will go to teacher raises.”
Cook, a former president of Rose State College, did not endorse the Boren Sales Tax but said the state needs to support public education.
“There are always ways to be more efficient but at some point you need to look at the costs and say ‘Are we providing a base of support?’” he said. “In the 1980s, 75 percent of the higher ed budgets from state funds, now it’s about 30 percent.”
Both State 101 candidates supported the Boren Sales Tax. Teague, who works as a legislative tracker for the Journal Record, said the state legislature missed opportunities to address the issue of teacher pay in the past, and believes the will of the people should be heard.
“Yes, I will vote for it,” Teague said of State Question 779. “If this passes, I want to be a part of it.”
Mooneyham-Hessman, a principal in Harrah, believes State Question 779 is a way make up for failures of past legislatures.
“It’s sad that this had to come to a vote of the people,” she said. “We’re talking about a penny tax. And it’s for teacher pay raises and not administration.”
The candidates were also asked about their connection to the community and plans to improve it.
Ford, who moved to the district after college, said he would like to see the aerospace industry grow in the district and the state. He said the proximity to Tinker Air Force Base and Rose State College makes it a prime location for growth.
“We are too dependent on oil and gas and need to diversity and we are absolutely the right spot for the aerospace industry,” Ford said.
Cook agreed with Ford’s vision for aerospace industry in the district, and stressed the importance of maintaining strong public safety, quality of life measures and supporting Rose State College, which is a large economic drive in the community.
“People come here because of the great parks, school system, police, fire and quality of life, and we need to do anything we can to improve that,” Cook said.
In SH 101, Mooneyham-Hesmman, who has lived in the district for 27 years, spoke of the need to provide fire and medical services to rural parts of the district. Teague, who recently moved to Choctaw, said she understand the issues facing military service members and veterans in the district. She also believes improving the overall state budget will have a positive impact on the district, especially issues such as education.
All four candidates recognized the importance of Tinker to the community and state and pledged their support to try and keep it here.
In SH 95, Cook said they must use a collaborative effort to support Tinker.
“We need partnerships with the municipalities, counties, states, colleges and the Air Force,” he said.
Ford said he has been a longtime supporter of Tinker and served on Gov. Frank Keating’s task force for base closure prevention during the last round of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process. He has also served as an honorary commander at the base for 15 years.
“I learned a tremendous amount on the committee and I want to take that experience during the next round because it is going to happen,” Ford said. “People say that Tinker is too big and it will never lose missions and it will gain missions. That may or may not be true. Some thought that with other bases and they live elsewhere now.”
In SH 101, Teague spoke about current efforts to provide incentives for companies that support Tinker and manufacture products in Oklahoma.
“We can make sure manufacturing parts is coming from businesses in Oklahoma,” she said. “That is huge. It makes sure those dollars stay in our economy.”
The issue of incentives for businesses also came up in the discussion. All four candidates believed incentives can be a valuable tool to attract investment and jobs, but said the government must ensure there is a positive return on the investment. Several criticized the state’s incentives for wind energy companies.
Candidates were also asked if they support increasing the state’s fuel tax to improve roads and bridges. Ford, Cook and Hessman said they would support the idea. Ford noted that about 40 percent of the tax would be paid by out-of-state motorists. Teague commended ODOT’s annual eight-year-construction plan and recommended a wait and see approach.
“I think the pertinent thing to do would be to sit at a table in a committee and hear from experts on both sides,” she said.
The final question was how the candidates believe the planned Eastern Oklahoma County turnpike loop will impact the community and the state. All of the candidates believed the project could have a positive economic impact on the community but criticized the Oklahoma Transportation Authority’s efforts to communicate their plans with the public.
“It’s like a freight train and we can’t stop it now, but we can make it more transparent for the future,” Mooneyham-Hessman said.
Wade Moore, Midwest City Chamber president, served as the moderator for the candidate forum.
State House District 95 includes much of Midwest City and south Oklahoma City near Tinker. District 101 includes the eastern part of Midwest City, as well as parts of Choctaw and Harrah. State House District 97, which includes parts of Midwest City, Spencer, Forest Park, Jones, Nicoma Park and Oklahoma City.
Reps. Gary Banz (101) and Mike Shelton (97) could not run for re-election due to term limits. Rep. Charlie Joyner chose not to seek a final term in District 95.