Outsider, public servant and 'regular guy' share the stage
NORMAN — Candidates for governor ended a Sunday forum criticizing their opponents with the same attack lines that have filled Oklahoma airwaves for weeks and will likely be the theme of stump speeches across the state in the days before the Nov. 6 election.
"The problem with career politicians is the answer to every problem in state government is just more taxes on hardworking Oklahomans," Republican Kevin Stitt said about his Democratic opponent, Drew Edmondson.
Stitt, the chairman of Gateway Mortgage Group, is running as a political outsider who wants to bring the principals of running a business to the governor's office.
"If (career politicians) could have fixed it, they would have already done it,” Stitt, of Tulsa, said.
While Edmondson served as state attorney general for 16 years, he rebuked the idea that he had anything to do with state budget cuts and service reductions during the last eight years of Republican leadership.
"My fingerprints are not on the mess we've gotten into over the last eight years, and neither are Mr. Stitt's because he didn't vote," said Edmondson, referring to Stitt's infrequent voting record, including the lack of a ballot for governor since 2000, according to Oklahoma voter records.
Edmondson, of Oklahoma City, said he was proud of his history as a public servant and directed his comments at the many public school teachers who appeared to be in the audience at Longfellow Middle School.
“I believe in public service and I believe people who commit to public service should be honored and not disrespected," Edmondson said.
The comments came at a forum held in Norman and hosted by 11th Day, a group of educators formed after a two-week teacher walkout in April.
Libertarian Chris Powell, of Bethany, dismissed both candidates and urged voters to give him a shot.
"One (candidate) is a multimillionaire CEO, one is a career politician and one is a regular guy like you," said Powell, referring to himself as the "regular guy" in the race.
The attack lines from Edmondson and Stitt could be heard again Wednesday when both candidates appear in the only planned televised debate, hosted by KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City.
The 7 p.m. debate will also air on KJRH in Tulsa and KSWO in Lawton.
All three candidates are also scheduled to appear at an Oklahoma Academy forum on Tuesday in Tulsa.
During Sunday's forum, all three candidates said more money was needed for Oklahoma classrooms and teachers, rural health care and programs that reduce incarceration rates.
The major difference between Edmondson and Stitt remains how to pay for it.
Edmondson has proposed a series of tax increases on oil and gas production and cigarettes, along with eliminating the capital gains tax deduction. His tax proposals combined would raise an estimated $300 million annually.
"I totally agree that funding is not the sole answer to education, but it is an answer and if we don't provide proper funding we are not going to get class sizes down," Edmondson said.
Stitt said tax hikes aren't necessary to find an additional $300 million, which is less than 1.5 percent of the state's $22.5 billion budget, a figure that includes state and federal funds used for expenditures.
“You don't think I can find 1.5 percent in (new) efficiencies? I guarantee I can find them," Stitt said.
Stitt and Edmondson have appeared at several forums over the last month, but rarely alongside Powell.
Sitting between the two front-runners at Sunday's forum, Powell said he would be a governor who worked to reduce government control at the state Capitol.
He specifically targeted the Department of Human Services as an agency he would audit and change.
"That entity is a mess," Powell said. "I will go through that agency with a fine-tooth comb and fix it.”