Oklahoma’s economy, illegal immigration, corruption in government, big government and lower taxes got a lot of attention when seven Republicans and two Democrats seeking statewide office took the stage in the Chamber of Commerce candiate forum Thursday night.

Every candidate for statewide office was invited to attend the public event on the Rogers State University campus.

State Senate, House and county offices seekers also took part in the two-hour question and answer session.

Following are some excerpts from the evening comments:



Governor

Congressman Ernest Istook, who hopes to be the next governor of Oklahoma, thinks “constantly lowering taxes” and “passing lawsuit reform” are a must if the state is going to be able to provide a better future for the next generation.

“Don’t use oil and gas revenues to make government bigger,” he said. Instead, use it to “fix the roads.” Addressing the state’s infrastructure problems will provide opportunity.

Istook said illegal immigration is brought up more than any other issue on this year’s campaign trail.

As a U.S. Congressman, Istook said he has supported putting resources at the border. But he wants stronger efforts to detect and detain illegal immigrants inside the United States and return them to their homelands.

He said if the federal government is not going to address the issue, then the state should.

“Other states have passed state laws to deny benefits, employment and make English the official language,” Istook said. He gave the example of Colorado.

Even without legislation, Istook said Oklahoma could be doing more. “Give the OHP (Oklahoma Highway Patrol) new instructions,” Istook said. He said when illegal immigrants are stopped, the OHP should hold them until Immigration Services picks them up. The way it works now, he said, they are told INS can’t take them and they have no other option but to let them go.

Istook said his grandparents were immigrants to the United States. He was the first in his family to have a college education. He is the father of five children, who at one time were all in college.

“I know what it’s like to pay college tuition,” he said.

Incumbent Governor Brad Henry did not make an appearance at the forum.

Lieutenant Governor

Republican lieutenant governor candidate Todd Hiett took the stage with retiring District 6 House member Joe Eddins representing Democrat candidate Jari Askins.

Eddins said Askins has years of experience on the bench and in the Legislature making her well qualified in “decision making and policy making.”

Hiett said he believes “government is growing too fast.”

He said in his 12 years in the Legislature he “participated in bringing the most dramatic change [ever] in state government” during the last session. Taxes were lowered and the death tax eliminated, he said.

“But, the job is not complete,” Hiett said.

Askin’s representative said if elected she would “be a partner with Governor Henry” to improve education, health care and public safety. She would also be a strong advocate for creating more jobs.

Eddins said Askin also plans to implement a hotline to report “suspected waste” in government.

“She will shine a spotlight on every report that proves valid,” Eddins said.

Hiett said if elected lieutenant governor he will take an active role as president of the State Senate, promote conservative, pro-growth policies and be “an ambassador” recruiting new business.

“I will also work with existing businesses,” Hiett said because they are our “best opportunity to put jobs on the ground.”

Hiett said voters have a clear choice this year. He and Askins have two different track records, two different visions for the future of Oklahoma, he said.

“Not government, the people will build economy of the future,” Hiett said.



State Auditor

Republican Gary Jones had the stage all to himself since Democrat Jeff McMahan, current state auditor and inspector, did not attend or send a representative.

Jones offered a resume of business and accounting experience and education as his first qualifications for the job of overseeing the proper budgeting and accounting practices for taxpayer dollars.

He said, “We need to start doing things different,” need to take politics out of the state auditors office and create a system of checks and balances.

Jones claims McMahan has received 580 contributions from people he employs. While there is nothing illegal about those contributions, Jones said he would stop that policy.

“We need to hire people for what they know, not who they know.

“We need to hire experience in accounting and auditing,” he said.

Jones said the state should be doing “performance audits every single year.”





Attorney General

Republican James Dunn who is seeking longtime Attorney General Drew Edmondson’s spot as the state’s chief law enforcer spoke unopposed.

Dunn said he wants to “take career politicians and career politics out of the Attorney General’s office.

“Eminent domain is not in the interest of the people ... In America we have property rights,” Dunn said.

He supports acknowledgement of God in everyday life, said he would work to reduce the crime rate by establishing a corruption hotline.

Dunn said he would take a hard line on those convicted of corruption in government. “We will cuff, stuff and prosecute,” he said, “... put them next to the meth heads and see what they think about that.”

Dunn criticized his opponents ongoing lawsuit against the poultry industry.

He said it is time we stand up for clean water and agriculture. He said biiofuels will be the alternative fuels of the future and “Oklahoma can produce that.”

“The first thing I will do is fire Mike Turpen and dismiss that lawsuit,” Dunn said.



State Treasurer

Republican Howard Barnett

who is opposing Democrat incumbent Scott Meacham for the state treasurer’s position, admitted he is a “first time candidate.”

He said his track record as a successful Tulsa businessman qualifies him for the “chief fiscal officer” in the state.

Barnett said in the state treasurer’s office he would “speak out on issues that affect our financial health and implement investment strategies to increase earnings.

The “underfunded” state pension funds would be a priority . He called the state pension funding the number one crisis in the state.

“It affects our credit rating ... interest rates ... and is putting retirement funds at risk,” Barnett said.

He claims current treasurer Meacham is “carrying water for the governor.”

“He can’t take a position on Teacher Retirement unless the governor does.

“I believe the treasurer’s office should operate independent of the governor’s office,” Barnett said.



Labor Commissioner

Democrat candidate Lloyd Fields is a “daring” sort. The career plumbing and air-conditioner contractor is challenging longtime Republican incumbent, Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau.

Fields admitted his first legislative campaign came about when he was “dared in a coffee shop.”

He said a change is needed in the Department of Labor and he believes he’s the person to make a difference.

Reneau was represented by Deputy Commissioner Patrick B. McGuigan.

McGuigan said Reneau has a “good record” for the 12 years she’s been in office.

He said when Reneau took office, Oklahoma was ranked among the worst 10 states for workplace safety.

“It now hovers in the national averages,” McGuigan said. Reneau’s consultative approach to solving safety violations noted through OHSA has saved the state businesses and industries around $30 million, he said.

Fields claims the work safety factor is a critical issue and questioned whether workplace injuries and death were decreasing.

Other areas Fields said he wants to address include implementation of a health insurance card for “every worker in Oklahoma,” increased minimum wage.

He said if elected he would work with the Legislature to assist business with 50 or fewer employees get insurance. Fields also said he supports going after employers who knowingly hire illigal immigrants.

McGuigan offered a graphed chart supporting his claim that injury rates on the decline in Oklahoma. The chart shows, since 1994 to 2004, manufacting sector injuries fell more than 50 percent, overall injury rates fell 40 percent.

He said Reneau has been a postive participant in growing the state’s job availability and per capita income growth efforts.

McGuigan said Reneau has been active in the health insurance arena. She supports a plan for health vouchers through the use of the tobacco money.



Corporation Commissioner

Claremore Republican Bill Flanagan spoke on behalf of incumbent Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony.

Flannagan said Anthony, who has been recognized by the FBI for fighting corruption, understands how to balance the needs of business with the needs of citizens. The Corporation Commission is a regulatory commission, which Flanagan said, has some oversight for 65-to-75 percent of the state’s economy.

Anthony’s opponent is Democrat Cody Graves.

More candidate comments from State Senate and county races will be available in Wednesday’s Progress edition.

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