TULSA — The Republican Women’s Club of Tulsa County hosted a friendly forum on Tuesday for GOP gubernatorial candidates, giving them the opportunity — though not a lot of time — to give scripted answers to broad questions.
“It’s always good to give all the cures for all the ills in 60 seconds or less,” Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb quipped.
Though the forum was held about 12 hours after the state House rejected a tax package meant to fund teacher pay hikes, the candidates were not asked about the vote or anything about the Step Up Oklahoma coalition of business and civic leaders. Nor were they asked about how they would pay for the teacher pay raises they have all endorsed.
The forum was the second in four days at which five of the announced candidates appeared, and it was a much more relaxed one than the 2nd District Republican forum on Saturday in eastern Oklahoma. At that forum, in Crowder, candidates were challenged with questions about taxes, campaign contributions, past political races and water rights.
In Tulsa on Tuesday, Oklahoma Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones volunteered that he was the only Republican in the race calling for tax hikes, saying the state’s budget problems couldn’t be fixed without more revenue.
“You have to have someone who is willing to stand up and tell the truth,” he said.
Two of the contenders in the race are from Tulsa: Gary Richardson and Kevin Stitt. Neither has held elective office, and both are investing hundreds of thousands of dollars of their own money.
Stitt this week began running 60-second television around the state to introduce himself. The total cost of the ad buy wasn’t clear on Tuesday, though public records show the campaign has committed about $77,000 for cable spots into early April in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa markets; the buy at a single network affiliate in Tulsa was $50,000.
Stitt is the CEO of Gateway Mortgage Group.
At the Tulsa forum, Stitt said the state had been run too long by lobbyists, special interests and big industries.
On day one of his administration, he said, he would stop allowing school districts to limit school weeks to four days.
“It looks terrible to the business community,” he said.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, on the question of school consolidation, said it should start in Oklahoma City rather than in sparsely populated rural areas. The city has 24 different districts, he said.
“We’ve got school districts inside school districts,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”
Richardson, an attorney, made his standard pitch for getting rid of turnpikes in the state, saying it was “Exhibit One” of Oklahoma corruption.
“We are not a poor state,” he said. “We are a state with poor leadership.”
Lamb, a former Secret Service agent, often tells a fairly long anecdote about guarding the president in a tense situation in Central America. Under tight time limits on Tuesday, he settled for a one-liner:
“If I was willing to take a bullet for Bill Clinton, imagine how hard I’ll work for you,” he said.