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Friday, September 22nd, 2017Last Update: Tuesday, August 1st, 2017 01:57:38 PM

Republicans for Governor

By: Richard Engle

It’s early, but any serious candidate has, by now at least, made public their intent to run. The Republican primary will be crowded while the Democrats and Libertarians less so. The Democrat Party has made itself insignificant to public discourse in our state. The next Governor is not likely to be a Democrat.

Many conservatives were hoping Congressman Jim Bridenstine would run. He has declined so far.

Republicans must make a choice between (in alphabetical order) Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, former State Representative Dan Fisher, State Auditor Gary Jones, Lt Governor Todd Lamb, trial lawyer Gary Richardson and mortgage banker Kevin Stitt.

Stitt is the least known of the candidates and has yet to release any public policy statements.

Gary Richardson was the first to formally announce. He is, at best, a populist. In his last race for Governor, as an independent, he pressed a single popular issue. His intent to dispose of turnpikes along our most traveled highways polls well. Every informed voter knows that he will not be able to do so simply under his authority as Governor, and there is little expectation that he would have any success with the legislature on the matter. He may have a broad ranging and well composed platform on numerous issues, but the turnpike issue is the one that gets him the most press. In this writers opinion he would have a greater chance of building a wall on the Red River and getting Texas to pay for it, than he would to make the drive between our two major cities free of tolls. Richardson’s greatest political success in life was that of securing a victory for Democrat Brad Henry over conservative Republican Steve Largent as our prior Governor. Republicans with long memories may continue to hold this against him.

It may be more of a surprise that Mayor Mick Cornett is a Republican than that Richardson became one, again. Cornett is no conservative, and no intelligent conservative will support him as doing so would mean abdication of at least one of the two aforesaid virtues. Cornett will no doubt run a well-financed media savvy campaign. Cornett was successful in managing a long-term tax and spend program which plunged massive funds from throughout one the world’s largest (geographically) cities into a tiny area near downtown. With enough money anyone can gold plate a few blocks. No doubt the MAPS efforts were successful and the core of the city is revived. There is no known evidence of misspending or corruption in the program. The program may continue to benefit the community in a way that eventually reaches to the ordinary homes of the citizens who paid the freight. Meanwhile, downtown is a nice place, as are some adjacent neighborhoods. Having a major league basketball team is a feather in the cap to any involved. There is a growing concern that the most recent MAPS effort built (and is building) projects the city won’t be able to operate. The next Mayor will have to deal with those operating costs.

Crony capitalism with an improved level of flash and entertainment would be the promise of a Cornett administration. Most troubling to any sincere conservative voter is Cornett’s support of continuing the Affordable Care Act or Obamacare. As late as January of this year he was the primary signatory on a letter to Congress opposing repeal and instead “urging (them) to build upon, not tear down, the progress that has been made to our healthcare system.”

In his final year in the legislature Dan Fisher scored an admirable 86% on the Oklahoma Constitution’s Conservative Index, and had an impressive 94% cumulative average for the four years he served. He is a Baptist minister and Oklahoma voters have already shown that they are willing to vote for such statewide. If Dan Fisher is able to draw in Baptist Republicans then he will be a very real contender in this race. This is a big “if.” Can Dan Fisher raise the funds to be a true contender?

In the very short time since his announcement, questions as to his true intent are prevalent. Does he see evidence of an opportunity to be a voice for the issues nearest his heart, more than an actual opportunity to win? He has a choice, raise competitive campaign funds, create a vast committed voter base, or simply run to speak to his issues. He must do one (or both) of the first two to avoid being relegated to the third. Running to communicate an otherwise unstated ideal can be a good thing, and if so he will be a valued protest vote for a number of voters. However, if he does garner the base of voters who gave us Senator James Lankford, he will be unstoppable. We will be able to gauge this in short order.

Gary Jones is widely viewed as an able State Auditor. Nobody considers him a charismatic leader. Nor do they know much about his public policy proposals except a few under-vetted ideas. Most significantly, he is famed for his ideas about reform of the Legislature. Sadly, his cure might be worse than the obvious sickness. He would make it more efficient for the Legislature to do the awful things it did this past year. Jones has a list of safeguards against such, which if enacted, could work. However, with each safeguard he lists, he loses the support of another constituency. It is highly doubtful that his safeguards would see the light of day.

Voters will want to take a thorough look at Todd Lamb. The Lt Governor is the only other candidate with legislative experience and in his final year in office he had a respectable 73% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. Sadly, 73% in 2016 might get a Republican legislator labeled a right wing fanatic! While appearing to be a mainstream Republican, Lamb does have conservative bona fides. He wrote a major pro-life bill which passed, was vetoed, and he successfully lead the override effort. He was a long and vocal supporter of our quality Worker Comp reform law. He has been singularly vocal in favor of school choice. Lamb strongly supported open carry and other gun rights bills. And, most recently he courageously opposed the Governor’s tax increase plans.

Each Republican candidate has certain qualities. Over the next year voters will want to choose a conservative leader they can trust. As a conservative in Oklahoma, I am looking for a few key elements in a candidate which I can support.

First, I want government reform that actually makes government smaller.

Second, we must reform our education system in a way that reduces the vast waste and mismanagement. I don’t know if we can make public education great, but perhaps we can reduce the bureaucratic/administrative burden.

Third, the most significant proper way for the state to have a positive impact on our economy is through our infrastructure and our criminal justice system. We need a governor who will hold government to its proper role.

Finally, we need a governor who will avoid the pitfalls of crony capitalism. Oklahoma needs a governor who will encourage all comers. We need economic diversity in a more organic/market based manner. We need to make sure such higher education and vocational education, as we have, is observant to market needs.

Find a candidate who will renew Oklahoma in accord with those principles and support him. We must be wise in how we choose, while understanding that no one man can be a panacea to our state’s current predicament.

About Richard Engle

Richard Engle is President of BellWest America. He has long been a fixture in conservative Republican politics in Oklahoma. He was twice elected to the Bethany City Council, served two terms as President of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies, and over a decade as Vice President of the Oklahoma Conservative PAC. He is married to Denise Engle, Commissioner for the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Commission and they live in Oklahoma City. He may be reached by email at: engle@flash.net

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