GOP candidates tussle over issues

By Carolyn Cole
Published on June 28, 2008

Four Oklahoma Senate candidates debated about education, lawsuit reform, transportation and water rights Tuesday as they sought support from Mustang voters.

Moore resident Marty Gormley and Oklahoma City residents Melinda Daugherty, Steve Russell and Kyle Loveless presented their views before a crowd of more than 70 area residents in a forum held by the Canadian County Republican Party in Town Center. A fifth candidate, Republican Jerry Foshee, of Oklahoma City, was absent. No independent or Democrat candidates sought the seat.

The five candidates are vying for the State Senate District 45 seat, including parts of the Mustang area and west Oklahoma City. The seat is held by Kathleen Wilcoxson, who is term limited.

The primary election is July 29. If no one wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two candidates will face in a runoff election Aug. 26.
County GOP president Pete Katzdorn moderated the forum. Candidates answered four questions posed by those in attendance and asked questions of their opponents. Candidates were given one minute to answer each question.


All of the candidates agreed the education system in Oklahoma needs reform.

Loveless said as a lawmaker he would advocate greater parental involvement in education and local control for school boards in relation to curriculum.

He also suggested slashing the number of school districts in Oklahoma from 535 to 100 school systems.

“If we did a population survey and made it to where counties that didn’t have a certain amount of population wouldn’t get a certain amount of administration, we could save nearly $50 million per year in overhead,” he said. “That money could be used to improve schools; that money could be used for teacher pay. That money could be used for science labs.”

Gormley agreed a larger percentage of money needs to be dedicated for classroom use. He said Oklahoma could adopt a “60/40 plan” like other states, where 60 percent of all school district funds must be used in the classroom.

In his experience as a teacher, Gormley said he has seen classes where English isn’t taught. He added English as an official language would be one of his top priorities as a legislator.

“If we are going to have an Oklahoma that competes with the world, let’s teach them how to command the English language,” he said.

Education is important to economic development and helping young Oklahoma adults find jobs within the state, Russell said. One of his top concerns is the steadily increasing costs of college tuition and fees.

“It’s families just like yours that will pay the highest price because you fall in an income bracket that you don’t qualify for any other type of aid,” he said. “You have to bear the burden.”

Russell said he is also an advocate of merit pay increases for teachers.

“We need to look at ways to award the teachers who do the very best jobs,” he said.

Daugherty, a former school teacher, called education a “passion.”

“We have got to become honest and open about what is going on in our education system,” she said. “We have a problem that needs to be fixed. I feel, I believe, whenever Oklahomans are addressed with the problem they rise to the occasion.”


The candidates were asked if they supported the $300 million bond issue approved by state lawmakers during the last legislative session — each answered “no.”

Requesting an attorney general’s opinion on the bond issue would be her first order of business, if elected, Daugherty said.

“I oppose taxes without the vote of the people,” she said. “It’s time to stand up and do what is right for the state of Oklahoma, for the people.”

Gormley said he is concerned special interest groups lobbied for the legislation and would benefit from the loan’s interest, which is paid by taxpayers.

“We pay a lot of taxes to repair roads and bridges and prevent the accidents we have seen in other parts of the country,” he said.

The bonds could create a cycle, Russell said, in which lawmakers would get used to funding projects in that manner.

“More money taken only leads to more money asked for later ... we need a dedicated funding mechanism within our state government,” he said.

All four candidates agreed money taxpayers believe is being used for transportation is diverted to other departments through the state’s general fund.

“The people at the state Capitol are stealing from us,” Loveless said. “They are taking our money for taxes for roads and bridges and using it for something else.”

Loveless also promised to seek funding to repair Sara and Czech Hall roads, because he said the traffic counts and area growth validate the road work.

“ODOT (Oklahoma Department of Transportation) needs to reduce its administrative overhead and put more money into roads and bridges,” Loveless said. “When our roads and bridges are crumbling and the crumbles kill people, something is wrong in Oklahoma.”


The four candidates agreed water would be a pressing issue in the coming years for Canadian County and for Oklahoma.

Russell, Daugherty and Gormley agreed water supply is a concern that must be addressed at all levels of government — state, county and municipal, in partnership with area businesses.

“If those cities and the county decide they want to explore other resources,” Russell said, “I think that it would be possible to have state matching funds to help that. So it’s a joint effort.”

Loveless said legislators need to face water concerns head on.

“I think the state Legislature needs to address it rather than passing the buck,” he said.

All four candidates told voters they are concerned about Texas developers’ desire to buy Oklahoma water.

“We shouldn’t be siphoning off our water,” Gormley said. “Water is a necessity.”

Daugherty said she believes water rights should remain with the land surface owners and stressed the importance of conservation.

“We need to get back to drilling the conservation of water because Texas wants to sell our runoff waters purify it and collect it ... and sell it back to us,” she said. “It’s our own water.”

Lawsuit reform

The candidates were asked a joint question about the North American Free Trade Agreement superhighway plan and their stance on tort or lawsuit reform. All four candidates said they oppose the superhighway because it infringes on the rights of states and property owners, and they agreed Oklahoma needs lawsuit reform.

Russell said he believes people must take responsibility for negligence and those who are injured should be able to seek compensation, but “tort reform means we rein it in.”

“You can go back and look at Mosaic Law,” he said. “An ox was killed, an ox was replaced ... even God himself put a cap on oxe(n) — it wasn’t 500 oxen.”

Gormley said he favors placing a cap on judgments.

“Fair and reasonable judgments as Steve said, not the 5,000 cows given as a judgement,” he said. “Most of those cows aren’t going to the person who lost the limb anyway. It’s going to ambulance chasers, trial lawyers ... I don’t think the ambulance chasers came into existence by God. It came from a lower level.”

Daugherty said while injured people should receive compensation to help pay for medical expenses and their recovery, those judgments should not set allow someone to retire.

“We need to allow the judges to throw out frivolous lawsuits so we can help our businessmen,” she said.

The need for lawsuit reform stems from Oklahomans’ need for affordable healthcare, Loveless said, adding he would have supported a bill Rep. Colby Schwartz authored which was vetoed by Gov. Brad Henry.

“It comes down to a simple question,” Loveless said. “Do you want more lawyers or do you want more doctors?”

Other questions

Each candidate was allowed to ask their opponents a question. Gormley started off the round, asking Russell for his position on illegal immigration and requiring voter identification at the polls.

Russell responded his family adopted three Hungarian children who learned to speak English without special tutoring. As a 25-year Army combat infantry veteran, he has “a strict view on illegal aliens.

The rights and freedoms I fought for, I don’t want to see those given away. I think citizenship must be earned.

“I also think if I had to use a driver license to board an airplane, than why not present one when I go vote or do other things,” he said.

Gormley asked Daugherty for her views on abortion. She said she wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned.

“I will protect the sanctity of life from conception,” she said.

Daugherty said she wants to work to improve the adoption process and to prevent the Department of Human Services from placing children back into abusive homes.

Gormley asked Loveless for his view on Intelligent Design and the state’s control over the textbook selection process.

Loveless said he believes the selection of textbooks and curriculum should be left to local school board members to decide.

“I do believe in Intelligent Design,” he said. “I believe God created the Earth in seven days —- to me it’s a matter of faith.”

Next, Russell asked his opponents to list their top priorities for their legislative service, if elected. He said he is most concerned about the “assault on our families and traditional values. If the families go so goes our culture and our state. All other problems I believe are ancillary.”

Daugherty said she believes state government must be accountable and have “total transparency” and open accounting of the use of taxes before leaders can tackle economic development, education and transportation concerns.

“We have got to get honest first,” she said.

Consolidating school districts and cutting administrators is his top priority, Loveless said, as well as discontinuing “failed policies.”
Gormley listed English-only legislation as his top concern, as well as making sure more funding makes it into Oklahoma classrooms.

Loveless then asked his opponents which high school football team won the Canadian County bedlam game last fall; he said the question would gauge how in touch they were with the community. Gormley, Daugherty and Russell answered they believed Mustang won.

“You’re all wrong,” Loveless said. “Yukon did.”

Daugherty posed each of her opponents with questions about their pasts and roles in the community. She told the audience Gormley had spent the last school year as a substitute teacher, which he later denied. She asked him if he believes substitute teachers deserve the same pay and benefits as other educators.

“I think teachers should be paid their worth, even substitutes,” he said. Gormley told the crowd he is teaching summer school classes at Roosevelt Middle School in the Oklahoma City School District.

Then, Daugherty asked Loveless why he was asked to resign as chairman of the Cleveland County Republican Party.

As Cleveland County chair I did my best,” Loveless said. “Sometimes I made people mad; sometimes I didn’t.”

Lastly, Daugherty asked Russell if he decided to move to the district out of political ambition and, if he was elected, did he intend to serve his full term or would he seek a higher elected office.

“Duck,” Russell said and bent down slightly to the laughs of the audience. Then he held up his Cleveland County voter registration card.

“This I have held for over 10 years,” he said. “As I have been gone serving my country, my duty as a soldier, I can still vote absentee ballot, which I have done.”

Russell told Daugherty that like her, he is also a fifth-generation Oklahoman.

“I have paid the Oklahoma citizenship penalty as an active serving soldier because they tax our pay,” he said. “I would like to see that stopped ... I’m flattered that you think that maybe I should already be looking at some other office. My goodness, let’s look at the race we have right here before us.”


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