Gubernatorial candidates Kevin Stitt and Drew Edmondson faced about 30 minutes of questions during a forum hosted by the Rotary Club of Tulsa on Wednesday afternoon at downtown’s First United Methodist Church.
Stitt, a Republican, and Edmondson, a Democrat, touched on topics ranging from abortion, to recreational marijuana, to the possibility of school districts using property tax revenue for operational costs.
Here are five takeaways from the debate. Oklahoma’s general elections are on Nov. 6.
Does Oklahoma need more revenue?
Asked whether Oklahoma needs more revenue to perform state duties, the candidates were split.
Edmondson said he believes Oklahoma needs more revenue sources. He called for the state to raise the gross production tax to 7 percent. Lawmakers raised rates on new wells from 2 percent to 5 percent this year. Oil and gas producers now pay 7 percent three years after production starts.
He also said he would eliminate the capital gains tax deduction and increase the cost of a pack of cigarettes by $.50.
“The provisions I have called for will raise an additional $300 to $350 million,” Edmondson said.
Stitt said the state doesn’t need more revenue. He pointed to last spring’s $400 million tax increase and the state’s improved financial outlook. “So no, we don’t need more revenue,” he said.
Instead, state leaders must reform the way the government is operated, Stitt said. He said that would include more transparency and accountability from agency heads.
“That’s why I’m asking for the authority to appoint the agency heads to have a fire-and-hire appointing ability because, and I don’t want to be a bad guy, but I want to create the type of accountability and transparency that we’re all used to,” Stitt said.
“Before we get there it doesn’t matter how much money you throw at the system, they (agency heads) can never spend enough.”
The candidates gave softer answers to whether recreational marijuana should be legal in Oklahoma.
When asked, Stitt said, “Absolutely not.” However, he added, at least not while it is illegal on a federal level (the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug, alongside other drugs “with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse” such as heroin, ecstasy and LSD).
Stitt touched on the issue of worker safety and barriers marijuana businesses have to banking services.
Edmondson said Oklahoma shouldn’t jump into recreational marijuana, at least not yet. He said state leaders have the opportunity to learn from other states that have legalized the drug for recreational use, such as Colorado and Oregon, and watch their successes and failures.
Both candidates said they support medical marijuana.
Stitt said he is “pro-life” and believes life begins at conception. Edmondson said he supports Roe vs. Wade and the trimester framework of the ruling, which established conditions to allow states to regulate abortion during the second and third trimesters.
Ballot measure that would give schools more flexibility with spending
State Question 801 would allow school districts to spend money that is currently restricted to their building funds for operational expenditures, such as teacher salaries.
The proposed measure, which will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, has been controversial among school leaders, and the candidates were split on the issue.
Edmondson said he is opposed to the measure.
“I haven’t talked to a single teacher, administrator, principal or anybody else involved in education who is for that,” he said. “I intend to vote no.”
Meanwhile, Stitt said he is “absolutely for it.”
“This is so important to get our state on the right track,” Stitt said. “It opens up the dollars that are already there to take the handcuffs off the school districts. Very important.”
Differences between candidates and those they’re compared to
Both candidates were asked to differentiate themselves, not from each other, but from other politicians whom they are sometimes compared to.
Stitt, the moderator said, has been compared to current Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who as recently as this summer had an approval rate below 20 percent. The Democratic Governors Association began airing an ad last week linking Stitt to Fallin, saying he had the “same bad ideas” regarding education as the current governor.
Stitt replied, as he often does, that he’s not a politician and noted that he’d “never run for public office before” he launched his campaign for governor. Fallin was first elected to public office in 1990, serving two terms as a state representative, lieutenant governor and Congresswoman for Oklahoma’s Fifth Congressional District.
Edmondson was asked to differentiate himself from “Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.”
He pointed to the fact that neither Clinton nor Sanders were running with the intention of serving Oklahomans, something he said he intends to do if elected.