In the face of Oklahoma’s seemingly perpetual budget crisis and a looming teacher strike, Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb remains adamantly opposed to raising taxes in his bid for governor.
“I woke up against tax increases, I went to bed against tax increases and I will always be against tax increases,” Lamb said during a recent campaign stop in Norman.
Cleveland County Republicans packed a room at the Norman library to hear Lamb talk on a recent week night.
Many cars in the parking lot were adorned with a Donald Trump bumper sticker on one side and a Lamb sticker on the other.
With the same conviction he quotes the Bible during his stump speech, Lamb says he believes the key to shoring up the state’s finances is cutting the fat and diversifying the state’s economy.
In an interview with The Frontier, Lamb said he’s heard a lot of “general frustration” with state government from voters while out on the campaign trail.
“Folks want us to get our financial house in order,” Lamb said.
Although it was a county GOP meeting, there were still some tough questions from the Norman crowd.
Jason Pedraza, a Noble attorney who is running as a Republican for the House District 46 seat, asked for more specifics about how Lamb will help diversify the state economy.
“Wasn’t that kind of your job for the past eight years?” Pedraza asked pointedly.
Lamb is quick to counter that he’s done what he can in his limited role as lieutenant governor and that he helped keep manufacturing jobs in Ada when a Solo cup factory was sold there a few years ago by visiting with the new owner.
Wanda Felty, a disability advocate from Norman, questioned Lamb about proposed cuts to services during the last legislative session that included threats to eliminate Medicaid waivers for home daycare programs that allow parents with disabled children to work, Felty said,
Felty attended Lamb’s Norman campaign stop with her disabled adult daughter Kayla White.
“I want to know why you didn’t reach out to families— we felt left,” Felty said. “What are you going to do?”
Lamb believes part of the answer is Medicaid reform.
“There are too many working-age, able-bodied Oklahomans on Medicaid,” Lamb said. “….When we reform these other areas, we will have money to help your daughter.”
Lamb also favors doing away what he claims are $8.9 billion in state giveaways that include incentives and $6.7 billion in sales tax exemptions.
Lamb conservative ideas have helped him win the fundraising race so far, with more than $3.1 million in contributions at the end of 2017. His no-tax increase campaign has played well with business leaders, and he’s has received ample support from the energy industry including political action committees backed by some of the state’s largest oil and gas companies, according to Oklahoma Ethics Commission filings.
Individual donors to Lamb’s campaign include billionaire T. Boone Pickens; Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. CEO David Green; Devon Energy Corp. CEO Dave Hager and Paycom Software Inc. CEO Chad Richison.
Devon Energy Co-founder Larry Nichols chairs Lamb’s campaign. Months away from the June GOP primary, a Devon Energy political action committee has already poured nearly $10,000 in cash and in-kind contributions into Lamb’s gubernatorial bid.
Lamb’s unabashed belief in never raising taxes have sometimes made for what must have been some awkward moments.
In 2017, he resigned from Gov. Mary Fallin’s cabinet over her budget proposal that included new fees on about 100 services that Lamb said would harm small business owners.
Although it had the support of some of his biggest campaign backers— including Nichols, his campaign chair—Lamb also refused to back the Step Up Oklahoma plan earlier this year. The plan called for raising taxes to give Oklahoma teachers a $5,000 pay increase. Lamb’s wife Monica teaches 5th grade.
In an interview, Lamb said he supports a teacher pay raise, but without also raising taxes.
“There’s plenty of money in the state right now, it’s just a matter of what has happened to it,” he said.