As Gov. Kevin Stitt attempted to tie his Democratic opponent to President Joe Biden’s energy policies, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister sought to distance herself on Wednesday, saying she was “concerned” about some of Biden’s stances.  

Hofmeister and Stitt shared the stage for the first time in the lead-up to next month’s general election at the Petroleum Alliance candidate forum on Wednesday, where the discussion centered on energy policy.

During the event, Stitt took shots at Biden and what he referred to as the President’s “failed” energy policies. Hofmeister took a similar path, criticizing Biden and his “rhetoric.”

“We need more energy not less,” Hofmeister said. “I am very concerned about the rhetoric that we hear from the Biden administration.”

Not making an enemy of the oil and gas industry is “huge,” said Jackson Lisle, a pollster at Amber Integrated, an Oklahoma City-based political consulting firm. 

The oil and gas industry accounts for over 90,000 jobs in the state, Lisle said. With the importance of the industry in Oklahoma, and with the economy teetering, it would likely be harmful for candidates to appear to be anti oil-and-gas, Lisle told The Frontier.

According to a recent poll by Amber Integrated, 32% of voters said the economy and inflation was the most important issue to them.

“Every candidate has to talk about what they’re going to do and how it is best for Oklahomans, especially when you’re dealing with people’s livelihoods,” he said.

Hofmeister continued Wednesday, saying both Biden and Stitt “have not done enough” when it comes to advancing energy independence, referencing the “hundreds of wells that are not online” and the lack of a “comprehensive energy plan” for the next time Oklahoma experiences a polar vortex.

Many of Hofmeister’s views are contrary to the views of the national Democratic party, which seeks to cut back significantly on emissions and scale down America’s production of oil and natural gas while moving to cleaner alternatives and providing clean energy tax incentives and increasing regulation. But, despite the party’s shift towards net zero emissions and clean energy, Hofmeister isn’t convinced those exist.

“We know there’s no such thing as zero emission energy. Think about electric cars, zero-emission cars, they have emissions when they’re made, when they’re transported, when they’re shipped,” Hofmeister said. “… When we think about clean energy or dirty energy there is no such thing. There is nothing clean about not having access to energy 24/7.”

Hofmeister also expressed support for energy independence, saying that “we must stand up for the fact that American energy independence is American safety and security.”

“We know that this industry, the energy sector, has been under attack and I empathize. You are key in keeping our state economy moving forward and you cannot be villainized or demonized,” she said.

These comments from Hofmeister came the same day Stitt released his first attack ad, attempting to tie her to Biden’s energy policies. In the ad, the narrator says that “Joe Biden is crushing the oil and gas industry, and he has an accomplice in Oklahoma — Joy Hofmeister.”

The ad references the fact that in 2018 Hofmeister supported a gross production tax increase on oil and gas in order to help raise teacher pay amid the historic teacher walkout.

“The recent ad claiming I favor Joe Biden’s energy policy and would join in attacks on Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry is false,” she said in a statement. “If Stitt attacks me for working with energy leaders back in 2018 to raise teacher pay, then he must also attack the Republican majority in the state legislature who were lockstep with the proposal — which helped give our kids the support they needed.”

Despite Hofmeister’s critiques of Biden and attempts to distance herself from the President, Stitt said he still does not feel that it will be difficult to tie her to the president because “​​she joined Biden’s party” and Democrats all “vote in lockstep” with him.

Biden is not popular in Oklahoma, a state where all 77 counties voted for former President Donald Trump in 2020. A recent SoonerPoll showed only 39.3% of Oklahomans have a favorable view of the President and 58.8% have an unfavorable view of him.

The oil and gas industry is a dominant force in Oklahoma as the state is the third largest provider of natural gas in the U.S, according to the Oklahoma Commerce Department, and the industry brings in billions of dollars each year for the state.

While none of the major energy corporations or organizations have endorsed a candidate in the race, some have donated thousands to Stitt’s campaign during this election including Chesapeake Energy Corporation’s PAC, Marathon Petroleum PAC, The Petroleum Alliance PAC and Continental Resources PAC. 

None of those organizations’ PACs have given to Hofmeister.