The state of Oklahoma is sick, Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson believes, and it needs a trip to the doctor.
Is Richardson the doctor the state needs? He seems to think so.
“A good doctor is going to figure out first by testing and exams and X-rays what is causing the problem,” Richardson said in a recent interview with The Frontier. “Then the doctor will prescribe medication to bring healing. That’s what I will do as governor.”
Whether he can convince voters of that remains to be seen. Richardson, a Republican who has history as a gubernatorial candidate having run and lost as an Independent in 2002, will have to separate himself from 10 other candidates during the next 12 months.
But he says doing so may just be easier than it sounds.
“Our polling indicates 64 percent (of primary voters) recognize we need an outsider to lead our government today,” Richardson said. “The message I’m giving is extremely well-received … that we need a new type of leadership.”
He said his campaign’s polling also indicates that his age — he’s 76 years old — is not a hindrance. In fact, Richardson believes it might be a benefit.
“I truly believe people want someone who is not a lifetime politician,” he said. “All they have to do is look at my hair to know I’m not looking for a career. It’s just something I felt like I had to do. I told my wife I couldn’t be at peace if I didn’t try.”
The Trump effect
It was actually another “outsider” who gave Richardson the spark to run for Governor again. Prior to the 2016 Presidential election, Richardson was convinced Donald Trump would not only win the Republican primary, but would eventually become President.
“That’s what started opening my eyes to the fact that people were ready for an outsider,” Richardson said. “I will tell you I have seen of late more than one posting in social media that talks about how I’m the only Republican that can win in the general election, because of the situation our state is in and where our Republican leaders have gotten us, and I’m inclined to believe that.”
Richardson’s stances are well-known — he’s anti-tax and pro-audit, and he has a long-held grudge against toll roads, something he says stifles economic growth.
“Look at the area between Tulsa and Oklahoma City, it’s a graveyard,” he said. “There’s so much property that can be developed. Any place where there’s been a toll gate has been taken down, there’s been economic growth.”
As for taxes, he’s strongly against any tax increase, instead calling for audits of “every state agency, trust, and authority.”
“We’ve got a lot of corruption and waste and foolish spending that needs to be dealt with,” Richardson said. “It’s been 14 years since an audit was done (at the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services) best we can find. You can’t let things go that long without checking on them.”
Former Health Commissioner Terry Cline resigned last month after it was reported the agency had overspent and mismanaged its funding for years. Preston Doerflinger, a longtime Gov. Mary Fallin aide, has been tasked with managing the department while State Auditor Gary Jones (who is also running for Governor) conducts an audit.
“I will audit every state agency and authority in the state starting with the Turnpike Authority, ODOT, the Grand River Dam Authority, (State Department of) Education and the prison system,” Richardson said. “Raising taxes is not the answer to the problem we’re in. We’re not a poor state, we’re a poorly-led state. We need to get to the bottom of what’s causing the problems.”
Richardson’s campaign for Governor in 2002 could be termed successful or unsuccessful, depending on who one was rooting for. He said he has never given much thought to any particular party, having been a Democrat years ago then later switching to the Republican Party after realizing he identified more with their beliefs.
But in 2002, he ran for Governor as an Independent, eventually facing off against Democrat Brad Henry and Republican Steve Largent.
Richardson received a little more than 14 percent of the 1,035,620 votes cast, not enough to make a personal dent, but enough, maybe, to sway the outcome. Critics have said Richardson pried enough votes away from Largent to help Brad Henry win — Henry won by fewer than 7,000 total votes and Richardson likely pried at least that many away from Largent.
Henry easily won re-election in 2006, and after being term-limited was replaced by Fallin.
“I think I was just ahead of my time then,” Richardson said. “The people know there’s something wrong and something that has to be fixed. They know the leaders we have had the past several years have gotten us where we are.”