The two candidates vying for governor got down to business on Tuesday in Oklahoma City at the 2010 Gubernatorial Candidate Fall Forum organized by the State Chamber of Oklahoma.
Both Lt. Governor Jari Askins, a Democrat, and Rep. Mary Fallin, a Republican, voiced their support of several state business incentive funds; the need to examine state agencies and agency budgets in what could shape up to be another year of declining revenue; and their opposition to State Question 744, which would fund the state's common education system to the regional average.
Either way, the winner of the Nov. 2 election will be the state's first female governor.
If elected governor, Askins said she would work to get more legislators involved in the budget-making process in order to have a thorough review of state programs and agencies, and what can be cut as state revenues continue to recover from the economic recession.
"If every legislator can be involved in the process, then I believe we have the chance to look in depth at every agency, line by line, and figure out which programs and services are not the core mission of those agencies," Askins said. "I'm not going into this as to which agencies need to be consolidated, which boards or commissions need to be meshed together. Everybody is fair game right now, every program is fair game, every service is fair game for being trimmed, cut back or totally eliminated."
Fallin said she hoped to make the state more business-friendly in order to spur the economy and, thus, raise state revenues, while working to make cuts to some state spending.
"We are going to have another budget shortfall this coming year," Fallin said. "We don't have the stimulus money, we don't have as much in the Rainy Day Fund as we did have. It will be a much tighter year."
On the matter of State Question 744, Fallin called the measure "irresponsible," while Askins said it was "well-intentioned."
Fallin said remediation levels at colleges in the state could be brought down by using money going toward school administration for teachers and classrooms, while supporting teacher performance pay initiatives and literacy initiatives.
Meanwhile, Askins said though the remediation levels are high, the main area of remediation in college comes at the community college level, where many of the students are adults who have been out of school for several years. Recently enacted programs such as Achieving Classroom Excellence, which mandates college preparation classes for college-bound students, could have a significant effect on remediation levels.
Both politicians said they support business incentives offered by the state, and both said the incentives should be regularly reviewed and eliminated if they are not working or performing poorly.
After the forum, there were few signs of animosity between the two candidates as they embraced and posed for pictures together, following a comment from Fallin that made national news.
At a gubernatorial debate last week, Fallin said, "I think my experience is one of the things that sets me apart as a candidate for governor, first of all, being a mother, having children, raising a family."
Fallin, who was recently re-married and has two children from a prior marriage, said after Tuesday's forum that the comment was not a swipe at Askins, who does not have children and is not married.
"I have tremendous respect for my opponent," Fallin said. "I want to focus on what I can do for Oklahoma."
Askins said voters are concerned about more serious issues than whether their future governor is a mother or not.
"None of Oklahoma's governors have been mothers before," she said. "I'm sure it (Fallin's comment) is something that just came out."
Another debate is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday in Tulsa. "Clifton Adcock
above from left to right, Mary Fallin, Kevin Ogle and Jari Askins. Photo/Shannon Cornman