With fears of an economic crisis hitting the state as well as Wall Street, one thing Oklahomans need is ethical, thoughtful legislation without money being paid under the table, said David Dank, incumbent Republican candidate for House District 85 in northwest Oklahoma City.
Dank, 70, points to a the recent ethics bill he authored, passed last session, that would ban "pay for play" donations during legislative sessions.
"At least they can't pass out money while laws are being made. It separates the lawmaking from the actual contribution. I got it passed in the last 10 days of the Legislature. I think it's one of the premier things that we got done this session," Dank said. "I had broad-based support. Lucky Lamons, who is a Democrat from Tulsa and a former police officer, is probably my No. 1 helper in that thing. He was my co-author. I learned a long time ago that you have to work with everybody."
Which is a good thing, perhaps, because Dank's opponent, Democrat Bart Jay Robey, 30, agrees with him a lot. But Robey also thinks it's time for Dank to go. Robey, an attorney with Smith, Rhodes, Stewart & Elder, points out that Dank " and his wife before him " have held the seat in the district since 1994.
"They've had an opportunity to serve. They've had time to get their ideas out there. They might have some ideas I wouldn't disagree with or have a problem with," Robey said.
The gentlemanly nature of the Dank-Robey race might be different from other races " the candidates have similar views and there has been little mudslinging to accompany their positions. For instance, Dank wants to freeze property taxes on seniors, which is a position Robey volunteered that he wants as well.
"He's (Dank) big on freezing property taxes for our seniors, which I think is a good idea because we have a lot of people living on a fixed income and as those taxes increase it eats into their quality of life and their ability to pay their bills," Robey said. "Just because Mr. Dank has an idea doesn't mean I don't agree with it, but I believe we are having a renaissance of sort here in Oklahoma City even as there is national economic turmoil. We need a new leader with new ideas that's going to come in and be proactive about taking on these challenges."
Dank, who is president of Dank Consulting, said he sees the challenges coming. That's why, he said, he wants to attract businesses to generate economic gains in Oklahoma. The former publisher of the Moore Monitor said that by cutting income taxes further, it can cause an across-the-board stimulus for attracting businesses to Oklahoma, creating more engines for raising capital in the state's economy and filling the public coffers. He said an example of this would be his support of a stimulus package for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"We had people willing to spend almost half a billion dollars to bring a big league team from Seattle to a little league town like Oklahoma City," Dank said. "What people may not know is that when we brought the Hornets in here, it generated an economic stimulus that was $150 million a year."
Robey, a 1996 Casady School graduate, said that even though he agrees with a lot of Dank's record, he said there are important areas where he differs. Robey said Dank, for instance, voted against the Oklahoma All Kids Act, which set out to increase health insurance coverage for uninsured children. Robey said such a state expenditure actually saves the state money.
"Right now the parents wait until the child is really sick instead of preventing it," Robey said.
Repeated calls and e-mails to the campaigns of House District 87 candidate Jason Nelson and House District 93 candidate Mike Christian were not returned. Both Nelson and Christian are Republicans. Democratic candidates Dana Orwig, vying for District 87, and David Castillo, going for District 93, both consented to interviews about their campaigns.
Republican Jason Nelson, 36, is listed as a registered lobbyist with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, representing companies and organizations such as AT&T, Chickasaw Enterprises, Professional Basketball Club LLC, the owners of the Thunder, and UST Inc. His Web site states he manages an unnamed public relations company as well as a furniture refinishing business. He is a former staff member of Gov. Frank Keating's administration.
Nelson's Web site lists that his concerns are a "strong economy," "affordable health care," "Oklahoma values" and "safe neighborhoods."
Democrat Dana Orwig, 54, is a teacher at St. John's Episcopal School and a deacon with the same church. In the 2006 election, Orwig lost by a narrow 278 votes to Republican Trebor Worthen, according to the Oklahoma State Election Board. Worthen, who joined the consulting firm AH Strategies, is vacating the seat.
Orwig said her particular focus is education. She said her years of teaching have given her insight into how education money is misspent, as well as how it should be spent.
"A lot of our state budget goes to education. We need to spend wisely so we can get the most bang for our buck. We need our education system to attract and keep businesses," Orwig said. "I would like to see us put our investments in things that will benefit all the businesses in our state "¦ not just deals that will benefit one or two."
Orwig said her opponent is politically connected, but she feels she has the edge among the people of the district.
"He (Jason Nelson) has spent most of his professional life as a member of Frank Keating's staff, then has been a lobbyist for several years. I think when you do that, you don't have a perspective on how that process works or in many cases fails to work for many people," she said.
THE RACE CARD?
Democratic candidate David Castillo said his strong background as a member of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board representing District 6, a district that encompasses much of House District 93, positions him uniquely to understand the issues with the people he wants to serve.
"I know a lot of people out there who have voted for me in the past," Castillo said. "Ninety-nine percent of the people I talk to are worried about the economy. It's the No. 1 issue with constituents. A lot of people are really worried. Many are elderly. We need to do away with sales tax on groceries and on medications. Even $15 or $20 we can give them, it's that much more money in their pockets."
Castillo said his position as executive director on the Greater Oklahoma City Hispanic Chamber of Commerce connects him with many businesses in the south metro. Ironically, he said, his opponent, Republican Mike Christian, is using that against him.
"Since I'm Hispanic, he's putting a lot of stuff out saying I'm for illegal immigration and that I'm Mexican and just got here from Mexico," Castillo said. "It's kind of amusing to me. I was born in Nebraska, but we moved to Oklahoma when I was 6 months old. I've been here 48 years."
Christian's Web site states that he is a former highway patrolman, retired after a highway injury incurred on the job. The Oklahoma Voter Guide states he is for reducing taxes, including sales tax on groceries and medications, and for deregulating the private sector and limiting the size of government. He writes, however, that the No. 1 issue for constituents is immigration.
"As I campaign door-to-door talking with voters, illegal immigration is by far the issue that most residents want to discuss. I fully support HB 1804 and will actively fight to ensure that increased measures are implemented should I have the honor of being elected," the site states. "Ben Fenwick