Access to governmental power is a central question in the House District 85 race. Dr. Edward A. Shadid, an Oklahoma City spine surgeon and independent candidate, believes advocacy in the Legislature is based on money.
"The two parties have joined together to create a system where candidates beholden to PACs and corporations are the only ones who can compete in the system," he said. "Our legislators make decisions based on donations from competing interests."
Shadid opted to run as an independent against Republican incumbent David Dank because he was not able to run as a Green Party candidate in Oklahoma. He believes ballot access is another way the major parties maintain their power base. By keeping third parties off the ballot, the system all but guarantees that one of the two major parties will win.
"The system is not working," Shadid said. "Something dramatically different has to happen."
As it turns out, all three candidates in the race are saying exactly that, including Gail Vines, the Democratic nominee and member of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Board of Education. Like Shadid, she believes Dank represents part of what's wrong with the system.
Vines told Patrick McGuigan of CapitolBeatOK news service: "David Dank was a lobbyist and worked for his wife when she was a politician who held this seat for 12 years. District 85 needs more than a career right-wing politician and lobbyist."
Shadid goes a step farther than Vines in his attack on Dank's record: "The health care professionals I talk to are scared that if they don't write a check to people like David Dank, they will lose their representation. They believe a competing interest will write the check. You pay David Dank for advocacy on the floor."
Dank called the allegation ludicrous.
"This is gutter politics," he said. "Mr. Shadid knows it's not true, as do my constituents and fellow legislators. When people have no chance of winning a race, they resort to gutter politics; it keeps decent people from running for office."
Dank pointed to his record in the House of pushing for ethics reform and for authoring the bill that eliminated "pay for play."
"It was my bill that stopped lobbyists from making donations during legislative session," he said. "I have proposed comprehensive ethics rules, and I will continue to push for them until they are passed."
Dank said most of his campaigns have been self-funded, and he refuses to take bundled contributions. Dank also favors another of Shadid's priority issues: transparency in government.
Shadid said he wants transparency in the political process so that tax exemptions and subsidies can be traced. He'd also like to eliminate all PAC donations. Dank agrees, at least in principle, with much of what Shadid has proposed.
"I think tax credits are fine as long as they create real jobs," Dank said, "and I'll push for those kinds of tax credits. I don't believe tax credits that simply line the pockets of special interests should be tolerated."
Another area where the candidates seem to agree is on the importance of education. Vines said it was her experience with the school board that made her consider a run for the Legislature.
"I was frustrated with the mandates the school board has to address that aren't well thought-out," she said. "I thought the Legislature could use a little common sense approach to lawmaking."
Vines said she wants to "pump money into public schools and revamp them. It's either that or build more prisons. People don't understand the magnitude of the poverty faced by children in the Oklahoma City Public Schools district."
Dank said he absolutely believes education is important, but doesn't think "hurling money at a broken system" is the answer.
"We have to cut administrative overhead," he said, "and we need a workable merit pay system for good teachers to reward fine teaching."
District 85 has one of the largest populations of senior citizens in the metro, and both Vines and Dank have made senior health care a central part of their platform. Dank said he has extracted a promise from incoming leadership to recreate a House committee for senior issues. Dank used to chair the committee.
Vines believes health care will remain a primary concern for seniors. "The average life span is increasing," she said. "Health care in the senior years will now cost even more as people live longer."
top to bottom Republican incumbent David Dank is challenged by independent Dr. Edward A. Shadid (Photo/Mark Hancock) and Democrat Gail Vines (Photo/M Tim Blake).