Three candidates are vying to replace U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin and represent Oklahoma's 5th U.S. congressional district. A Republican, a Democrat and an independent candidate are each seeking the seat that's been a Republican stronghold since 1976. Fallin is vacating after serving two terms to run for governor.
With the open seat, Republican James Lankford, Democrat Billy Coyle and independent Clark Duffe are talking about escalating spending by the federal government and the need for job creation. Closer to home, their individual priorities range from shrinking the national debt to encouraging business growth and strengthening the natural gas sector to repealing laws to allow adults to possess drugs.
While debt seems like a federal issue, Lankford said it is important to rein in spending " and the nation's $13.5 trillion debt " for businesses to grow nationwide and in the 5th Congressional District.
"I know that doesn't sound like a local issue, but I think it is," said Lankford, who directed the Falls Creek summer camp in southern Oklahoma from 1996 to 2009. "A lot of businesses don't know what's about to happen economically. A lot of people aren't spending or hiring, and that's pulling us down."
Coyle, an attorney, said the two top priorities he has been touting are job growth and growth in the energy sector. With the 5th district home to energy companies such as Chesapeake, Devon and SandRidge, Coyle would like to propose legislation to strengthen the natural gas industry. Some of his ideas include working to encourage companies to convert corporate fleets to natural gas engines, building natural gas stations along interstates and eventually building a natural gas truck conversion plant in the district.
"I'd really like to see natural gas taken to a whole new level," he said. "It will ensure our viability, create a new economy and can create a lot of jobs."
From Duffe's standpoint, one of the biggest issues in the district is illegal immigration. He said the district, like much of the nation, is working to deal with the issue that should be handled at the federal level. He supports amnesty for those illegal immigrants already here who would be willing to begin a path toward citizenship.
"We can't round everyone up and send them back where they came from," he said. "One of the federal government's jobs is controlling who comes in and who comes out. They need to get it off the backs of the states."
Duffe would also like to see drug laws repealed to allow adults to possess drugs, citing that he feels federal enforcement is not working to curb the flow of drugs and drug-related crimes.
Regarding the political climate in Washington, D.C., the three candidates acknowledged it is a contentious time, especially with some predictions that Republicans could make gains and retake control of the House of Representatives. Lankford sees it as potentially a situation similar to 1994, when Republicans took control of the House with President Bill Clinton in office.
This time around, Lankford said he has identified 47 other Republican candidates for the U.S. House that, like him, have no prior political experience. Lankford sees new blood as the key to change the business-as-usual environment.
"They're Republicans that are running with no background in politics, like myself," he said. "That's a lot of people walking into the room saying, 'Why do we do it this way?'"
Facing the odds running as a Democrat in a traditionally Republican district in what could well be a Republican year, Coyle already feels shut out of the Democratic Party at the national level and said his loyalty would be to the district. Coyle said the only Democrat on the national stage that has given him the time of day since starting his campaign is Dan Boren, the U.S Representative from Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District.
"The Democratic Party has almost written me off," he said. "I don't owe the Democratic Party anything. The people I'm going to fight for are the people of the 5th district."
Duffe, an underdog in the race, is a member of the Oklahoma Libertarian Party and a former Republican. Duffe, who works for the Oklahoma Historical Society, said the party focuses on its members being negotiators who can work with both sides to find the solution to issues. He also doesn't buy the argument that a vote for him takes away votes for the other candidates. He said when anyone votes for any candidate, that person is taking a vote away from the opponent.
top to bottom Republican James Lankford, independent Clark Duffe and Democrat Billy Coyle.