The Norman Transcript

October 17, 2012

Legislative forum asks questions

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — The League of Women Voters of Norman hosted a legislative forum for local candidates. Attending were Democrat Matt Branstetter for House District 20, Democrat Paula Roberts for House District 45 and Democrat Claudia Griffith for House District 15. Following are highlights from the evening.

Claudia Griffith, Senate 15:

“Now is not the time to cut income tax,” Griffith said.

With a state question that could reduce the amount of ad valorem taxes collected, this is not the time to cut state income tax and risk being forced to raise property taxes to make up for the lose in income tax, she said.

Griffith said affirmative action is still needed because discrimination still exists.

“What are we thinking?” Griffith said. “I’m a woman over 50-years-old, and I’m telling you, there’s discrimination out there.”

She supports removing the governor from the pardon and parole process for nonviolent offenders.

“This question is basically another moot point to me,” Griffith said. “I don’t think the governor needs to be involved in the parole process for nonviolent crimes.”

She supports more ballot access and making it easier for a third party to get on the ballot.

“I support the movement to increase more civic participation and more ballot access,” she said.

She also supports a commuter train.

“I lived in Norman back in the ’60s, so I remember the buses and the train that went to Oklahoma city,” she said. Removing those rails was not forward thinking.

Education and money to fund it is key, she believes.

“We cannot expect to keep jobs here. we cannot expect to generate new jobs without an adequate education system,” Griffith said.

She would like better accountability and to know where the money from the lottery and Indian gaming has gone.

Matt Branstetter, House 20:

“It’s much easier to pay one tax than multiple taxes,” Branstetter said of his opposition to eliminating the Oklahoma income tax.

Branstetter said there is still an “undercurrent of discrimination.”

“I believe Affirmative Action still provides an opportunity for many people to get an opportunity,” he said.

He supports removing the governor from the pardon and parole process for nonviolent offenders.

Branstetter said his district is widespread and represents a lot of small schools and rural communities.

“What it mostly represents is a lot of grass, a lot of grape growers that I’m getting to know,” he said.

The district also has “a lot of small town school systems that have a lot in common.” Branstetter said those schools are concerned about funding.

While Branstetter believes light rail is too expensive to be a solution in the near future, double tracking for passenger rail is feasible for the very near future and could connect Norman with Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

“I’m an optimist,” he said. “I believe America still has a bright future and that Oklahoma still has a bright future.”

He said that to keep that bright future, “we must invest more in education.”

He supports the bill to increase bonding and funding capacity for water infrastructure.

“Water could be the next oil,” he said of pending shortages. “People can live without oil. They cannot live without water.”

He said we should work with anything that will help make better infrastructure and support rural communities that need water.

“Water is our key commodity that Oklahoma has,” Branstetter said.

Paula Roberts, House 45:

Roberts said schools are growing, so funding at the same level is a cut because there are more students.

Regarding limiting Affirmative Action, Roberts said public hiring quotas are already illegal.

She also believes that Oklahoma should not eliminate its income tax at this time.

“Income tax is a third of our state budget, we’ve got to have that to function,” she said.

She also supports removing the governor from the pardon and parole process in the case of nonviolent offenders.

“I’m in favor of this question because I think our prisons are overcrowded,” she said.

Oklahoma is the hardest state in the union to get anyone on the ballot, Roberts said.

“I don’t think it should just be writing a check and you get on the ballot, but we need to find an easier way to do that,” she said.

Roberts is concerned about the increased emphasis on standardized testing.

“I don’t like it. We need accountability, but we are teaching the test and losing the whole idea of teaching. It used to be about the art of teaching and moving beyond just your subject matter. Teaching the test leaves kids knowing only the test. We need to move past that. We need to teach critical thinking skills and not memorization,” she said.

“When I was teaching school, Oklahoma was in the mid-30s in education funding,” Roberts said. “Now we are at the very bottom. We need to find the funds to improve our education programs. Until we commit to this, we will continue to fail our schools. The legislature is cutting education by not funding our growing schools.”

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