NORMAN — Norman NEXT hosted a forum for the Senate District 15 and House District 45 candidates at the Norman Chamber of Commerce.
State Senate District 15 is an open seat being vacated by Sen. Jonathan Nichols, who is term limiting out this session. Democrat Claudia Griffith and Republican Rob Standridge are running for that position.
Republican Aaron Stiles currently has the State House District 45 seat and is being challenged by Democrat Paula Roberts.
Overall, candidates support transparency in government, believe the oil and gas industries are strong in Oklahoma but that diversity is needed and generally favor incentives to promote jobs if those incentives result in jobs. All opposed selling tax incentives.
Following are some highlights from the forum.
Senate District 15:
Griffith introduced herself as a registered nurse with a master’s degree in public health. She said Norman is truly her home — she graduated from Norman High and raised her kids here. She attends the First Baptist church and is an entrepreneur.
“I am service oriented,” Griffith said. “I am a problem solver. I believe in successful collaboration.
“I’m all about creating jobs,” Griffith said, adding that she wants to increase education funding.
“We can’t do anything in our state if we don’t have jobs, education and health,” Griffith said. “I think we need lots of incentives and lots of programs for jobs.”
Griffith said it’s important to protect families and small business when making tax cuts.
“I think everyone loves tax cuts. Who wants to increase taxes?” Griffith said. “We need to be very careful and study the cause and effect.”
Griffith said she thinks more women need to be in the Senate. Having more women in government creates a different dialogue.
“I want to work to find solutions and not blame,” she said.
Standridge said he believes people who live in the real world building a business and raising a family are needed in government. Standridge is an entrepreneur and a businessman.
“I think that if we have more folks that understand those challenges, we’ll create a stronger Oklahoma,” he said.
He will advocate for a business-friendly environment. He said that will keep college graduates in the state.
“Create an environment where businesses will succeed,” Standridge said.
Transparency in government is key, Standridge said, citing the example of abuses in VA centers.
“If we want to solve this problem, we need all the information,” he said.
Standridge said it is important that government doesn’t pick winners and losers.
“I support the quality jobs program,” he said. “I think the key thing is that these incentives are given out in a fair manner:”
Standridge said taxpayers don’t want to cut income tax and then experience higher fees in other areas that are worse. He supports finding the money first and tax cuts second.
“I certainly support cutting taxes and reducing unneeded spending,” Standridge said.
House District 45:
Roberts said she is a hometown girl.
“I grew up here, went to school here and chose to raise my daughter here,” Roberts said. “I love this community.”
Roberts said she dislikes narrow ideology and extreme partisanship.
“In my generation when we finished college and went out into the world, we found a job and moved there,” Roberts said.
She said now people move where they want to live and then look for a job. This means Oklahoma must focus on quality-of-life issues.
“We have to provide safe communities and other kinds of entertainment,” she said.
If elected, Roberts said she would support legislation to bring more businesses to Oklahoma through the Oklahoma Film Incentive programs.
“Oklahoma has one of the highest incentive programs in the country for film companies,” Roberts said. “The problem seems to be the current cap in place. The cap prevents Oklahoma from taking advantage of everything the incentives have to offer.”
Roberts said the film industry is a source of new revenue for the state that brings higher-paying jobs.
“Production and film companies bring jobs and a substantial influx of income to cities and towns where the filming takes place,” she said.
Money is tight, but taking care of assets and bringing tourists to Oklahoma is important, Roberts said.
“In my family we travel a lot and we visit the state capital of every state we go to,” she said. “Right now, ours in is in a state of disrepair. We have to take care of our buildings and things we already have.”
Roberts said before income tax is eliminated Oklahoma needs a plan on how to replace that funding.
“I too like to cut taxes,” she said. “But we also have an obligation as government to fund essential services,” which includes education.
Stiles thanked his wife for her support.
“If you elect Aaron Stiles, you get two — me and my wife, JoAnne,” he said. “We make a good team.”
Stiles said he has been self-employed for 10 years. He and his wife worked side by side remodeling and selling homes until his wife got her real estate license so they could benefit from the commission. He went on to law school and became an attorney.
“We need to keep our work product in Oklahoma,” Stiles said.
Stiles said when business has more money in its pocket, more jobs are created.
“The way to solve the problem (graduates leaving Oklahoma) is simple: Cut the tax rate, cut needless spending,” he said.
Businesses that are allowed to keep their money create jobs, he said.
“We’ve done well with oil and gas, but Oklahoma can be a leader in aviation and biotech,” Stiles said. “To do that, we need to encourage an environment where innovators can thrive and reap the rewards of hard work without government interference.”
Stiles supports legislation to prevent meritless legal suits.
“Our legal system in Oklahoma rewards corrupt attorneys and punishes people trying to make an honest living,” he said. “I will propose changes to our legal system.”
Stiles said, currently, the system encourages settlement of claims without merit. He would discourage attorney fee churning and punish “lawyers who participate in such behavior.”
He believes tax rates are too high and tax revenues are too low and said cutting tax rates will pave the way to employment, which will create jobs and prosperous economy.
Stiles said Oklahoma is on the right track now and should “stay the course.”