Johnson, Lankford debate for Senate seat

State Sen. Connie Johnson, Democrat, and U.S. Rep. James Lankford, Republican, discussed immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act and other topics during a debate Tuesday night at the Oklahoma State University campus in Stillwater.

STILLWATER — State Sen. Connie Johnson and U.S. Rep. James Lankford want to complete U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s term, but they didn’t let disagreeing on virtually every issue make them disagreeable.

The candidates met Tuesday night at Oklahoma State University for what moderator Professor Brandon Lenoir called “a very informative and very cordial debate.”

Lenoir likened a political campaign to a long job interview.

Lankford, a former minister and camp director for Falls Creek youth camp, was elected to the House of Representatives in 2011.

He said he and his family view his current office as an extension of that ministry.

“To us, this is still serving families; doing the best we can for God, the state and families,” he said.

Johnson has been in the Oklahoma Senate for 33 years. She served as a legislative analyst for 24 years before being elected in 2005 to represent District 48 in Oklahoma County.

“It’s time to have a conversation about economic equality, fairness, health care, reproductive freedom and Social Security devoid of labels,” she said. “It’s time to talk about the people of Oklahoma.”

Lankford agreed with Johnson about the need to move beyond rhetoric to solve problems. He likened Congress to a big middle school lunch room.

The candidates’ differences on issues quickly stood out, with Lankford focusing on how to implement policies in line with principles and Johnson focusing on how policies affect individuals.

Johnson said she celebrated with friends when this week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision cleared the way for same-sex marriage in Oklahoma, while Lankford said he believes every person has value and worth but states have the power to make decisions about marriage.

He said he personally believes in traditional marriage between a man and a woman and believes it should be left to each state.

Johnson characterizes the U.S. “war on drugs” as a failed policy that has created social problems at home and abroad and she favors legalization of marijuana, saying it’s an indigenous plant with medicinal and industrial value.

Lankford said he disagrees with legalizing marijuana at the state level because it’s incompatible with federal law. The law should be changed at the federal level instead of telling the Justice Department not to enforce federal law in certain states.

“I just have a hard time with anyone saying the best thing we can do for our kids is to get their parents to smoke more marijuana,” he said.

Social Security was another issue where they were widely separated.

Johnson said she opposes privatizing Social Security because it would increase the risk that vulnerable people would live in poverty as they aged, while Lankford said Social Security was intended to be an emergency measure for people who had outlived their savings, not a primary means of support.

He said the system will only be solvent for 20 years and changes need to be made now.

Johnson supports the Affordable Care Act and says it’s saving people’s lives, while Lankford is calling for dismantling it.

“I don’t think you make a hard thing better by giving it to the federal government,” he said.

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