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Candidates for governor in red Oklahoma face off at forum

September 25, 2018
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Oklahoma Democratic gubernatorial candidate Drew Edmondson, right, answers a question during a gubernatorial forum in Oklahoma City, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. Republican candidate Kevin Stitt is at left. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Democrat trying to capture the governor’s seat in Oklahoma said Monday his government experience is a benefit, but he also quickly pointed out that it’s been eight years since he’s held office in the red state where a dozen incumbents have already lost primary elections this year.

Drew Edmondson, a 71-year-old former attorney general who served four terms, has painted the Republicans’ nearly decadelong control of Oklahoma state government as a disaster that led to massive budget shortfalls and this year’s teacher walkout over dwindling funding for public schools.

“We’ve got 30 percent of our school districts that don’t offer a foreign language anymore,” Edmondson said during a forum Monday where he and Republican nominee Kevin Stitt faced off. “Twenty percent of our districts have gone to four-day school weeks.”

Neither man brought up the woman they are trying to replace — term-limited Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, whose popularity has declined amid voter frustration with incumbents.

But Stitt, a 45-year-old mortgage company owner from Tulsa who touts his status as a businessman outsider, suggested career politicians are to blame for some of Oklahoma’s budget woes.

“If the career politician was going to fix it, they already would have,” Stitt said during the forum, which was hosted by The Oklahoman newspaper in Oklahoma City. “It’s going to take a fresh set of eyes on state government to turn things around.”

Edmondson, who noted he hasn’t held political office in eight years, didn’t shy away from highlighting his experience as an attorney general and a local district attorney.

“I’m certainly proud of my record as a public servant ... and I think it commends consideration,” he said.

Republicans have dominated state elections across the country since 2010, the first midterm election after Barack Obama took office as president. The GOP’s dominance in 2010 in Oklahoma was particularly striking, with Republicans flipping every statewide elected office from Democrat to Republican.

But Democrats have been chipping away at the GOP’s advantage in the Legislature, winning a string of four special election victories in seats previously held by Republicans over the last two years. Democrats also appear to be energized by their opposition to President Donald Trump and by April’s teacher walkout that prompted dozens of educators to run for office.

Stitt, who already has raised more than $6.5 million, including more than $3.2 million in personal loans, is expected to have a fundraising advantage over Edmondson, who raised about $2 million over the same period, according to the most recent campaign finance reports.

Matt Romano and his wife, Lori, came to Monday’s forum to learn more about the candidates, but appeared to be leaning in different directions.

Lori Romano, 52, a retired teacher and registered Republican, said she likes the idea of a Democrat such as Edmondson serving as a check on the GOP’s power in Oklahoma. She added that his experience in an elected position is a plus.

“If you’re going to be in the political arena, you have to know a little about it,” she said.

But Matt Romano, 57, a salesman, said he was leaning toward Stitt because he favored a political outsider and liked the idea of taking a business approach to state government. He said Edmondson’s years in office were a liability.

“That tells me he’s part of the establishment,” he said. “He’s an establishment politician, and I think we’ve seen enough establishment politicians.”

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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