In this episode of Capitol Insider, KGOU’s Dick Pryor and eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley discuss the high number of runoff races on Tuesday’s ballot, including the race between Republican gubernatorial candidates Kevin Stitt and Mick Cornett.
They also look ahead to the unofficial start of the general election campaign season— Labor Day weekend— and consider the fact that Oklahoma could have up to 50 new lawmakers come November.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and elections. I'm Dick Prior with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. Shawn, the primary runoff is Tuesday. Let's recap the major races on the ballot.
Shawn Ashley: Well, there's a little something for everyone on Tuesday's ballot. First of all, there are nine runoffs for statewide offices: seven on the Republican side, one on the Democratic side, and one on the Libertarian side. That gives everybody, including independents, who are permitted to vote in the Democratic primary, an opportunity to cast a ballot. Additionally, there are more than 25 legislative races across the state that are in primary runoffs on Tuesday. So there's a lot of work for voters to do and to make their decisions.
Pryor: Turnout is normally low for special elections and runoffs. But this has not been a low turnout year.
Ashley: This has been really unusual. The other day I looked back at 2010's primary election, which was a similar year. You had Governor Brad Henry finishing up eight years, so he could no longer seek re-election, and that meant the governor's seat was open. A little more than 200,000 voters voted in the Republican primary that year which, Gov. Mary Fallin won outright and went onto the general election and won it. When you look at this year's turnout in the primary election in a similar situation--the governor's office being an open seat-- we had more than 450,000 people vote in that primary election. So we had significantly more voters. The question is will they turn out for the runoff primary? And that is always how elections are decided.
Pryor: All signs point to a close contest between Republicans Kevin Stitt and Mitt Cornett in the race for the gubernatorial nomination. That race has gotten heated in the last few weeks. How are the candidates differentiating themselves on the stump?
Ashley: When you look at what they're saying, they're sort of coming from opposite ends of the spectrum. Former Mayor Mick Cornett depicts himself as someone who has government experience. As he says, he knows how to balance the budget and how to deal with running government. Kevin Stitt on the other hand is coming from outside of government, and he is emphasizing that, stressing that he knows how to run a business and that perhaps government should be run as a business. Ultimately it will be up to voters to make that choice between the insider and the outsider.
Pryor: Democratic nominee Drew Edmondson is waiting for the winner in November. What is his message right now?
Ashley: Thus far what we've seen from him is sort of an overarching message that we need someone who's prepared to lead, to make the tough decisions and to deal with the various issues which the state faces. As we move into the general election campaign, I'm sure he will begin to better define what those issues are for his campaign.
Pryor: Labor Day is the traditional start of the fall campaign season, so we'll be seeing a lot of activity soon across the state of Oklahoma.
Ashley: Yes we've talked to Bill Shapard, we've talked to Keith Gaddie, and they all mentioned how campaigns look at Election Day and begin working backwards. Well when you work backwards this year the Labor Day start of the general election campaign season comes less than a week after the primary runoff. So no sooner do the winners in these contests on Tuesday close the books on their primary runoff campaign, than they opened the books on their general election campaign and really begin that work.
Pryor: While campaigning is front and center, what's going on right now at the Capitol.
Ashley: Well this week we saw Senate President Pro Tem designate Greg Treat announce the individuals who will be chairing the subcommittees of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Also Senator Treat announced that the Senate Finance Subcommittee would be returned to a full standing committee. Now that may not seem like a particularly important issue, but what it will do is expedite the legislative process for bills that go through that committee, shaving days or perhaps even weeks off the legislative process for them.
Pryor: And that means that legislators will have a lot of work to do in a hurry.
Ashley: That's correct, and that's always the case. The budget itself is a very complex document. It requires a lot of work. But Senator Roger Thompson, who will be chairing the Appropriations Committee, is making an effort to begin that work.
Pryor: There are a lot of legislative seats on the November ballot, so there could be a high number of new faces doing that work.
Ashley: Oh there's no doubt. We will see perhaps as many as 50 or more new legislators on the floor of the House and the Senate this next year. So not only will they have a lot of work to do, they'll have to get a crash course in how state government works.
Pryor: Shawn, we'll talk again after the runoff.
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