In the second of three interviews with each of Oklahoma's gubernatorial candidates, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley speak with Democrat Drew Edmondson. Edmondson discusses his decision to run for governor a second time and lays out his positions on key issues like taxes, the death penalty, healthcare, abortion and education policy.
Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, your weekly look inside Oklahoma politics, policy and elections. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol News Director Shawn Ashley. And our guest is the Democratic Party nominee for governor, Drew Edmondson. Welcome.
Drew Edmondson: Thank you. Great to be with you.
Pryor: Good to have you here.
Shawn Ashley: General, you've had a long career in public service and ran for governor eight years ago. Why are you running this year?
Edmondson: The short answer is I had no intention of running again, ever, after I left office in 2011. The problem is it seemed like every day there was another bad news story about what was happening in Oklahoma. So after listening that for a while, and after approaching several people that I thought could make the race and not getting any takers, I decided last year to make the race myself. Linda join me in that decision, and May 1 of last year I announced for governor.
Pryor: Over the last several years in American politics government experience has appeared to be less important to many voters than other factors. Why do you think voters should pick an experienced candidate over two newcomers?
Edmondson: Well, I enjoy talking about my experience as a D.A. and as attorney general, but I'm really not running on my experience so much as I'm running on the ideas that I have to fix the problems that are facing our state and my programs that will lead us forward...Not backwards into what I did some other time, but forward into what this state can be if we reverse directions on some of our policies. And I would also like to emphasize that not all my experience has been governmental. You know, I've had my own law practice. I've had a consulting firm. Both of those would meet the definition of small businesses. They were not multimillion dollar efforts, but I've made a payroll, you know, paid workers compensation insurance. I've done all the things that small businessmen do in the context of either my legal work or my consulting work over the last several years.
Ashley: Lawmakers have been asked to consider a number of bills concerning childhood vaccinations. What is your view of childhood vaccinations?
Edmondson: I think they're very important not only to protect your own children but to protect the other children in school. And I would want to preserve the vaccinations. I think parents whose child has a medical problem or a deeply held religious view that's been recognized that would prevent vaccinations should have an out. But other than that, you know, if they send me a bill that says other than that children should be vaccinated. I would agree with that. It's not my agenda, but if it comes to me I would probably sign it.
Pryor: If you're elected governor there's a good chance you would be asked to sign or veto a bill limiting abortions in Oklahoma. That's been the trend in recent years. Where do you stand on adding further conditions on abortion all the way to potentially criminalization?
Edmondson: Well we passed a number of bills and a great number of them were subsequently ruled unconstitutional. If it's within the parameters of Roe v. Wade and put a reasonable restriction that's a different matter. But if it looks to be unconstitutional and my lawyers suggest to me that it's unconstitutional I wouldn't hesitate to veto it.
Ashley: What changes would you make in Oklahoma's criminal justice system to reduce the state's prison population?
Edmondson: Well one of the things that I've advocated, and it's not directly in criminal justice, but the Department of Mental Health's Smart On Crime proposal, which would make drug alcohol and mental health treatment available across the state would be a great step in reducing prison population. It's not rocket science. We've seen the studies. North of 90 percent of the people incarcerated have an underlying drug alcohol or mental health problem. In terms of reform itself, we took a good first step two years ago when the people approved State Question 780 and 781. So I think we ought to look at other crimes that might fit the model of state question 780, things like shoplifting or bogus check, crimes like that that are just inherently nonviolent. Those kinds of issues need to be addressed if we're really going to bring down prison population. And also in eligibility for deferred's, eligibility for suspended's and mandatory minimums that we're now paying the price for as taxpayers and citizens. So we need to find out whether we're punishing them or us when we pass these laws, and some of them we need to take a second look at.
Ashley: What do you not support legalization of recreational marijuana?
Edmondson: Well, I think it's premature. I think we have an opportunity that we should avail ourselves of to continue following the track record in Colorado and Oregon and Washington and the other states that have legalized it to see whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. So it's not that I'm so much against as I'm urging a little patience and a little more track record. And I've said very clearly that if the people of the state of Oklahoma passed it I will see that it's enacted and not frustrated by government.
Ashley: Oklahoma's looking at a new method of execution, nitrious affixiation, which is still largely untested. Do you have any concerns about ordering executions using this new method?
Edmondson: I have read some where, and correct me if I'm wrong, that in some Scandinavian countries it's actually used for euthanasia, which would suggest to me that it's a fairly painless way to end life. But I firmly believe that not all homicides are death penalty cases. So I would be reviewing whether or not the particular prosecution met my standards for a legitimate prosecution asking for a death penalty. I would take it very seriously. It would not be an automatic approval. But the method of execution, if it's nitrogen hypoxia, would not be a barrier.
Pryor: Are Oklahoma engaged polling shows Oklahomans are okay with certain taxes, as long as they know where the money is going. That's very important. What is your plan for taxes?
Well the taxes that I've talked about on the campaign trail and the only taxes that I've talked about on the campaign trail are putting the gross production tax back at 7 percent, where it used to be, for all wells from day one, doing away with the capital gains exemption from income tax...We used to pay ordinary income tax on capital gains, but we launched an experiment in 2005 thinking that if we exempted it from income tax that people would reinvest the money and it would generate more revenue than it cost. It generated 9 million over five years. It cost just 474 million. That experiment did not work. So we need to do away with that exemption from income tax. And, interestingly the Senate passed that this year, but it died over on the House side. And, the third is the other 50 cents on a price of a pack of cigarettes. It was introduced at $1.50 and it ended up passing at a dollar. And I want the other 50 cents as a public health measure.
Pryor: A lot of people want tax dollars to be earmarked so they know exactly where they are going. Is that good fiscal policy?
Edmondson: Well it's good and bad. It's good to earmark money for education for example and we have done that in several different arenas. There is an argument on the other side that the more money that's earmarked, the less flexibility the legislature has to meet new problems. So, you know, I would be selective about where it's earmarked and make sure that we're not going to unduly hamstring the legislature by over-earmarking revenue.
Ashley: Teachers got a pay raise this year, but when they came to the state capitol, for example, they said much more needs to be done. What do you think should be done to improve education in Oklahoma?
Edmondson: So the kinds of things that we need to do to improve education are reducing class size, increasing the number of teachers...And That goes back to making the teaching profession a more attractive profession, because the number of students opting into the education program at many of our colleges and universities is down. What the teachers have told me was it's not just salary. They want class sizes down, particularly in the lower grades. They also want more autonomy in determining how to run their classrooms. There are some tests that are mandated at the federal level. There's not a whole lot we can do about that if we want to continue receiving federal aid. But other than the ones that are mandated, they ought to...They want the testing to be more manageable than it is now.
Ashley: Oklahoma voters have told us that health care is one of the top three issues this year. And you've talked about keeping rural hospitals open. How are you going to do that.?
I would favor opting into the Medicaid expansion, and I would do so at the earliest opportunity. Opting into Medicaid expansion is not a cure-all but it's going to go a long way to keep hospitals open. That would be in generating somewhere around a billion dollars into the medical economy by reimbursing medical expenses for people who are at 150 percent of the poverty level. About 153,000 Oklahomans...They work full time, they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, and they don't earn enough to opt into the insurance pool. So they're in a gap. But they get sick just like everybody else, and when they show up at the emergency room their care is often, usually uncompensated. So that would be the first thing that I would do.
Our Oklahoma Engaged polling research has indicated a high level of distrust of government. A large number of respondents want greater government accountability. What would you do as governor to improve government transparency?
Well, once again, I want to go back and you know talk about what I did as attorney general, if I might. Now, we embraced the Open Meetings law and the Open Records law and every other year head seminars all across the state of Oklahoma inviting in government officials and the public to talk about how the law works and how they can avoid violating the law, which is sometimes violated in good faith, just out of ignorance. I'm also committed publicly to establishing an Office of Open Government within the governor's office, if I'm elected, because I believe sometimes individuals and sometimes the media needs help getting necessary records from a state agency. I would also...The last governor claimed executive privilege on I think they were e-mails that somebody was seeking. And oddly enough the Supreme Court said that there was such a thing as executive privilege, even though it's not in the Open Records Act as an exception. I would not avail myself of that claim. To my way of thinking, if it's not in the Open Records Act as an exception to the open records realm, I would not claim it. And we would produce the record, unless they're required to be kept confidential. If the may language is used I'm going to need a good strong argument why we shouldn't release those records, or I'm going to release them because I believe in the public's right to know. I would also like to add that Oklahoma Watch asked candidates for governor to put their money where their mouth was on transparency and release their own financial records. And I believe I'm the only candidate for governor who complied fully.
Ashley: As a closing argument, General Edmonson, why should Oklahomans vote for you?
Edmondson: Well I think we need a new direction in Oklahoma. I think the last eight years have been marked by failure, been marked by a feeling in the legislature that we did not have a revenue problem that if we just cut agencies that we'd be all right, and it proved not to be true. My Republican opponent offers nothing new, no ideas how his administration would be different from the last eight years. So we're going to change direction. We're going to start investing in our own people. We're going to start investing in education, common schools, higher ed and career tech, and we're going to start making a case for the corporate CEOs from out of state who ask the question, why should we invest in Oklahoma when you're not? And I want to be able to sit down with those corporate CEOs and say, we are.
Pryor: Drew Edmondson, Democratic nominee for governor, thank you for joining us on Capitol insider.
Edmondson: My pleasure. Thank you.
Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. Listen to more of our conversation on the Capitol Insider podcast. You can also find us online at kgou.org and eCapitol.net. Follow us on Twitter: @kgounews. Until Next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.