In the first of three interviews with each of Oklahoma's gubernatorial candidates, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley speak with Libertarian Chris Powell. Powell explains his party's philosophy and lays out his positions on key issues like taxes, recreational marijuana, healthcare, abortion and education policy.
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, as our Oklahoma Engaged coverage heads toward election day, we turn our focus for the next three weeks to the governor's race. We go one on one with the gubernatorial candidates, first with Libertarian candidate Chris Powell, who joins us now. Welcome.
Powell: Pleasure to be here.
Ashley: Chris, what does it mean to be a libertarian.
Powell: Well, we're the individual liberty people. We're the folks who are trying to reduce political control so that individuals have more authority to live their life the way that they choose, so long as they don't harm anybody else.
Pryor: So, as an illustration, where do you stand on the issue of let's say privacy?
Powell: Government has a awful lot of your information, and, you know, we've seen different attempts to try to protect that like with HIPPA and things like that. You know, it's certainly not something that politicians are not sensitive to, but generally, you know, they're making government bigger, and then they have to protect you from the government that they just made bigger. So a we'd like to have it smaller in the first place, so it doesn't have the power to invade your privacy as much as it does.
Pryor: Privacy is at the core of our laws on abortion. Where does the Libertarian Party stand on that issue?
Powell: You know, we have is probably as much division as any other group in the country that is not primarily aligned along one side or the other.
Ashley: If elected you're likely to see a number of abortion related pieces of legislation come across your desk, particularly in light of the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to theU.S. Supreme Court. How do you think you would react to those? Would you sign additional abortion limitations or not.?
Powell: Well my reading of the Constitution, and there are privacy advocates who will disagree, but I don't find anything that authorizes the federal government to decide the issue for the entire nation. I go back to the 10th Amendment that says that anything that's not specifically delegated should be reserved to the states or the people themselves. And I would, based on that I would have to consider signing legislation that would restrict that, that might go to the federal level and overturn the precedent that we have now. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that I don't necessarily know that...I don't necessarily think that that's the best policy, but I think it may well be the will of the legislature, and the legislature's who makes the laws. So following the process might get to a place that I'm not particularly happy with, but I think the process has to work the way that it that it's supposed to work, rather than having the U.S. Supreme Court decide for everybody in the nation.
Ashley: There's been a lot of talk about Oklahoma's vaccination laws in recent years. Where do you stand on vaccination requirements for students who are going to public schools?
Powell: Well as I'm sure you're probably aware... I don't know how much the general public is aware of this specific thing, but we have a exemption that you can have a personal exemption in addition to a religious or medical exemption and you just have to fill out the form. We have had that in place since the mid-70s, I want to say 1976. I think that's working fine. We have the overwhelming majority of our public school students are vaccinated with that exemption in place. It's not like we're getting down to rates of 50 and 40 percent, or anything like that. You know I'm not someone who says who champions the cause of getting rid of all vaccinations or anything like that. The science is not something that I'm expert in. But at the end of the day I do think that the personal exemption that we have works, and we should continue with what we have.
Ashley: You probably watched the debate last year concerning education funding and the tax proposals that helped to fund state government and subsequently teacher pay raises. How would you have handled something like House Bill 1010XX, which raised the tobacco tax the gross production tax and the motor fuel taxes? Would you have signed or vetoed that?
Powell: Well I don't think... That would not have been the bill that would have come to me if I had been in the governor's chair. I think that there has been a lack of leadership from the governor's office for the past eight years, really. You know we saw with the entire fiasco with the special sessions, and then going into the regular session and still having a special session going... That's, there's a lack of leadership there that is taking place. And you know there's some aspects of 1010XX that that I do agree with. Gross production tax became more equal than it had been, fuel tax with you know those are both now at the same rate for diesel and gasoline. So that tax equality... I don't like tax increases, but I'm willing to accept a tax increase to a certain degree, if it moves us more towards tax equality, because equality before the law and level playing fields are are very important. And I think should be important to everybody. So there are some aspects of that that that could have been included in a revenue package. But there are over 450 million dollars in programs before the incentive evaluation commission not to mention the ones that don't have a specific dollar amount attached. It would seem to me that when we can't fund our core services we should look at luxury items like incentives and start reducing some of those in order to move that funding over.
Pryor: If you were in the leadership position as governor how would you improve education in Oklahoma? What would you focus on first?
Powell: My focus would be on empowering parents and teachers. With House Bill 1017 that was passed the last time we had a teacher walkout. There were some reforms that were passed with that, and we've backed off most of the good reforms over the years such as smaller class sizes and we kept the two poison pills, which are is putting testing and curriculum at the state level. It's a one size fits all top down approach that just doesn't work.
Ashley: Would you shift funding them of education more to the local level and away from the state?
Powell: Absolutely. And there's a couple of ways that we can do that. One of the things that I would like to see us do away with our tax increment finance districts, which you know for those who don't know how that works a specific area is set aside as a tax increment finance district and the local taxation is put back into businesses within that. It's supposed to be economic development. Really all it does is poach jobs from neighboring communities. And at the same time it robs your municipal municipal government your county government and your school districts of funding school districts have that made up by the state equalization fund which comes from state appropriations. But that means less in the pot for schools across the state in the state equalization fund. And it means that all of us taxpayers across the state regardless of where we are we're subsidizing those tax increment finance districts.
Pryor: Our Oklahoma engaged polling results show that access to affordable health care is a big issue for a lot of people. How should they consume it? Where Do they find it?
Powell: Well it's something that I think that is really exciting that's happening here in the state of Oklahoma and in some other states as well, are options where you can access health care outside of the insurance system. We have surgery centers of Oklahoma that has upfront pricing. The cost is pennies on the dollar compared to going through a hospital. We also have a growing number of direct primary care physicians where you pay what is essentially a subscription fee, and you get almost as much access to your doctor as you might want. And people again find it that they can do that, and it's actually they can keep an insurance policy for catastrophic events which is what insurance is really should be for. But they can use that and it works out to be less expensive for them. These are free market health care reforms that are going to drive down pricing and work against using insurance to pay for maintenance costs that continually drives prices up. There are some other things we can do as well as far as you know protecting providers and that we already have. Now such as there was there was an attempt to restrict midwives that was thankfully defeated. So you know anything like that we need to protect providers that we already have and increased providers by doing things like allowing nurse practitioners full practice authority.
Pryor: You are the only candidate for governor who supports recreational marijuana. Why? And if that were legal how would that look in Oklahoma?
Powell: Well I don't think it would be that different from what it has looked like in other states. Again I'm not much for for higher taxes but that's going to be the price of getting it. And it's a price worth paying to get to a position where we are not throwing people in jail over a plant. We have a mass incarceration crisis in this state and it's largely been driven by the drug war. We need to reverse that and we need to make it so that we're not filling our prisons for it. And I would say that any candidate that is not for it is basically saying therefore for continuing to put people more and more people into the prison system.
Ashley: Well with that in mind what changes would you make in Oklahoma's criminal justice system?
Well we just talked about one, but making State Question 780 as far as it pertains to drug possession retroactive so that people who have felonies on their record now could no longer have felonies. Even people who are not in prison now, having that felony on their record leads to recidivism because it is so hard to get a a straight job as it is as it were. I would also say that we need to look at rolling back mandatory minimums when those were first passed they were said to apply to what were called the seven deadly sins. Well now they apply to about 36. And we're keeping people locked up for far longer than we should. We're putting them in the prison system in the first place when we shouldn't. We also need to fund drug courts and diversion programs. Prisons are the higher education system of the criminal world. We don't need to put anybody into that to get those advanced degrees in criminology that we don't have to.
Pryor: We're talking to Chris Powell who is the Libertarian Party candidate for governor. Chris why do you think a third party is necessary.
Powell: Well the more diversity of thought the more opinions you can get into the political process. I think the better off you are there are not just two ways to do everything. And I think if you go talk to most people on this anywhere on the street anywhere in the state of Oklahoma you'll find a lot of people who are disgusted with the two establishment parties and are looking for something different. I'm trying to convince as many of them as possible that there's something different that we're looking for. That's for the voters to decide but they need to hear more voices so they can choose candidates.
Ashley: Kevin Stitt and Drew Edmondson if we ask would tell us this is our path to victory. We have to win the urban areas... a certain percentage in the rural areas. That's how we're focusing our campaign. What is Chris Powell's path to victory?
Powell: Well that's that's an interesting question, because I don't have to win in order to win. And what I mean by that is that if I get a significant enough amount of the vote then whoever wins has to pay attention to the issues that I brought up. So for me it's not, it's about bringing up issues that I think are important: talking about what we're going to do on cannabis going forward, talking about our mass incarceration crisis, empowering parents and teachers in the classroom. That's what's important to me, not necessarily whether I'm I'm the next governor Governor or not. I think I'm prepared to do it. I think I would do a good job. But like I would tell anybody who's thinking about running for office if the only thing that matters is if you won or not you shouldn't run. I'm bringing up issues because I think they're important, and I think those other two guys it's either they win or it was a wasted effort.
Pryor: Do you have a figure in mind a percentage of the vote in mind that would be a win for you?
Well, I have been on the ballot six times as a Libertarian in the state of Oklahoma. I have never received less than a double digit percentage. And I don't intend to start now.
Pryor: Shawn and I have a difference of opinion about the symbol that will be used on the ballot representing the Libertarian Party the Democratic Party on the Oklahoma ballot as represented by a rooster the Republican Party is represented by an eagle. Shawn thinks that it's a hedgehog. I think it's a porcupine representing the Libertarian Party. Help us out.
Powell: It's a porcupine.
Powell: Well a porcupine is an animal that is not trying to harm anybody or anything else, but you better not mess with it.
Ashley: As a closing argument, why should Oklahomans vote for Chris Powell to be Oklahoma's next governor?
Powell: I'm the only candidate who is talking about education in terms of empowering parents and teachers to improve outcomes, rather than just talking about funding. I am the only candidate who wants to seriously address the mass incarceration crisis, and fix the problem and reduce our prison population. And I'm the only candidate who is talking about a lot of our corporate welfare and incentives that we need to address in order to fix the state budget going forward.
Pryor: Chris Powell, Libertarian Party candidate for governor, thanks for joining us.
Powell: It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Pryor: That's Capitol insider. If you have questions e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact us on Twitter: @kgounews. You can also find us online at kgou.org and eCapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.