Focus is on U.S. Senate and Congressional races in Oklahoma Primary Runoff Election
Few legislative races are on the Oklahoma Primary Runoff Election ballot, so most eyes will be on the races for U.S. Senate and the 2nd Congressional District party runoffs.
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Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - taking you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. Shawn, voting has already begun in the Oklahoma primary runoff election with election day on Tuesday. What in particular are you focusing on in those runoff races?
Shawn Ashley: Well, in the legislature, I'm watching the Senate District 26 runoff where incumbent Darcy Jech faces Brady Butler. Jech was the only legislative incumbent taken to a runoff in this year's election. While we did see one Senate incumbent and two incumbent House members lose in the primary election, there are just over one dozen runoffs in the state House districts across the state. And what's a similar situation in the statewide races where the Republican incumbent Labor Commissioner, Leslie Osborn, is being challenged in Tuesday's runoff by outgoing Representative Sean Roberts.
There are also runoffs for the Republican nominees for state treasurer, state superintendent and corporation commission on the ballot. And then there's the runoff between Congressman Markwayne Mullin and former House Speaker T.W. Shannon for U.S. Senate. And in the other U.S. Senate race, a runoff between two Democrats - Madison Horn and Jason Bollinger. There's also a runoff in the Republican nomination in the Second Congressional District, the seat Mullen gave up to run for U.S. Senate. That runoff is between Josh Brecheen, a former state senator, and Avery Frix, an outgoing House member. Now, because of the U.S. Senate races, voters in every Oklahoma County - Republicans, Democrats and independents who can vote in the Democrat’s primary - will have something on their ballots.
Dick Pryor: So, get out and vote. The new school year is starting across Oklahoma as a teacher shortage continues. At least one state legislator, Representative Mark McBride of Moore, is pushing for the State Department of Education and local school districts to use Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund dollars to provide relocation and retention bonuses for teachers. First, Shawn, how would that work? And second, is that something that could be considered in the legislative special sessions this fall?
Shawn Ashley: According to McBride, Oklahoma has received 2.3 billion in federal pandemic relief funds through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. About 1.3 billion of that remains unallocated, he said. Now, what McBride wants to do is for the State Department of Education, which controls that funding, and local school districts to collaborate to offer $4,000 relocation bonuses for public school teachers who move into Oklahoma, and $5,000 retention bonuses for existing teachers who stay here. And because that money went directly to the State Department of Education, it would not take legislative action to do that.
Now, lawmakers could look at giving teachers a raise or some other incentive in either of the special sessions, but that would require the calls for those special sessions - the reasons they're having them - to be amended to include that issue. McBride said on the House floor during discussion of the State Department of Education's fiscal year 2023 budget that there was not an appetite among the majority of legislators for a broad-based teacher pay raise. So, someone would have to come up with a plan that would win support from a majority of lawmakers for that to be on the special session.
Dick Pryor: And that will not be easy. One of those special sessions is called to consider how to spend federal American Rescue Plan Act money, almost $2 billion here in Oklahoma. Where does that process stand?
Shawn Ashley: Two of the joint committees working groups met recently and recommended a series of projects to the full committee for its consideration. And another working group meets Wednesday. It's expected the full Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding will meet in the coming weeks to consider all those recommendations. And if it approves them, they will be turned into bills to be considered in the second special session that was called by legislators. According to the Senate, lawmakers have appropriated only 209.6 million of the state's $1.87 billion in ARPA funds. The state has until the end of 2024 to allocate all of its funds and until the end of 2026 to expend the money. That may seem like a long time, but the clock is ticking.
Dick Pryor: As we near September, the pace of activity is picking up at the Capitol and among state agencies. There's a lot going on right now, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: Yeah. Between now and the end of September, some twenty committee meetings are scheduled to take up interim studies. And state agencies are already looking toward the 2023 regular session and beginning to work on their fiscal year 2024 budgets that will be considered during that session.
Dick Pryor: Thanks, Shawn.
Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.
Dick Pryor: That's Capitol Insider. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.