JENKS — Three of the four Republican gubernatorial candidates at a forum at Jenks High School on Monday night turned thumbs down on a campaign to cancel $400 million in new revenue tied to pay raises for teachers and state employees.
“We just have to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. “We cannot sit idly by and let this process take this pay raise away from the teachers. The Legislature passed it, the governor signed it, it’s time to move on.”
Cornett was the most blunt in his rejection of the petition drive to put a repeal proposition to a statewide vote, but state Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones and Jenks businessman Kevin Stitt agreed.
Jones said the tax plan finally signed into law was mostly his idea and is a “good deal” for most Oklahomans.
Stitt said he is “not for any new taxes” but that the decision has been made in this case and the state should move on.
Taking the opposing position was Tulsa attorney Gary Richardson, who said the raises could be paid without additional taxes by such things as tighter management of the state’s Medicaid program, eliminating toll roads and driving undocumented immigrants from the state.
“We don’t have a revenue problem,” Richardson said. “We have a spending problem, a waste problem, a corruption problem.”
Richardson pointed out that the pay raises are not part of the legislation being challenged— which is true, although legislative leaders say only the new revenue makes the raises possible.
Watch the full event:
All four candidates pledged continued support for public education — a topic dear to many in the audience — although what that support would look like was not always clear.
All said they oppose “forced consolidation” but favor administrative efficiencies — although Jones warned that the measures being discussed “might save 30 or 40 million dollars and the problems we’re talking about need hundreds of millions of dollars.”
All four said they oppose school vouchers, once a hot topic in Oklahoma, but favor reforms that make schools more responsive to the needs of students, parents and communities.
Stitt and Richardson said too much is spent on nonclassroom activities, while Jones said schools and state officials should concentrate on making sure funding is adequate for necessary programs and jobs regardless of how the spending is broken down.
In general, the candidates reinforced their campaign personas: Stitt the business-savvy outsider; Richardson the maverick populist: Jones the experienced straight-shooter; and Cornett the calm voice promising order from chaos.
The question all four seemed to wish hadn’t been asked was whether they consider President Donald Trump a role model for their children.
All said no but defended the unconventional chief executive.
Jones praised Trump’s decisiveness, Stitt the huge tax cut the president pushed through.
Cornett said Trump has been “very kind to me.”
“We didn’t hire him to be a role model,” said Richardson. “We have role models at home and in our schools. We didn’t hire him to be our minister. There seems to be some confusion about that.”