We will admit to some ambivalence about who to endorse in Senate District 39, the constituency at the heart of midtown Tulsa.
Incumbent Republican Dave Rader has done some things to distinguish himself as an independent lawmaker, especially taking three politically difficult votes for tax increases to increase teacher pay in 2018.
When other supposedly pro-education Republicans were sitting down, Rader stood up. He admitted at the time that it might cost him political support, but said he was doing it because it was the right thing to do.
It was, and it is the dominant reason why we give our endorsement to him today.
We have also been impressed by his strong efforts to repeal the state’s unproductive capital gains tax break, which creates very few jobs and costs too much money. Again, he was swimming upstream in a Republican river because that’s what his heart told him to do.
That said, we can’t give an endorsement without reservation. It needs to be said that Rader’s advocacy for a plan to give tax credits to people who donate to private schools — a backdoor voucher mechanism that sends public money to private schools — rankles us and many other public school supporters. It’s bad policy all the way around.
Rader’s Democratic opponent, Shawna Mott-Wright, tears him up on that issue, and he deserves it.
Mott-Wright, president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association, has a personal story of faith and determination, and she certainly knows the details of education policy better than Rader ... or most other politicians in the state Capitol.
Beyond education, however, we found that she had less depth on issues, although we found few objections to her conclusions. She’s obviously a hard worker and a mission-driven person.
It is a close call, and, frankly, we could make a good case for either candidate, but given Rader’s independence on the critical tax votes and his growing influence in appropriations and redistricting, we give him the edge as the better choice for Tulsa.
District 39 should recognize Rader — a local hero from his days as the star quarterback at Rogers High School and the University of Tulsa and, subsequently, as a coach at TU and in the Southeastern Conference — as a rare bird in politics: a courageous legislator and a conservative who can think rationally about taxation. We need more of both in the Senate.
Rader should take the tuition tax credit program out of his playbook. Doing so would make him a better representative of midtown Tulsa’s people. Tested by life and politics, we judge him the better prepared candidate in Senate District 39.
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