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Oklahoma elections: What background checks say

25 who hope to be elected by Oklahoma voters in November have had money or legal troubles.
BY MICHAEL BAKER, VALLERY BROWN, JOHN ESTUS and PAUL MONIES Modified: October 19, 2010 at 1:42 pm •  Published: October 17, 2010

Copyright 2010, The Oklahoman

Twenty-five candidates for public offices responsible for spending billions of dollars of taxpayer money have struggled with their own financial or criminal problems, a review of the candidates' backgrounds by The Oklahoman shows.

Their money problems included personal bankruptcies, foreclosures and unpaid taxes.

A state budget shortfall of hundreds of millions of dollars is expected next year, so lawmakers will again be tasked with difficult decisions in managing the state's money.

These 25 candidates differed on whether problems managing their own finances or following state laws would affect their ability to govern during a budget crisis.

Some said personal financial problems uniquely prepared them to tackle the state's budget woes, while others said the prospect of changing unfair laws they say led to their money problems factored into their decision to run for public office.

Among the candidates' problems are a state Senate candidate's personal bankruptcy he says was caused by a music industry deal gone bad, a guilty plea to driving with an open container of beer by another Senate candidate and allegations that a state House candidate slammed his girlfriend's head into a car's dashboard during an argument.

Nineteen of the candidates with problems are state legislative candidates. Two are congressional candidates, and four are candidates for statewide office.

What background checks revealed
The Oklahoman ran tax, bankruptcy, criminal and civil background checks on the 147 candidates running for office Nov. 2. After eliminating some with traffic infractions and other minor matters, reporters found the following 25 candidates had problems worth asking about.

Federal office candidates

Ronald F. Dwyer, 77, Tulsa, I

• Office sought: U.S. Senate

• Filed for personal bankruptcy in 2003, listing debts of almost $190,000 and assets of $73,000.

• State tax warrant for $2,300 in unpaid taxes in 2000.

• Response: Did not return several phone messages.

• Opponents: U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, 62, Muskogee, R; Jim Rogers, 75, Midwest City, D; Stephen P. Wallace, 61, Tulsa, independent.

Charles L. Thompson, 47, Hulbert, R

• Office sought: 2nd Congressional District

• Filed for personal bankruptcy in 2005, listing debts of $232,000 and assets of $115,000.

• Response: Thompson, a veterinarian, said the bankruptcy stemmed from a business he started that failed. A business loan he took out was sold to another party, which didn't offer favorable repayment terms. "He quit sending out bills, then sent three bills in a row saying I owed nothing," Thompson said. "A few months after that, he filed suit. I could pay him some, but I couldn't pay him everything. I simply did not have the assets, so my only legal option to protect myself and my family was to file bankruptcy. To this day, I feel bad about it, but we went back and reconciled with a lot of our creditors because they had nothing to do with it."

Thompson said the experience gave him a different perspective. "There have been thousands of people across District 2 who have filed bankruptcy for one reason or another. It gives me another avenue to understand what the folks in the district are going through."

• Opponent: Rep. Dan Boren, 37, Muskogee, D.

Statewide office candidates

Steven E. Covert, 61, Midwest City, D

• Office sought: Treasurer

• Several business-related civil judgments and tax warrants in the 1980s in Tulsa County.

• Wisconsin foreclosure in 2003.

• Co-defendant in Oklahoma County civil judgment of $2,387 for First Fidelity Bank in 2004.

• Response: Covert, a certified public accountant and computer specialist, said he "made a mistake" by not backing up computer code for several consulting projects in the late 1980s in Tulsa County. "I was so broke, I didn't have the money to file for bankruptcy and stop the litigation," he said.

The Racine County, Wis., foreclosure happened after Covert suffered a stroke and fell into a coma for three months. By the time he recovered and learned to walk and talk again, the lender had started foreclosure proceedings on a Wisconsin house Covert was living in while working on consulting projects. "They took the house, but I didn't care," he said.

Covert cosigned for a car loan from First Fidelity Bank for his son, David. "He returned the car, but lawyers got involved," Covert said. The Coverts are fighting the court case, which is ongoing.

• Opponent: State Rep. Ken Miller, 43, Edmond, R.

Mark J. Costello, 54, Edmond, R

• Office sought: Labor Commissioner

• Oklahoma income tax warrants for unpaid taxes in 1987 for $1,520 and in 1994 for $3,498.

• Wisconsin unemployment tax warrant in 2009 for $1,595.

• Response: "I do pay a lot of taxes to a lot of different entities and sometimes you drop the ball," Costello said. "At the end of the day, it was an omission that was corrected when it was discovered."

Costello said the Wisconsin tax warrant came after he hired an employment firm to pay wages to out-of-state employees. The employment services firm apparently did not pay taxes on those wages, an issue Costello didn't find out about until after he sold the business in 2007.

• Opponent: Incumbent Lloyd Fields, 53, Norman, D

Labor Commissioner Lloyd Fields, 53, Norman, D

• Office sought: Labor Commissioner

• Detained at the Oklahoma City detox center in 2008 after a rodeo party where he allegedly tried to take a musician's guitar.

• Unpaid child support judgment in 1997 for $26,000 in Pittsburg County.

The Labor Department paid $200,000 in 2009 to settle a retaliation lawsuit brought by a former employee who supported Fields' 2006 Republican opponent, former Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau.

• Response: Fields apologized for the 2008 guitar incident and called it "a joke." He said the unpaid child support judgment stemmed from a verbal agreement with his first wife that he no longer had to pay child support, a claim she denied at the time. Fields and the department denied wrongdoing in the employment lawsuit, which was settled a week before it was to go to trial.

• Opponent: Costello.

State Senate candidates

Dale Christenson, 53, Pawhuska, D

• Office sought: Senate District 10

• Filed for personal bankruptcy in December 1989, listing debts of between $50,000 and $100,000 and assets between $50,000 and $100,000. Case discharged in April 1990.

• Response: Christenson, a former country and western singer, said his attempt to make it in the music industry led to bankruptcy. After his band, Dale Christenson and the Prairie Fire, appeared on the television show "Hee-Haw" in 1986, Christenson said he was approached by a talent agent who wanted to manage his music career. The agent sued when Christenson tried to break ties with him due to a decision to "put music on the back burner" because of his wife's pregnancy. Christenson said he was forced to file for bankruptcy to settle the debt related to the agent's lawsuit.

"I was flattered, but naive, and took him up on his offer... He sued me for almost $150,000 far more than our lifestyle as young schoolteachers could handle."

• Opponent: Eddie Fields, 43, Wynona, R.

Sharon Parker, 64, Norman, R

• Office sought: Senate District 16

• Foreclosure filed in Cleveland County in 1989.

• Response: Parker deferred questions to her husband, Bruce, who said the property foreclosed on was a duplex they bought as an investment property. He said they bought the duplex for about $90,000, but the real estate market "tanked" and caused it to lose two-thirds of its value. Court records show the Parkers owed $71,000 on the property at the time of the foreclosure.

• Opponent: Sen. John Sparks, 41, Norman, D.

Kim David, 49, Porter, R

• Office sought: Senate District 18

• State tax warrant filed in 1995 for $466 in unpaid taxes.

• Response: David said she and her husband were moving during tax season and were "a few days late" paying their state taxes. She said they paid off the warrant as soon as they learned about it.

"We have always paid our bills and taken care of things... it was just something that slipped through the cracks."

• Opponent: Janice Aldridge, 63, Wagoner, D.

Mike Kelly, 54, Choctaw, D

• Office sought: Senate District 42

• Pleaded guilty to driving with an open container of beer in McIntosh County in 2000.

• Response: Kelly said he couldn't remember the citation or find it in his records. He confirmed the birth date, address and Social Security number on file in court records matched his.

"I'm not denying it was me. I just don't remember that. I know that sounds crazy."

• Opponent: Sen. Cliff Aldridge, 48, Choctaw, R.

Ralph Shortey, 28, Oklahoma City, R

• Office sought: Senate District 44

• Filed for personal bankruptcy in March 2007, listing debts of $88,375 and assets of $77,800; still active.

• Foreclosure filed in 2003 and 2004 in Oklahoma County.

• Indebtedness filed against him in Oklahoma County in 2004.

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