WASHINGTON — A Washington-based coalition pressing for congressional action on highway funding canceled radio ads targeting Rep. James Lankford after a lobbyist for Oklahoma contractors complained.
Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, which is part of the coalition sponsoring ads in four congressional districts, said Thursday that the ads weren’t aimed at criticizing Lankford, R-Oklahoma City, who is one of the House negotiators on a highway bill that has been stalled for weeks.
The ad in Oklahoma City was meant to emphasize that Lankford is playing an important role on the House-Senate committee that is trying to reach a compromise on legislation that will give state highway departments some certainty about their funding, Turmail said.
The ad — which asked whether Lankford was part of the problem or the solution and urged his constituents to call his office — began Wednesday and was supposed to run through Friday. Turmail said the coalition of contractors and labor groups sponsoring the ad agreed to cancel it after hearing Wednesday night from Bobby Stem, the lobbyist for the Association of Oklahoma General Contractors.
Stem said he called to stop the ad because he didn’t like the implication that Lankford wasn’t already working on a solution. He said Lankford is a strong advocate for roads and bridges in Oklahoma and is in regular contact with road builders and state Transportation Director Gary Ridley about the situation.
In a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Lankford said the ads had generated three calls to his office. Once the issue was explained, Lankford said, the callers said the congressman should stick to his position. He said the ads were “ironic” since he had been “extremely engaged in the process.”
Democrats have been pressuring House Republicans to agree to the two-year, $109 billion bill approved by the Senate in March.
However, negotiators are hung up on how to finance the bill, since the Highway Trust Fund wouldn’t cover the cost, and other provisions, including the Keystone XL pipeline.
Lankford said Thursday that other major issues were streamlining the bureaucracy to ensure highway projects get built faster and eliminating some programs that divert money from roads and bridges.
Beth McGinn, spokeswoman for the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, which helped sponsor the ads, said one goal was to “keep the heat on Congress” to pass a bill by June 30, the deadline for passing a bill.
If the deadline is missed, Congress will have to pass another temporary extension of highway funding, further frustrating state officials like Ridley, who want some certainty for their long-term projects.
Stem said he didn’t think such pressure was necessary in Lankford’s case.
Lankford told reporters that he had been frustrated by negotiations because it appeared the Senate was “locked in” to its position. House members have been on recess this week, but return Monday with less than two weeks to reach an agreement.