Four Republicans and two Democrats are vying for a new state House seat south of Norman that covers parts of four counties.
Democrats and Republicans will elect their nominees June 26. With four candidates, it's likely a runoff election will be required for the top two Republican vote getters. The runoff is set for Aug. 28.
A growing population in the Norman area and declining numbers in rural areas led to lawmakers last year to shift House District 20 from southern Oklahoma as part of their redistricting plan.
Rep. Paul Roan, D-Tishomingo, now represents HD 20, which covers Atoka, Bryan, Coal, Johnston and Pontotoc counties. He can't seek re-election because of legislative term limits.
The new district, which has southeastern Norman, most of the Noble School District, Slaughterville and Lexington as well as parts of Garvin, McLain and Pottawatomie counties, will take effect after the Nov. 6 general elections.
Bobby Cleveland said he didn't originally think about running for the post. As chairman of the Cleveland County Republican Committee, he usually helps GOP candidates with their races.
Cleveland, 69, said he wants to reduce state spending. He supports efforts to reduce the state's personal income tax; lawmakers couldn't agree on a plan to reduce the personal income tax, which brings in about $2 billion, or 30 percent, of the money that legislators appropriate.
“We've got to stop spending some place,” he said. “It's going to take somebody who's got enough guts just to say no.”
Cleveland, of Slaughterville, said he is concerned that legislators are passing too many laws.
“When the Democrats were in control, they judged how good a legislator he was by how many bills he passed,” he said. “As Republicans, we should stand for less government, not more. And if we don't watch out, we're going to lose our (majority) position up there if we continue to act like big spenders.”
He said he would like to work on converting all of the state's vehicle fleet to compressed natural gas. The conversion would prompt more CNG filling stations to open.
“Once we accomplish our goal as a state, then we go in and try to get the taxpayers to switch their cars over when they see how economical it is,” he said.
Republican Alon Morrison said the open seat made it attractive for him to run this year. His main priority is to give residents their voice back at the state Capitol.
“I don't have any agendas,” said Morrison, of Newcastle. “I don't have any ties to special interest groups or lobbyists. With it being a new district, it's a good start to giving their voice back.
“Most of the time a special interest group or a lobbyist can come in and change a decision by throwing some money around,” he said. “Money gets you elected today.”
Morrison, 36, said he has not accepted large contributions. His campaign so far has operated on about $2,000.
Morrison said he was disappointed it took three legislative sessions for lawmakers to finally pass legislation allowing those with concealed carry permits to openly carry their handguns. Not much is different from the law passed this year than the original measure introduced three years ago.
Morrison said he favors reducing the state's personal income tax rate, but measures introduced this year had problems.
“I want to see a better plan,” he said.
Republican Paul Maus, 48, said he wants to reduce the personal income tax rate but didn't like the plans presented this year by lawmakers and the governor. He said he was concerned how the state would make up for the lost personal income tax revenue.
“I'm very big on making Oklahoma more attractive to all businesses,” said Maus, of Newcastle.
A lower personal income tax rate could lure more businesses to the state, which would result in more revenue from the state's sales taxes as the additional people would be making more purchases, he said.
“It would create more revenue because our jobs and everything would be increasing and our production would be increasing,” Maus said.
He said education standards must be elevated to ensure graduates are employable. He also wants tough laws on crime and illegal immigration.
“It is simply wrong for Oklahoma to allow small businesses who employ illegals to compete in the marketplace with businesses that follow the law,” Maus said.
Republican Gil Hensley said he would make sure state spending stays with core services.
“Government can't be everything we want it to ... but we can focus on those core responsibilities of government like infrastructure, public safety and education,” said Hensley, 60. “While there are other things that maybe should be done or could be done, they have to come second.”
Hensley, of Newcastle, said he would support reducing the state's personal income tax rate by cutting state spending.
“Every tax cut has to be broached in the concept of how much money can we save if don't spend money on x, y or z,” he said. “And when you figure out ways to save and trim the fat from government, then you can reduce taxes.”
Hensley said he would like to see the state update and improve its tax code, and take a look at how taxes affect small businesses.
“Not everybody works for a huge conglomerate, and those small businesses are really what keep our economy going,” he said.
Democrat Matt Branstetter, 55, of Noble, said his main focus is economic development.
“The two ways to do that best is through having the best educational system and the best infrastructure — roads and bridges,” he said. “The reason that major companies come to a state is if there's an educated work force that's available. Having Oklahoma routinely rank 49th or 50th in all the states as far as our educational rankings is just terrible.”
Improving the educational standing would require more money as well as looking for ways to cut duplicate spending and waste, he said. He'd like to see some ideas intended to improve schools first be tried in pilot programs.
“If over a decade, we can see success, then it would be something we could take statewide,” he said. “If you tried something statewide and it turns out to be a disaster, then you've hurt an entire generation of children.”
He is opposed to reducing the state's personal income tax.
Democrat Rodney Johnson said he also opposes cutting the personal income tax. Proposals introduced this year were unrealistic, he said.
Johnson, 47, of Noble, said he will look at improving emergency medical services across the state, especially in rural areas, such as those that make up part of House District 20.
He wants to work to improve conditions for small businesses and wants to see whether economic development and incentive programs for big companies could be available for small businesses.
“Stronger growth is going to come through small business innovation and leveling the playing field for small businesses,” he said. “It's not going to come from larger businesses.”
Johnson also supports education and more funding of public schools.
“We should give more autonomy to the teachers in the classroom,” he said. “Have standards but give them more of an opportunity to come up with a solution because I think they're the only ones that really can.”
House District 20
Political experience: None
Education: Associate of Arts,
Family: Shannon, wife; Natalie, 34, Gilbert III, 32, Joseph, 31, and Brody, 6, children
Political experience: Chairman of the Cleveland County Republican Committee, Republican presidential elector, 2008
Education: Attended Central State University
Religion: Baptist; Bethel Baptist, Norman
Family: Barbara, wife; Rob and Rod, children
Occupation: Owns an accredited child care center in Norman, works also in the computer industry
Political experience: Ran for a seat on the Norman School Board, 2011
Education: Associate business degree in telecommunications from Oklahoma State University-
Religion: Baptist, Echo Church, Norman
Family: Tammy, wife; Logan, 21, Austin, 18, Jacob, 13, Gracie, 7, and Chandler, 7, children
Occupation: Self-employed; private security, security specialist
Political experience: None
Education: Palco High School, 1994; Mid America Christian University, B.S. criminal justice management and ethics, 2008; enrolled at American Military University pursuing a master's degree in security
Religion: Christian, Midwest City Church of God
Family: Angelina, wife; Thomas James, 12, Brandon, 10, and Connor, 6, children
Occupation: Health professions laboratory assistant at Oklahoma City Community College
Political experience: Member of the Cleveland County Democratic Committee
Education: Emergency medical technician
Occupation: Independent investment adviser
Political experience: None
Education: Bachelor's of business administration and bachelor's of political science, University of
Family: Tracy, wife; Kyla, Erik and Bonnie, children