If Gov. Brad Henry loses his re-election bid next month, it will be the biggest political shocker since 2002 -- when heavily favored Steve Largent, a former congressman and NFL star, lost his gubernatorial bid to Henry.
A Democrat and Shawnee native, Henry is vying to become only the third Oklahoma governor to win back-to-back terms. "I learned a lesson four years ago, and that is you can't take it for granted; front-runners can be beat," he said. "But I also learned that we can put together a good game plan and execute it well." His Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Ernest Istook, is trying to become only the second congressman in state history and the first in 70 years to win the top executive post. E.W. Marland served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1933 to 1935 and was governor from 1935 to 1939. Istook, elected to the U.S. House in 1992 after six years in the state House, is the third Oklahoma congressman in recent history to run for governor, following Democrat Wes Watkins in 1990 and Largent in 2002. Largent resigned from his seat, while Watkins, like Istook, ran for governor while serving in the House. Istook, 56, said his experience in Congress, as a state legislator and as a city councilman from Warr Acres gives him the skills to provide leadership in state government. Istook said the state should do more to keep and attract jobs. The state has benefited the past couple of years from the oil and gas industry, but it is lagging behind in creating jobs, he said. "Nothing Brad Henry did created the energy boom," Istook said. "If you look at the figures, the job growth during Brad Henry's four years as governor has been almost exclusively due to the oil and gas boom. When you remove that from the equation, the only other job growth is in government and a small growth in the private sector." Istook proposes lowering taxes, implementing lawsuit reform and improving roads to help attract and keep jobs. "Unless we do the things that create permanent incentives for the private sector, we'll continue to lose our kids and lag behind the rest of the country," Istook said. "No energy boom lasts forever. Brad Henry wants to pretend that he is somehow responsible for the good things brought about by the energy boom." Henry, 43, acknowledges the state has benefited from the growth in the oil and gas industry, but said, "Our economy is booming across all sectors." Istook said while in Congress he helped get jobs in medical research, weather research and aviation for Oklahoma. "I focused on the jobs of tomorrow, not the jobs of yesterday," he said. "I focused on jobs that are high-paying and challenging jobs, the kind of work that young people want to pursue." Henry said the state is doing well, that 100,000 new jobs have been created in the past two years. "Just last year alone, Oklahoma was ranked fifth in the nation for the creation of high-tech jobs," he said. "Those are the kinds of jobs that we need to produce ... that will allow us to compete in the global economy. "My opponent has to find something to criticize, and he's not really been able to do a very good job of pointing out that our economy is in the dumps because it's not, and people recognize that," he said. Henry said he wants to be known as the education governor. Accomplishments in his first term include embarking on a four-year effort to raise teacher pay to the regional average, pushing through an initiative to help raise student performance and better prepare young Oklahomans for life after high school, helping improve access to early childhood education and working to provide funding for full-day kindergarten. Henry also supported the lottery and casino gaming initiatives, which generated new revenue for education. Voters approved both two years ago.
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Office: Governor When: 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Communications Center. Where: Rose State College, Midwest City. Watch in Oklahoma City: Televised by KFOR-4. OETA will replay the debate at 8 p.m. Friday. Watch in Tulsa: KJRH-2's Web site, 2worksforyou.com, and its digital channel, 2-2, will simulcast the debate. KJRH-2 will show the debate at 10:35 p.m. Thursday. Brad Henry Democrat Home: Shawnee Age: 43 Lawsuit reform: I proposed and helped pass two significant tort reform packages that are reducing frivolous lawsuits and medical malpractice cases in Oklahoma. Although this issue can be divisive and politically charged, I provided the leadership that brought competing interests together to enact meaningful reforms. Had we not built that consensus, no reforms would have passed. Illegal immigration: Illegal immigration is a critical national security issue that must be addressed, particularly in the post-9/11 world. Unfortunately, Congress has talked a lot about it but done nothing but pass the buck to the states. I'm proud Oklahoma has taken action in absence of federal assistance, sending National Guard troops to the border to help with President Bush's enforcement efforts and having state law enforcement officers interdict and apprehend illegal immigrants. Tax cuts: We enacted the largest tax cuts in state history the last two years, significantly reducing the income tax rate and eliminating the death tax. I also proposed and helped pass income tax reductions for seniors and military retirees and eliminated the capital gains tax on Oklahoma-based property. These pro-growth tax relief policies are promoting economic growth and returning money to taxpayers. Lottery's performance: I think Oklahomans are excited about the lottery and the good things it is doing for education. In its first fiscal year, the lottery not only met projections but exceeded them. The bottom line is the lottery is producing tens of millions of new dollars for education and helping fund important initiatives like teacher pay raises and college campus improvements. Ernest Istook Republican Home: Warr Acres Age: 56 Lawsuit reform: Well, the quick answer is yes. As a member of Congress, I voted for legislation reform on over 60 different occasions: class action reform, product liability reform, bankruptcy reform. And one thing that has really been brought home to me as Judy and I are crisscrossing the state campaigning is that we've got to have lawsuit reform so that businesses feel safe in investing in Oklahoma and creating the jobs and creating the opportunities that are necessary here. Illegal immigration: I will lead as governors in Colorado and Georgia have done -- enacting state laws that make sure illegal aliens don't get public benefits and don't get hired. Colorado Gov. Bill Owens informed me in a phone call ... that applications for public benefits are already declining there because of the new law, and that illegal aliens are already starting to leave Colorado. In Congress, I authored legislation to make English the official language of America; as governor I will make Oklahoma the 29th state to make English its official language. Tax cuts: Oklahoma won't grow and our children will keep leaving the state unless we keep reducing taxes to stimulate growth. The tax cuts that I helped enact in Congress turned around the national economy. Our oil and gas boom won't last forever. Lottery's performance: People can disagree over the merits of a state lottery, but everyone can agree that Brad Henry used false information to get it passed. Oklahomans believed Henry when he said the lottery would provide $300 million a year for education. Now, we all see the truth; it's brought in only 25 percent of what Henry claimed. Compiled by Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau