EDMOND, Okla. (AP) — With the primary election less than two weeks away, candidates for Oklahoma's only open seat in the U.S. House worked to build voter support Thursday at a political forum.
Six of the 12 candidates running for the seat currently held by Republican James Lankford outlined their views on the economy, energy policy and other issues at the forum sponsored by the Edmond Chamber of Commerce.
The participants included five Republican candidates — Corporation Commission member Patrice Douglas, former state Rep. Shane Jett, state Sen. Clark Jolley, former state Sen. Steve Russell and the Rev. Harvey Sparks, and a single Democrat — retired university professor Tom Guild.
Lankford is stepping down after two terms to run for the position held by GOP U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, who is retiring.
The primary is set for June 24, while runoff elections, if necessary, will be Aug. 26. The winners will meet three independent candidates who are also running for the seat in the Nov. 4 general election.
The candidates stressed their experience in government and their individual professions as they promised to be an effective leader in Congress.
"I know what it means to work across party lines," said Jett, who was elected to the state House as a Republican from a traditionally Democratic area. Jett was a three-term member of the Oklahoma House from 2004 to 2010 who left for an unsuccessful run for Congress.
Russell, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, served in the state Senate from 2008 to 2012 after a more than 20-year Army career that culminated with the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He wrote the book, "We Got Him," about his unit's role in the hunt for and capture of Saddam Hussein.
"Our nation needs leaders who can solve problems," Russell said. "I've led before and I can lead again."
Jolley, chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, was first elected in 2004 and has twice been re-elected to his Senate seat in the conservative Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond. He said he has worked to reduce taxes and create jobs while serving in the Legislature.
"The government today is trying to be all things to all people," Jolley said. In Congress, he said he will work to reduce government influence in the private sector, which he said inhibits job growth
Sparks said he would strive to be "a citizen legislator" and vowed to serve only three two-year terms if elected.
"I do come at this from a ministry standpoint," said Sparks, who has pastored churches in Norman, Oklahoma City and Tulsa and most recently served as a staffer for first-term U.S. Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa.
Douglas, an attorney and banker, was elected mayor of Edmond in 2009 and was appointed to a vacancy on the state's three-member Corporation Commission in 2011. She currently serves as chairwoman of the commission that regulates the oil and gas industry and public utilities.
"Jobs and debt. We have to increase one and reduce the other," Douglas said. "I am first and foremost your voice."
Guild said protecting Social Security and Medicare will be his top priorities and criticized partisan bickering that he said prevents Congress from being productive.
"The country is in a real mess," said Guild, who ran for the 5th District seat in 2010 and 2012. "We need to reason together."
Also running for the 5th District are Republican state Rep. Mike Turner, Leona Leonard and state Sen. Al McAffrey, both Democrats, and independents Buddy Ray, Tom Boggs and Robert T. Murphy.