EDMOND — Bob Dani hopes to rile up like-minded social conservatives in state House District 39 to support him at the polls in much the same manner he's built an audience at an Oklahoma City gun range in the past couple years.
Dani, seeking his first political office, is trying to oust Rep. Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond, who was elected to the post in 2004. Billboards are visible throughout the district, which covers most of Edmond, and both candidates are going door-to-door and mailing campaign literature.
The winner of the June 26 Republican primary will be the House District 39 representative. No Democrat or independent filed.
Cooksey calls herself a lifelong conservative, but Dani, of Edmond, said he would be more aggressive in supporting conservative social issues such as the so-called personhood bill, which was not brought up this year on the floor of the House of Representatives.
Dani three years ago founded the High Noon Club, a nondues-paying group that meets weekly at H&H Gun Range in western Oklahoma City. It started with him and a couple friends meeting at the gun range for lunch and to shoot guns while they talked about various political issues; about 150 from across the Oklahoma City metro area regularly show up now for the meetings.
“There was no group out there that was really talking about some of the issues on both sides,” he said. “We want this always to be a free public forum to educate the voter base.”
Cooksey, 68, said she likely would have voted against the personhood measure, Senate Bill 1433, which won easy passage in the Republican-controlled Senate but was not brought up for a vote by the full House. Backers said it was a statement that Oklahomans value life and that nothing in the measure would have prohibited contraception or in vitro fertilization. Opponents said it could have led to restrictions on abortions, birth control, in vitro fertilization and stem cell research.
Cooksey, who serves as assistant majority whip and is part of the current House leadership team, said she and other House Republicans approved more than 30 anti-abortion measures since the GOP gained control of the House after the 2004 elections.
“I felt that we had done everything in the bill,” she said. “For the last eight years ever since we came in in 2004 we have run right-to-life bills every year. We have done a lot every year to preserve life.”
Cooksey said she also was worried about possible legal challenges if the measure had passed. For months, backers of SB 1433 said the measure was based on a law in Missouri, which was upheld in 1989 by the U.S. Supreme Court, but SB 1433 omitted a section of the Missouri law that says the law shall be interpreted and construed subject to the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Cooksey did vote for a nonbinding measure, House Resolution 1054, which states that human life begins at fertilization — except in cases of in vitro fertilization.
Dani, 61, said he would vote for more spending cuts in the state budget. He supports a cut in the state's personal income tax, but that can't happen until the state starts cutting back on spending.
“There's no effort to cut spending,” he said. “I'm absolutely not for an income-tax cut until they can show that they're going to cut spending because our income tax is approximately 40 percent of our budget. How are we going to actually zero out the income tax if we can't cut spending? And the answer is you can't.”
Dani said he is disappointed by the $6.8 billion budget lawmakers approved for the 2013 fiscal year, which starts July 1. It's about 3.1 percent more than the current fiscal year budget of $6.6 billion, and he questions why the House and Senate each should be appropriated an additional $1 million for the upcoming fiscal year.
He said he also was discouraged that lawmakers failed to eliminate or scale back corporate tax credits. He blamed special interest groups and lobbyists who fought to keep the tax credits, which made it difficult for lawmakers to reduce the state's personal income tax rate.
Cooksey said she supports reducing the personal income tax, but the state can't overlook its responsibilities for core services, such as transportation, public safety, health and human services and education. Those make up nearly 90 percent of the legislative-appropriated budget.
“A good portion of the people that I have spoken with are more interested in funding education, getting the roads and things in shape before they start cutting taxes,” she said. “Most everybody wants us to excel and to do better and to bring in more businesses, and they do not feel that now is the time for a tax cut.”
Bond support differs
Both Cooksey and Dani said they support moving the medical examiner's office to the University of Central Oklahoma Campus in Edmond. In 2010, the Legislature approved moving the office to Edmond but provided no funding.
Cooksey said she has worked since then to find funding for the $42 million project, which consists of constructing and equipping a building. She supports including the medical examiner building in a bond-issuing program used by colleges and universities to pay for various projects. The attorney general's office is looking into whether it's legal to use the state regents' master lease real property program.
Dani said he opposes the state using the higher education funding program, and is opposed to increasing the state's $2.2 billion of tax-supported debt.
Cooksey said interest rates are low, and Oklahoma is below most states in the amount of bond debt.
She said she would support a bond issue for the medical examiner's office at UCO and perhaps to pay for repairing the state Capitol.
“Those are government functions,” Cooksey said. “Those are things that need to be taken care of.”
Dani said he would vote against any type of bond issue for the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City. The half-completed museum at the Interstate 40 and Interstate 35 junction has run out of funding; the state agency responsible for its completion tried unsuccessfully this past session to get lawmakers to approve a $40 million bond issue to match $40 million in private donations to complete the approximately $170 million project by 2014.
The Senate failed to advance the proposal, and Cooksey said she is uncertain how she would have voted this year on the measure.
Dani said he would oppose a bond issue to repair and restore the Capitol, which is estimated at $160 million. Cooksey this year voted against a $200 million bond issue to repair the Capitol and other state buildings in the Capitol complex.
Dani, who is making his third round of knocking doors in the district, said he believes residents are ready for a change.
“We've never had the ability to understand what's actually going on at the Capitol,” he said.