Questions of political legitimacy underscore a tight race for Oklahoma County court clerk between the office's longtime chief deputy, Tim Rhodes, and longtime state legislator Charles Key.
The two remained after five Republicans ran for the seat in a primary election in June. A winner will be determined in a runoff election Aug. 28.
The second largest of the county offices, the court clerk's office is responsible for maintaining court records and coordinating with the court system to collect criminal fines and fees owed.
Though Rhodes and Key both are running on the Republican platform, both have made a concerted effort to distance themselves from the other's politics.
Rhodes supporters have accused Key of far-right radicalism for suggesting the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995 was a government conspiracy. Key, on the other hand, says his opponent is a Republican in name only, and that his election will be a continuation of liberal office management.
“If we're going to elect a Republican let's elect somebody that reflects the views of the Republican party. I'm that person; Tim Rhodes is not,” Key said.
Key, 58, is a nine-term member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives. He is running on a platform of fiscal conservatism. He said he wants to use the court clerk's office to influence the county budget board to be more frugal with taxpayer dollars. He is endorsed by two of his former opponents in the court clerk race, Nathan Schlinke and Salome Vaughn.
“I would dig in and find out are they doing the job they're supposed to completely and fully, and are there ways we could save money of find ways to do it better,” he said. “My opponent, his answer to building a new jail was, ‘Well, I think we ought to have another study.' But he's going to support the current group of people … and they're for him because he will support what they want, and that's building a new jail.”
The county, working to come into compliance with several deficiencies outlined by the federal government in 2007, contracted with a Georgia company in March to prepare plans and designs for a new jail. County commissioners have estimated the facility could cost as much as $330 million.
Key said he adamantly opposes a new jail, and that's one example of how he will work to make sure taxpayer dollars aren't spent frivolously. He did not back away from his earlier suggestions that the federal government knew the Oklahoma City bombing was coming.