House District 97 features four Democrats and two Republicans who filed to replace term-limited Rep. Mike Shelton (D-OKC).
While the Republicans appear to be keeping particularly low profiles, the four men in Shelton’s own party are lodged in a tight primary race that will conclude Tuesday.
Shelton has always been a fairly laid-back politician, unafraid to wear a purple track suit to the Capitol on slow days or paint his last name on an old ambulance to promote his bailbonding business. He has been a vocal leader on many Democratic issues during his time in the Legislature.
HD 97 spans east and north from the State Capitol itself, encompassing a large swath of northeast OKC and parts of Nicoma Park and Spencer.
As we’ve done previously in our #HotRace series, candidates examined here are listed in order of their fundraising totals reported at the recent deadline.
Camal Pennington, former congressional staffer
A graduate of Northeast Academy in the heart of HD 97, former congressional staffer Camal Pennington reported about $25,400 in fundraising, and he has 669 Facebook followers. Records indicate he worked for U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.)
An attorney, Pennington and the other Democrats running for HD 97 have been interviewed by a local startup called Better Black News. The organization produces predominantly one-source video profiles through interviews with chief report Jillian Whitaker. Videos are published on YouTube, and on-screen graphics are usually purple in coordination with Whitaker’s trademark hair. BBN brands each installment of the incomplete HD 97 series as, “Better Black News takes over politics,” which implies something that doesn’t happen.
Pennington’s sister is prominent in east OKC as a teacher and former proprietor of the restaurant/club Urban Roots. In his interview with Better Black News, Pennington discusses Oklahoma’s education challenges and, particularly, the need for student access to counselors:
Chris Harrison, funeral home owner
Pennington’s closest competitor in fundraising is Chris Harrison. (No, not the millionaire goober who hands out roses to giggling/sobbing love-seekers on ABC’s The Bachelor.)
OKC’s Chris Harrison has been a member of the Millwood Board of Education for more than a dozen years, and he has raised about $24,400 and accumulated 453 Facebook likes for his HD 97 campaign.
Harrison has been endorsed in the primary by the State Chamber of Oklahoma, something that could bring him additional attention and access to campaign contributions. On the other hand, an endorsement from the right-leaning organization that represents Oklahoma’s largest corporate interests could be viewed suspiciously in a largely left-leaning district.
For Harrison’s interview with Better Black News, he loaded Whitaker and her cameraman into his car to tour HD 97 (map below). The result opens with an awkward moment where the candidate asks the reporter if she knows the district’s boundaries. She says no, which leads Harrison to explain how HD 97 includes high-poverty neighborhoods as well as million-dollar houses.
Harrison goes on to discuss “inequality across the board” and its substantial impact on northeast OKC:
Jason Lowe, defense attorney
Criminal defense attorney Jason Lowe has raised about $19,200 according to his report, and he has the most Facebook followers of the candidates, with 845 as of Saturday evening. He also got out to an early lead in the occasionally meaningful yard-sign competition, but Harrison and Pennington now have plenty of their own. Lowe’s face has been plastered on at least one district billboard advertising his law firm, and Harrison’s camp has responded by placing yard signs directly under that billboard.
Lowe has been raising his community profile for years, hosting the sixth-annual “Family Fun Day” last July 25 at the Boys & Girls Club of Oklahoma County. No mention of a 2016 Family Fun Day appears on Lowe’s websites, but perhaps one is in the works post-primary.
In his Better Black News interview, Lowe immediately notes criminal justice reform as “something that is near and dear to my heart.” He answers a question about how to improve employment opportunities for young black men by saying he supports tax cuts for small businesses in HD 97:
Willis Washington, disability advocate
Injured in a motorcycle accident and inspired to become an advocate for people with disabilities, Willis Washington is the fourth candidate in HD 97’s Democratic primary. While he has only raised $525, Washington has loaned himself $3,400, and he has 401 Facebook likes.
Washington has served on disability committees for both OKC and the state of Oklahoma, and he was named disability advocate of the year by the United Spinal Association. If elected to the Oklahoma House, he would become the body’s second wheelchair-bound disability advocate, along with Rep. John Enns (R-Enid).
Washington was also interviewed by Better Black News for a post this month, but the piece makes no mention that he is running for HD 97 along with Pennington, Harrison and Lowe. Instead, the piece focuses on Washington’s disability advocacy and his involvement with a local bowling fundraiser.
The Republican side
Voters of HD 97 have a low-key matchup on the Republican side of the primary between two filers: Dan M. Stankiewicz and Tonni Canaday.
Google and Facebook searches yield no reference to Stankiewicz campaigning at all, though his personal Facebook page features an excellent picture of an impressive cat. (Sadly, it appears to have passed away.)
Canaday, meanwhile, is seeking to become the third sitting legislator to hold some variation of the surname “Canaday.” She is listed on the City of Spencer’s website as a “councilman” of an unnoted ward, but other site pages do not list her as a councilor.
Like Stankiewicz, Canaday appears to have eschewed a campaign website, and they have also both avoided filing Oklahoma Ethics Commission reports.
But Canaday does occasionally note that she has been campaigning on her personal Facebook page. While most of her posts are not related to politics, she’s announced that she will be voting for Donald Trump, and she offered this missive June 8:
If President Obama truly cared about the country and a positive legacy, even among the toughest critic’s he would put Hillary Clinton in jail.
House District 97 map
(Editor’s Note: This piece was updated after publication to include more details. It is part of NonDoc’s coverage of intriguing political races, and past installments of our #HotRace miniseries, reviewed candidates for Senate District 13, Senate District 33 and House District 87.)