During the first week of October, we sent a half-dozen questions to 28 candidates in 13 races predominantly centered around Oklahoma City. Little did we know our efforts at community journalism would highlight bad democracy at its saddest.
We asked the candidates to respond with answers by 11:59 p.m. on Oct. 20, and we specified that we would publish the candidate responses side-by-side for each race, no matter what. We followed up by email and/or phone via the contact information we could obtain for candidates on their websites and social media. We even asked the state GOP and Democratic party headquarters for contact information, and in some cases we even spoke to campaign advisers, assuring them that we simply wanted voters to hear from the men and women running to represent them.
In the end, only nine of 28 candidates responded, and all were Democrats. Not a single Republican, Libertarian or independent candidate answered our questions, and one sitting Democratic member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives — Rep. Shane Stone (D-OKC) — failed as well.
He was in good company, as the three sitting Republican state legislators we reached out to — Sen. Rob Standridge (R-Norman), Rep. Chris Kannady (R-OKC) and Rep. Kevin Calvey (R-OKC) — also ignored us. The entire slate of fifth district congressional candidates did the same: U.S. Rep. Steve Russell (R), Democratic opponent Al McAffrey and Libertarian opponent Zach Knight.
Suffice it to say, these results represent a depressing and surprising oil-check for Oklahoma democracy. While candidates are understandably busy and commonly press-shy, several of the people who failed to answer questions for NonDoc know me personally.
One sent us dirt on his opponent and said he was considering advertising on the site. Two others did interviews with me the night of this year’s runoff election. I even know Calvey’s wife and attended his wedding, for goodness sake. I gave the newlyweds a decent bottle of wine, if memory serves.
Bad democracy in Oklahoma
Such embarrassing silence from GOP and Libertarian candidates leaves NonDoc (and mostly them) in an awkward position. Over the next few days, we will run the responses we did receive, as outlined in the emails we originally sent candidates. It is to our grave disappointment that not a single piece will feature comments from more than one candidate in a race. We recognize and are pained how it may appear that we are giving free ink to only Democrats. We truly wish everyone in these races had replied, as Oklahoma’s democracy would have been the better for it.
Still, we will run the answers we did receive to these questions, all but one of which were the same to each candidate. (Why are you running for office? What most qualifies you? As education is this cycle’s most pressing topic, which way do you plan to vote on SQ 779? Other than education, what topic is most important to you?) The final question was written specifically for each race or candidate.
Keep in mind that these were not tough questions to answer, especially when compared to the work it actually takes to represent one’s community at the State Capitol. The job — as sitting elected officials Standridge, Calvey, Kannady, Cyndi Munson and Stone already know — requires long hours and a willingness to present oneself professionally to the public and media, unless your name is Anthony Sykes.
To that end, those who did not participate in our basic candidate survey look worse than they ever could have in answering any of our questions. Even the most timid candidate — wary of discussing SQ 779’s controversial penny sales tax on a journalism site whose readership leans middle-left — should have been able to rise to the challenge of explaining a position on an important topic like education. (Sure, the Yes for SQ 779 campaign has chosen to advertise on our site, but we also publish commentaries critical of the proposal.)
Foolish, incompetent or just didn’t see it?
Exactly why more than half of the candidates we questioned failed to reply is something we will likely never know. Perhaps some lost the messages in full inboxes. Perhaps some had not previously heard of our site, or perhaps some had and prefer to think founder, former publisher and former Democratic politician Andrew Rice is guest-editing our campaign coverage.
Regardless, we can be sure of something else: Those who did respond are essentially getting a free ad for their campaign this week, all because they took some time to write down their thoughts and opinions for the public to read.
To the casual observer, that might seem like the sort of deal you’d have to be foolish or incompetent to turn down only a fortnight before election day.
Whatever each candidate’s reason, the outcome makes for bad democracy in Oklahoma.
THOSE WHO REPLIED: Cyndi Munson, Kevin McDonald, Eric Hall, Collin Walke, James Cook, Misty Warfield, Will Hollander, Mickey Dollens and Forrest Bennett.
THOSE WHO DID NOT: Steve Russell, Al McAffrey, Zach Knight, Rob Standridge, Shawn Sheehan, Adam Pugh, Greg McCortney, Kevin Calvey, Shane Stone, Chris Kannady, Roger Ford, Bruce Lee Smith, Elle Collins, Joe Griffin, Trey Puckett, Matt Jackson, Tammy West and Jay Means.
DID NOT RETURN MESSAGES SEEKING AN EMAIL ADDRESS: Dario Alvarado and Richard Prawdzienski.