Oklahoma’s runoff elections will occur in three short weeks, and a packed ballot for the state’s Republican Party means that media — and voters — have a lot to do before Aug. 28.
In researching GOP runoff elections for governor (Mick Cornett vs. Kevin Stitt), lieutenant governor (Dana Murphy vs. Matt Pinnell), attorney general (Mike Hunter vs. Gentner Drummond), state auditor (Cindy Byrd vs. Charlie Prater), state superintendent of public instruction (Joy Hofmeister vs. Linda Murphy), labor commissioner (Cathy Costello vs. Leslie Osborn) and corporation commissioner (Bob Anthony vs. Brian Bingman), voters can still find relevant information and links to candidate pages in our primary primers that are hyperlinked above.
But Oklahomans also have opportunities to hear from these candidates in person. In conjunction with Let’s Fix This and Generation Citizen, NonDoc is hosting a Tuesday, Aug. 21, evening of debates between Oklahoma Corporation Commission candidates. Democrats Ashley Nicole McCray and Blake Cummings will debate at 5:30 p.m. at City Presbyterian Church, and the Republican portion of the evening will follow about 6:45 p.m.
Many stakeholders certainly hope incumbent Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony will reverse course and agree to attend the debate along with GOP challenger Brian Bingman, who has committed.
Three days later — 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 24 — Oklahoma Republicans will also have a chance to see incumbent State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister debate GOP challenger Linda Murphy. The debate is also hosted by NonDoc, Let’s Fix This and Generation Citizen, as well as the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.
Hunter, Drummond jab during televised debate
Griffin Communications operates both News 9 in the OKC television market and News on 6 in the Tulsa market, and the company has done a positive public service for Oklahoma voters by putting together two of its own debates this runoff season.
Tuesday, viewers of the two stations will see an 8 p.m. GOP gubernatorial runoff debate between Cornett and Stitt that should help voters see a little daylight between the former Oklahoma City mayor and the Tulsa businessman.
Likewise, Griffin Communications held a GOP attorney general debate between Mike Hunter and Gentner Drummond last Tuesday evening. The debate — which begins about the 12-minute mark in this video recap — came roughly five weeks after Hunter, Drummond and third challenger Angela Bonilla debated at the Tower Theatre in Oklahoma City.
During the Griffin Communications event, Drummond continued his aggressive arguments against the incumbent Hunter, calling him out for “failed leadership” and even critiquing Hunter as not having tried a “jury trial” before. Drummond’s assertion put Hunter on defense early, leaving him to state that he has tried “one” jury trial in his career.
Similarly, Drummond attempted to saddle Hunter with the Oklahoma Board of Health’s recent medical marijuana rules debacle.
“You’re not emperor general. You are attorney general,” Hunter said before chastising the board for not following the “black-letter law” passed by 57 percent of voters June 26.
Drummond, however, found more ways to twist the issue around his opponent’s wrists, tossing in some feigned surprise that Hunter was not the law enforcement officer investigating rumored violations of the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act.
“That matter has been referred to the Oklahoma County District Attorney. It’s in his hands. It’s not my case,” Hunter said.
Pandering on pistols, winging it with bad questions
The concept of certain issues being outside the scope of the attorney general’s job reared its head multiple times during Griffin Communications’ debate, an unfortunate fact that left both candidates politely attempting to remind anchors and viewers how state government operates.
A viewer named “Brad” asked whether the attorney general candidates would “audit state government as a whole,” which is sort of like asking a baseball team’s shortstop how he plans to do a better job calling pitches.
The candidates also were offered an opportunity to pander on the topic of guns. Drummond said he “probably” has more than 200 guns, while Hunter touted his endorsement by the National Rifle Association. Drummond then awkwardly noted his “A+” rating from the NRA before moderators attempted to move along.
Another viewer asked the candidates what they would do to reduce Oklahoma’s high incarceration rate, requiring both Hunter and Drummond to float policy ideas while running for an office both agreed is not supposed to set policy.
Hunter said he is working with legislators to introduce a bill creating a new “council” on criminal justice, punctuating his description of it with a bureaucratic distinction virtually no voter cares about.
“There aren’t going to be designees. It’s going to be ex-officio,” Hunter said of his proposed council’s membership. “The goal is going to be, finally, to get a handle on how we deal with criminals. We can’t put everybody in prison.”
Drummond answered the same question by pointing to State Question 780 and State Question 781 that voters passed in 2016.
“We have failed as a state to implement those in a meaningful way,” Drummond said, jabbing Hunter by placing nebulous blame for that on the Attorney General’s Office.
Hunter asked to reply, noting that SQ 781 was supposed to provide funding for drug treatment and other social programs thanks to a “peace dividend, if you will” from savings earned by not incarcerating drug-possession and low-level property crime offenders. He said that money has not materialized.
“There has to be a revenue stream identified to put money into diversionary and rehabilitation programs,” Hunter said.
Some polling that might surprise you
In all, the Griffin Communications GOP attorney general runoff debate was entertaining and informative for Oklahoma voters. Having such a debate televised across both major Oklahoma media markets is a step in the right direction for candidate transparency.
Voters — and not just the core party loyalists who usually compromise a vast majority of runoff turnout — would do well to watch or consume recaps of all upcoming runoff debates.
In the meantime, those curious about what Oklahoma’s political landscape looks like a few weeks ahead of the Aug. 28 runoff should enjoy the following poll from Right Strategy Group.
The Aug. 1 and 2 poll results — which do not include data on the attorney general race — show a tight runoff election coming up with an even more intriguing narrative awaiting Oklahoma in November. Poll teaser: Democratic gubernatorial nominee Drew Edmondson slightly leads either Cornett or Stitt in the RSG poll, though the numbers are well within its margin of error.
(Update: This post was updated at 5:05 p.m. Monday, Aug. 6, to include a different PDF from the Right Strategy Group’s polling. RSG said it had shared an earlier version of the document that featured an error in one of the headings.)