Former Sen. David Holt was elected mayor of Oklahoma City in February and assumed office in April. As such, constituents in Senate District 30, which represents western Oklahoma City and parts of the Warr Acres-Bethany area, get to choose his successor.
First up, however, Republican voters in SD 30 must decide their party’s nominee in a runoff election. In the June 26 Republican primary, a mere seven votes separated John Symcox and Lori Callahan, with Callahan barely holding the edge.
The winner between runoff candidates Callahan and Symcox will face Democrat Julia Kirt in November’s general election.
Callahan: Barring alternatives, ‘open’ to Medicaid expansion
Lori Callahan, 45, owns and operates a video production company with her husband. She also worked in health insurance for 17 years, experience she said will help her in the Senate.
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“I understand why we don’t do [the Medicaid expansion],” Callahan said. “But my problem with it is that we didn’t get any options in lieu of.”
Callahan said she would like to pursue other options before accepting the lower-income public health insurance expansion, but she said she is “open” to the expansion if there are no alternatives.
Callahan said she started volunteering with the Republican Party in 2004 and was president of a women’s club for about a year. She said voters in SD 30 are concerned about the transparency and sustainability of the state budget.
“I think there’s a continuing theme with the same thing we’ve heard for years, which is our budget,” Callahan said. “Some were very concerned about the teachers, about their kids, about their grandkids. And others were at a place where they were like, ‘OK, where’s the money going to come from?'”
Callahan said mental health and criminal justice reform are also priorities.
“This is dear to my heart, which is helping their kids pay their fees so they don’t get thrown back in prison, I’ve heard a lot about that,” Callahan said. “And just the mental health needs we have in Oklahoma.”
Callahan has worked as a substitute teacher in Oklahoma City and said she’s seen first-hand how mental health issues affect students in SD 30 (map below).
Symcox: State’s finances ‘relevant in every conversation’
John Symcox, 34, runs the financial services division of First Fidelity Bank, where he specializes in financial planning for businesses, nonprofits and churches. In an interview with NonDoc, he said the state’s financial woes compelled him to run.
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“We’re finding [concerns] about education and finance are about equal,” Symcox said of his conversations with voters. “The finance side has been relevant in every conversation.”
Symcox said government shares many qualities with businesses and nonprofits.
“There are so many aspects of government that my specific field has seemed to marry into,” he said.
Symcox described education, finance and corrections as the “three pieces of the puzzle” of state government. He said he was not in favor of Medicaid expansion.
“We do need to address the gap in SoonerCare and services available to those who can’t afford them,” Symcox said. “However, the burden on the state would be too much as it appears from my research.”
Symcox said he was proud of a favorable rating from the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association but expressed hesitation to adopt any organization’s full platform.
“There is nuance to everything,” Symcox said, “and to adopt a full platform of any organization, to me, kind of defeats the purpose of free thought in the marketplace of ideas.
“Oklahoma has to separate what we believe and make ourselves different than Texas, Kansas, Arkansas or even New York or California. So how do we have that discussion on how we make ourselves different?”
Communication crucial in final push
Moving forward, both candidates discussed how communication would be crucial to their efforts.
“The reality is our state is very old-fashioned in that we really value the personal relationship with folks,” Symcox said. “Door-knocking is typically the way you do that. So I’ve been out door-knocking on a regular basis.”
Callahan said she wants to maintain a similar level of communication with voters if elected.
“My message hasn’t changed,” Callahan said of her campaign’s efforts. “I’m still Lori. I go to the door and I meet you face to face and I want you to know me.
“I’ve been around long enough. I’ve volunteered and have seen that when you get into office, it’s not necessarily what you think it’ll be, and so I want to communicate and have opportunities for constituents to ask me questions.”
The primary-runoff election will take place Aug. 28.