Once an Oklahoma governor himself, former OU President David Boren formally endorsed gubernatorial candidate Drew Edmondson this morning at the State Capitol, praising the Democrat’s “expertise” and “good judgment.”
Flanked by eight women and two children, the pair largely discussed Oklahoma’s education system, with Edmondson saying he recently completed an “education tour” during which he chronicled concerns from teachers, parents and administrators.
“Everybody is talking about education. There are think-tanks who come up with education ideas, but I thought it was important to talk to teachers themselves,” Edmondson said Thursday. “We are here to make sure they have the best product we can give them by fully funding education at all levels — pre-K through 12, higher education, career tech.”
Edmondson served as Oklahoma’s attorney general for 16 years, first being elected in 1994. That was the same year Boren left the U.S. Senate and was named president of the University of Oklahoma.
Edmondson thanked Boren for his support, recalling that when he was a freshman legislator Boren was a “freshman governor.” A powerful orator, Boren partially read from a prepared statement, saying “the future of Oklahoma is at risk.”
“I’m here today because I believe that this election for governor is one of the most important elections in the history of our state,” Boren said. “I urge all Oklahomans, regardless of party, to support Drew and bring change to our state.”
Edmondson faces Republican businessman Kevin Stitt and Libertarian Chris Powell on the Nov. 6 ballot. Stitt has emphasized his “outsider” nature on the campaign trail, but Boren criticized Stitt as “an amateur.”
“We cannot afford to guess,” Boren said multiple times. “We are talking about life-and-death matters for the future of our state. Would you want a brain surgeon — if you were having problems — that had never practiced medicine before or had not been trained as a doctor before, and he came in an amateur and we all had to guess, ‘Will my operation be successful being performed by someone who does not have this kind of background?'”
Asked how he differs from Stitt and Powell on education, Edmondson pointed back to April’s teacher walkout.
“Mr. Stitt has made his position very clear back in April — he would have vetoed the pay raise that was passed. He would have vetoed the revenue bill that passed,” Edmondson said. “He may say he supports education, but he said he would have vetoed the only bill on the table to (fund a pay raise).”
During an April forum broadcast on KOKC, Stitt said he would not have signed HB 1010XX — the more than $400 million revenue bill that more than three-fourths of the Legislature voted for — as passed.
Edmondson also chided Powell.
“Chris, the Libertarian who is running, would abolish the income tax, so I don’t think he’s in favor of getting additional funding for education,” Edmondson said.
Stitt released a statement roughly an hour after the conclusion of Edmondson’s press conference:
Since day one, I have called for teachers to be paid competitive wages, a key requirement for Oklahoma to become Top Ten in education. Over the past year, our state revenue has grown by more than $1 billion, and our economy is making a comeback. In the next few weeks, we will also begin to see the impact from tax increases passed earlier this year. Yet, my opponent is already calling for even more taxes on hardworking Oklahomans. In a Stitt administration, we will make it a priority to invest more in education, but it starts by assessing new state revenue at hand, diversifying our economy, and delivering accountability across our state budget.
Boren: ‘No such thing as a free lunch’
Boren’s tenure as university president ended earlier this year, and Thursday he expressed pleasure with his ability to “speak my mind” now that he is “freed my previous employment.”
Asked if he supports Edmondson’s call for the state to accept federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage for lower-income adults, Boren said he does.
“I think it goes back just to the fact that we need to invest in ourselves if we want other people to invest in us,” Boren said. “We have people in Oklahoma who have to go literally tens of miles — very long distances — to hospitals.”
The topic set Boren off on a four-minute discussion of politicians who he said spew contradictory rhetoric.
“I am very impatient with those who say, ‘Yes, I am for all these good things. I’m for improved transportation. I’m for improved health care. I’m certainly for improved education.’ (…) But they say, ‘I’m not for paying for it,'” Boren said. “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say, ‘Yes, I know we need those things. I know we need to be educating our children adequately. I know we need to provide access to health care. But by the way, I’m not for paying for it.'”
Boren said he believes Oklahomans “are more sophisticated for voters.”
“I think we understand things better,” he said. “We know there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you’re going to have lunch, you’re going to have to pay for the lunch.”
For Edmondson to prevail in November, he will have to overcome a voting deficit that has dogged Democrats in recent election cycles. To that end, Boren argued that voters should not vote for governor based on party affiliation.
“It’s not a partisan matter. The children we are talking about educating, we don’t say, ‘Are you a Republican or are you a Democrat?’ We say, ‘Are you a child with potential? We should develop your potential. We don’t care what political party your family belongs to.’ This isn’t a matter of party politics. This is a matter of doing what is right for Oklahoma.”
Edmondson said that “what is right” would be an education plan that goes beyond teacher pay and addresses class sizes, classroom resources and counseling or social work services for students.
“It’s not just about pay raises. It’s about the conditions in the classroom. It’s about the number of students they have to teach. It’s about their insurance going up so their pay raise gets partially eaten up. (…) It’s about not being able to take kids on field trips,” Edmondson said. “For goodness sakes, you remember the story about how they almost canceled the state science fair for a lack of $175,000.”
Edmondson said he still supports raising the gross production tax on oil and gas production to 7 percent, and he discussed his proposal for an additional $0.50 cigarette tax to add more revenue for education and other state services such as mental health care.
Those proposals have formed the basis for a third-party organization’s television ad that says “Drew Edmondson will take a wrecking ball to Oklahoma’s economy.” The Democrat brushed off the attack Thursday, urging voters to listen to his plans and not the Foundation for Economic Prosperity’s dark-money advertisement.
“Anybody who says we are just fine and we don’t need any additional help is whistling past the graveyard,” Edmondson said. “They are not going to move this state forward.”
(Update: This story was updated at 1:19 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 6, to include Kevin Stitt’s statement.)