attorney general
From left, incumbent Attorney General Mike Hunter and challenger Mark Myles. (NonDoc)

The two candidates for Oklahoma attorney general come from different backgrounds, but each stressed their desire to be an advocate for all Oklahomans during recent interviews with NonDoc.

Republican incumbent Mike Hunter, who took over the state’s top law enforcement post in February 2017 after then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt left to head the Environmental Protection Agency, has served numerous positions in state government. He has been a state representative, legal counsel for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, chief of staff for former Congressman J.C. Watts and Oklahoma secretary of state.

Hunter has also served in the private sector, and he said his dual experiences constitute some of his biggest qualifications.

“My background is I have close to four years experience as a private-sector lawyer, private-sector manager of large entities, and about the same number of years split between the public and the private sector,” Hunter said. “I would suggest the background experience and success I’ve had in the public and private sector command the review and attention of voters.”

On the other hand, Democratic challenger Mark Myles has spent most of his life in the private sector. He worked at the IBM Corporation for 21 years before finishing law school in 2008 and going on to practice administrative, criminal, family and civil law.

“We haven’t had a choice in the AG race since 2010. I firmly believe our democracy doesn’t work if people don’t have a choice, and I was committed to giving them a choice,” Myles said of his candidacy. “I believe I’m perfectly qualified to run for attorney general. I’m an attorney, for one. I’ve been a prosecutor, and I’ve been a defense attorney. And my background, while not entirely in the public sector, is one with a wealth of experience in the private sector.”

Pharmaceutical lawsuit focuses on opiates

One of Hunter’s main efforts as Oklahoma’s attorney general has been to bring a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for what he and many believes is their liability for the state’s opioid crisis. Hunter alleges that the companies — chiefly Purdue Pharma — peddled opiates without properly disclosing their addictive and deadly properties, leading to a sharp increase in addiction-related problems.

“This is, in many respects, a war for the hearts, minds and souls of Oklahomans,” Hunter said about the lawsuit. “Sometimes businesses do bad things, and this is one of those situations.”

Hunter said he’d like to reduce the supply of prescription opiates in Oklahoma as well as hold the companies financially responsible for damages. The damages include costs for corrections, law enforcement, treatment and rehabilitation.

Myles said he would continue Hunter’s lawsuit if elected.

“That lawsuit will live and die on its own merits,” Myles said. “If what it alleges is true and a jury of 12 Oklahomans think that’s the case, then Oklahoma stands to benefit.”

Myles mentioned several times that, as attorney general, he would stand up to special interests in an effort to serve and protect Oklahomans.

“I’m running to elevate the public’s interest over special interests and making sure special interests are held accountable,” Myles said. “And special interests aren’t being held accountable. We’re going to sharpen our focus on them. Because when they’re not held accountable they’re generally shifting the burden of what they do to taxpayers.”

Hunter expressed a similar belief about the attorney general’s duties.

“Magnetic north is keeping Oklahomans safe, and that’s the principle we use to make judgments every day about the decisions we have to make,” Hunter said.

Environmental concerns

Myles and Hunter both spoke about environmental quality, yet each candidate took a different perspective. Myles talked about his desire to strengthen the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.

“The DEQ has been, for lack of a better word, de-fanged,” Myles said. “Over the course of the last eight years, their budget’s been cut tremendously, and it’s certainly hard for them to do their job effectively.”

Myles said he believes federal environmental regulators should increase their efforts to protect the environment.

“I have actually said on the campaign trail, ‘Wouldn’t it be better if the state of Oklahoma sued the Environmental Protection Agency for not doing their job as opposed to suing them for doing their job?'” Myles said.

Hunter, on the other hand, praised DEQ’s performance. He also criticized Obama-era actions that reinterpreted federal EPA statutes to further regulate utilities’ power production plants. In particular, he discussed regional haze regulations, saying ratepayers would pay billions of dollars to fund it.

“The idea that states have no ability and aren’t effective or efficient with regard to preserving and protecting their environment is not consistent with facts,” Hunter said. “Oklahoma’s Department of Environmental Quality does an incredibly effective and efficient job in protecting Oklahoma’s environment.”

Candidates claim support from across the aisle

On Sept. 27, the Hunter’s campaign released a list of 26 prominent Oklahoma Democrats who support the Republican candidate. The Democrats for Hunter Coalition includes former Gov. George Nigh, former Gov. Brad Henry, former attorneys general Robert Henry and Mike Turpen, former Congressman Dan Boren, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, business leaders and other former elected officials.

Myles said Hunter’s endorsements were surprising but urged voters to consider his background.

“It wouldn’t at all be surprising to me that he leveraged some of his past relationships to get something out there that paints him in a favorable light,” Myles said. “I would say that I’ve got Republican support from a number of people out there that are obviously not people in office right now, but there’s support on both sides of the aisle for both candidates. It’s fair for him to leverage those things to the extent that I can leverage the relationships I have as well.”