Republican voters in House District 96 will be electing its next representative during the Aug. 25 GOP runoff election after the race’s lone Democrat dropped out well in advance of the Nov. 3 general election.
Preston Stinson and Margaret Best were the two Republican candidates who emerged from a four-person GOP field following the June 30 primary election, with only a small gap between them. Stinson came out as the leader with 35 percent of the district’s votes, but Best followed closely behind, earning 31 percent.
Following professional photographer and Democratic candidate Nicol Ragland’s quiet exit from the race July 23, Stinson and Best face only one more hurdle before one of them is set to officially represent the eastern-Oklahoma County district. The seat is open owing to Rep. Lewis Moore (R-Arcadia) reaching his maximum term limit of 12 years in office.
Best has worked as both a registered nurse and an Edmond real estate agent. Despite her lack of political experience, she said her health expertise will be valuable as the state continues to push through COVID-19.
“Obviously I have a health care background, which (Stinson) doesn’t, and I feel it can be a real asset going forward, especially in light of the health care concerns we’ve got and how those are affecting just life in general,” Best said. “I’m not a politician, but I really felt a calling to get in this race. It just was the right time in my life where I felt like there was an opportunity to serve the public and make a difference.”
Stinson said he got into the race “at the last minute” after considering whether he should run at all. He felt his financial expertise and experience with business could help Oklahoma quickly recover from COVID-19’s economic impact.
“When I was approached about (running), my thought was that maybe this is the right time for somebody to step up with a small business background and an MBA and somebody with some business experience and education,” Stinson said. “Both to see what we can do to help get the economy turned back the right direction in the short term, and then longer term look at what we can do to diversify the economy.”
Both are political newcomers and small business owners who support Second Amendment rights. Best and Stinson each adhere to traditional conservative platforms, but Best says that she is the “more conservative” candidate specifically citing her hard-line stance on abortion compared to her opponent.
Right and right-er
Best said voters can expect her to lean farther right than her opponent on the issue of abortion. Although both candidates describe themselves a pro-life, according to Stinson’s website he acknowledges exceptions in the case of incestuous pregnancies, rape or in cases where the mother’s life is endangered.
Best said she does not support exceptions.
“I am unapologetically pro-life, which is very important to me as a Christian conservative, and I feel like we really differ on that. I think you’re either pro-life or you’re not pro-life and he has a list exceptions,” Best said. “I think when you start making exceptions then you’re devaluing the life of the human.”
Beyond abortion exceptions, another point of divergence in the candidates’ similar platforms lies in their economic priorities. Best’s campaign website acknowledges energy as “the lifeblood of Oklahoma’s economy” and supports further bolstering the sector. If elected, Stinson said he would like to see more effort expended to diversify Oklahoma’s economy and see other sectors shoulder the burden of supporting the state financially.
“We’ve had over 100 years now of reliance on the oil and gas industry to carry a lot of water for us on on balancing the state budget, and every 15 or 20 years there’s an oil price collapse and it leads to budget shortfalls, and we all kind of panic (…) We need to learn our lesson and not put all our eggs in one basket again,” Stinson said. “One of the things I really want to do is try to figure out what we can do to diversify the economy away from being so heavily dependent on oil and gas and quit asking that industry to bear the burden of balancing our budget every year.”
Oklahoma’s location makes the state poised to become a national leader in manufacturing and shipping, Stinson said, if the state is made more attractive to businesses in those sectors.
“We are right in the middle of the country. We have real cheap land. We sit right at the crossroads of three major interstates that cross the continent,” Stinson said. “And so I just think, ‘Why are we not the obvious destination for our manufacturing and shipping and receiving type of industries?'”
Best boasts business experience of her own, having worked as a real estate agent in Edmond. She said her understanding of the struggles small businesses can face and her experience in public health as a registered nurse have given her a unique perspective on sacrifices made in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She added she did not support the closures that many businesses were subjected to in the early stages of the summer, believing it is an individual’s responsibility to look after their health.
“I think every business is essential, in my opinion. I don’t know how you can tell one business they’re not essential,” Best said. “As a registered nurse, I believe we should use our common sense when it comes to any type of virus. Stay home. If you’re having to go out, wear a mask. Those are just basic health care regimens we should be following regardless of what type of virus is out there.”
Best also expressed concern that a potential COVID-19 vaccine may be mandated by the government when it is developed, adding she feels similar mandates for masking are an unconstitutional overstep by the government.
“I believe in self-government. I believe that we should have a choice,” Best said. “I’m not against vaccinations, so I don’t want that to come across that way, but I believe we should have the choice to vaccinate or to not vaccinate.”
Remember rural residents
Stinson and Best each acknowledged different challenges the ongoing pandemic has presented residents of rural Oklahoma.
“In health care. I’m a registered nurse and I see and hear of hospitals, especially in rural Oklahoma, really struggling if not shutting down altogether,” Best said. “That’s a real concern, getting, accessible and affordable health care and not just basic (health care). I want quality health care in rural Oklahoma, not just the urban areas.”
Best said while she did not personally support the passage of State Question 802, she acknowledged that Medicaid does some good for low-income and rural communities.
Stinson emphasized the economic shortfalls that could affect rural Oklahomans without adequate access to internet, especially as many across the nation have continued to work from home when possible due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’ve got to figure how to get high-speed internet into a lot of the rural areas. People think that getting high-speed internet is an issue and when they’re thinking the rural areas, they’re thinking somewhere in the far corners of Oklahoma. But I’ve got employees that live in eastern Oklahoma County and have no access to internet service at all other than by hotspotting off of their phone,” Stinson said. “Who wants to move here when they have employees that have no internet access, especially in an age of working from home as many currently are?”
Stinson also said continuing to support maintenance and expansion of major and minor roads would be vital in keeping travel smooth throughout all regions of the state, as well as making Oklahoma attractive to businesses.
“If part of our draw is that we are centrally located, and there’s good ingress and egress to facilities, we’ve got to continue to focus on funding all of our roads and not just our interstates and state highways,” he said.
Should Stinson be elected, he would not be the only state employee in his household. Stinson’s wife, Sheila, was appointed as an Oklahoma County District Judge in mid-July after previously serving as a county special judge.
Stinson said his spouse was always far more politically involved than himself, but they quickly found her employment as a judge meant she had to remain far removed from his campaign.
“What I thought when I decided I would run was, ‘Man, that’s great. She knows a lot of stuff about politics, and she knows a lot of people. So that’ll be a great help,'” Stinson said. “But we’ve really had to create sort of a barrier in our house between my campaign and our private lives. Not only has it not really been a benefit, I’ve kind of been operating at a disadvantage.”
The limitations of his wife’s involvement even caused confusion around the simplest displays of support, including yard signs, Stinson said.
“We came to realize that because she’s a judge, there are a lot of ethical limitations on what she can do. There was a question about whether or not we could put a yard sign in our yard supporting my campaign, because she can’t take any kind of a public position,” Stinson said. “She can’t donate money to any political causes. She can’t tell anybody who to vote for or who she voted for, or issue any sort of statements like that.”