HD 93
Mike Christian (left) represented HD 93 from 2009 to 2016. Rep. Mickey Dollens (right) currently holds the seat. The pair will face off on ballots Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (NonDoc)

The voters in House District 93 will be choosing between two familiar names on Nov. 3. The incumbent, Rep. Mickey Dollens (D-OKC), will be facing Republican Mike Christian, who held the seat before him, from 2009 to 2016.

Christian left the seat to run for Oklahoma County sheriff, a race he lost by a small margin to the long-time incumbent John Whetsel, who was under investigation at the time and resigned not long after. Christian made one more unsuccessful bid to become sheriff after Whetsel’s departure, but now his sights are set on returning to the House.

To do that, he’ll have to oust Dollens, a former football player and bobsledder who now serves as minority whip in the House.

The two men have spent years interacting with constituents in HD 93, which is situated in southern Oklahoma City. With just shy of three weeks to go before election day, they hope their efforts have made the people of the district feel heard.

Unconventional paths to politics

Mickey Dollens
Mickey Dollens works to shed a block during a game against Rice University. (Provided)

Mickey Dollens has a colorful resume.

In 2011, toward the end of Dollens’ time as a Southern Methodist University defensive lineman, his brother, who was 18 at the time, took his own life.

Partly motivated by the tragedy, Dollens tried out for the NFL, a dream his brother had always had for him, and failed. But his attempt caught the attention of the national bobsledding team, where he was a second pusher for three years.

After that, Dollens returned home to Oklahoma, where he got swept up in the then-booming oil industry and the bust that followed not long after, losing his job on a drilling rig as oil prices fell. He started teaching high school English, but then he lost that job in 2016 owing to cuts in education funding.

His life experiences, he said, opened his eyes to issues that pushed him to run for the Oklahoma House of Representatives.

“I had this time on my hands, and I had enough money saved up to be able to pay my mortgage,” he said. “So I thought, I’m going to run for office on better mental health services, on workforce readiness programs and on funding public education.”

These are issues he says still inform his 2020 platform.

Mike Christian, Dollens’ competition for the District 93 seat, also had a non-traditional start in politics.

He served as a highway patrolman for just under a decade, retiring because of injuries sustained in a traffic accident. After he recovered, he said several of his former colleagues encouraged him to run for office.

Christian mounted an unsuccessful bid for the HD 93 seat in 2006, but was elected in 2008 and would go on to serve four terms as a state representative.

In 2010, Christian was investigated for his rumored involvement in former Rep. Randy Terrill’s bribery of former Sen. Debbie Leftwich to not seek re-election, presumably so Christian could run for her Senate seat. However, Christian was not charged and did not end up running for State Senate.

Christian he considers his past in law enforcement to be one of his most important qualifications for office.

“I’m the law and order candidate,” he likes to say.

His time as a patrolman, Christian said, allowed him to see some of the challenges Oklahoma police officers face. While he believes most police officers are able to handle these challenges well, he said he thinks there should be some reforms

“You have to have them, but we need to weed out the bad ones,” he said. “They’re good people, but they could be better.”

sheriff debate
Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel hugs and bumps bellies with his 2016 opponent, Rep. Mike Christian (R-OKC) before their Tuesday, Sept. 15, debate. (Tres Savage)

The platforms

Christian said his background in law enforcement helps him understand what he considers to be a particularly salient issue in his community: high crime rates.

“The people here in south Oklahoma City, they want law and order,” he said. “It’s not necessarily that they like cops. Not all of them like cops, but they understand that we want to feel safe when we are home.”

Protecting police budgets, Christian said, is essential. However, he added there is room for improvement in the way investigations are handled in the state. If elected, he said he plans to introduce ideas that would streamline and clarify the jurisdiction of different agencies over certain types of investigations.

Christian said mental health and substance abuse issues were also brought to his attention during his past terms in the House.

“The Oklahoma City Police Department comes to me and says we’re having to deal with individuals, young men who are suffering,” he explained. “And either they end up taking their own life or we have to put them in handcuffs. They said, ‘Listen, we shouldn’t treat these guys, people who have an illness, like criminals.'”

Christian said he plans to bring up these issues during the legislative term should he get elected to office.

South Oklahoma City’s mental health infrastructure also concerns Dollens. The representative has filed several pieces of legislation pertaining to mental health resources, including a bill that would require public schools to print the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Crisis Text Line on the back of student ID cards. (The lifeline number is 1-800-273-TALK.)

Dollens said that while mental health and other issues he ran on in 2016 have remained important to him, his 2020 platform is primarily informed by the people he represents.

“Mental health, education and workforce readiness programs have affected me personally,” he said. “But as a representative in District 93, I’ve always made a real conscious effort to listen.”

In May, Dollens publicly criticized Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission for responding slowly to unprecedented unemployment rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dollens said he had been contacted by numerous constituents who were having issues receiving benefits.

“It was frustrating to hear the governor say one thing during press conferences earlier in the pandemic, and then you’re getting email upon email — hundreds of emails — expressing a different reality,” he said. “I wanted to be sure that I would, you know, first and foremost, have my constituents’ back.”

A constant effort to remain accessible

Both Christian and Dollens have several years serving House District 93 under their belts. They understand that in an urban community, it can be difficult to make yourself accessible to voters.

“In a metro area like Oklahoma City, you have a great deal of anonymity,” Christian said. “You don’t even know your neighbors that well, unlike in a rural area, where they know everything about you and your family.”

For both candidates, it is vital to ensure that constituents know how to get ahold of them.

“I helped a lady catch a opossum the other day. I helped a lady get in touch with the Oklahoma City Action Center to fix a pothole in her yard. Then, at the state level, me and my office help them, too,” Dollens said. “It’s all about communication and being readily available and willing to help.”

Dollens has made it a personal goal to ensure that all of his 37,260 constituents have access to his personal phone number. He even mails out birthday cards with his contact information.

Christian also wants to make sure HD 93 voters feel heard.

He has made it a point to knock on all the doors he can. Sometimes, he said, he even stops by four or five times.

“Yeah, I know the people,” Christian said. “I think it is really important to get out and meet and find out what the issues are.”

In two different interviews on two different days, Christian and Dollens both described  the job of representing District 93 the same way. The winner of the seat, they said, should be “an employee of the people.”