SD 3
Republican Blake "Cowboy" Stephens, left, and Democrat Dyllon Fite, right, are vying to represent Senate District 3 in the 2020 general election. (Provided)

Dyllon Fite is running to represent Oklahoma’s Senate District 3, but as of Oct. 21, his campaign did not appear to be officially registered with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission. Meanwhile, his opponent, Blake “Cowboy” Stephens, is capitalizing on momentum after unseating incumbent Sen. Wayne Shaw (R-Grove) in the Republican primary.

According to Oklahoma Ethics Commission rules, all candidates must register their campaigns within 10 days of raising or spending $1,000 or more. Following registration, campaigns must file regular reports detailing contributions and expenditures.

In an Oct. 15 phone call, Fite said that when the first filing deadline passed, he had not met the $1,000 threshold required to file. He was apparently referring to the deadlines for the required regular finance reports, which are separate from the 10-day registration deadline.

“I’m working on Ethics Commission stuff,” Fite said. “I’ve done most of my campaign grassroot campaign, but on the 20th is the next filing, so I should have everything released then.”

But as of Oct. 21, with less than two weeks until the Nov. 3 election, the campaign did not appear in searches of Ethics Commission records, although Fite had said he’d passed the $1,000 mark.

“I don’t know the exact number, but I don’t believe I’ve raised over ten grand.” Fite said. “A lot of it is just me, hands-on, doing my thing.”

According to a representative of the Ethics Commission, when a candidate fails to meet the filing requirement, the commission has discretion to either impose a fine or take the case to district court.

Stephens, who briefly ran for governor in 2018, drubbed Shaw in the Republican primary election June 30 with 60.4 percent of the vote. Shaw had represented SD 3 since 2012.

Fite didn’t face a challenger in the Democratic primary.

SD 3 lies in far eastern Oklahoma, along the Arkansas border, and encompasses areas in Adair, Cherokee, Delaware, Mayes and Rogers Counties. Residents of SD 3 will have the opportunity to elect their new senator in the general election Nov. 3.

SD 3
Senate District 3 in northeastern Oklahoma will feature a new senator for the 2021 legislative session. (Oklahoma Senate)

The man of many hats and the new kid on the block

Stephens grew up as third-generation roper and graduated from Sapulpa High School as FFA president. He then attended Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College on a livestock judging scholarship. From working on the assembly line at Mars Inc. to serving as a residential therapist at the Cherokee Nation to managing Lee’s Glass Company, he said he knows the grind of earning a dollar.

Stephens went on to earn a graduate degree in counseling from Northeastern State University, and for the past 25 years he has worked as a counselor for Locust Grove Public Schools. Currently, Stephens lives in Moodys, Oklahoma, north of Tahlequah where he runs a cattle operation while continuing to work as a counselor for Locust Grove.

“I’m a man of faith and a man of my word,” Stephens said. “I’ve never defaulted on a loan or missed a payment in my life. I was taught by some great parents and grandparents that taught me responsibility.”

Although his 2018 campaign for governor only lasted 10 weeks, Stephens said has used what he learned to run his SD 3 campaign. He said he decided to run for the State Senate because he felt Shaw’s voting record, specifically regarding education, was “unacceptable.”

“The door of my heart had been knocked on for the last time with people asking me to run for office,” Stephens said during a phone interview. “I prayed for a year after I lost that election, but I still wanted to help make a difference.”

Fite grew up in Cookson, Oklahoma, and was raised by a single mother. Fite said he has been involved with politics since he “was knee high” because of his family’s history of political involvement.

“My grandfather ran for county commissioner, and my great-great-grandmother is actually in the Cherokee Hall of Fame,” Fite explained. “She was one of the first Native American female Democrats in the state of Oklahoma.”

He said his upbringing took the proverbial village.

“We’re a small community, so a lot of folks has actually helped raise me,” Fite said. “I figured this would be the best way to give back to my community and others around me.”

Fite graduated from Keys High School and is 28 years old. He said that although he is young, he feels it is necessary to take a stand and work for his community. Currently, Fite is working with the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians to open a brew house in Tahlequah.

Platform points: Education, rural communities, child abuse

Stephens said his top issues are education, agriculture, infrastructure and business.

“I was advocating at the Capitol for the teacher walkout, and we got the teacher pay raise, but we’re still in trouble,” Stephens said. “We’ve got to turn this thing around.”

One of Stephens’ main concerns regarding education is the “massive exodus of teachers” from the state. He said his goal is to increase the teacher to student ratio and provide teachers the support they need.

In addition to education, Stephens said he hopes to “increase the business industry” to increase local jobs and revenue. He also wants to improve upon the multitude of deteriorating two-lane roads and highways in SD 3.

Stephens also plans to create partnerships with the local tribes to find common ground solutions to local problems.

“I live in the heart of the Cherokee Nation,” Stephens said. “I’m excited about working with tribes.”

Like Stephens, Fite listed education as his top campaign issue, followed by the needs of farmers and ranchers and children in abusive situations.

“I think it’s time to reform education,” Fite said. “We have two things that never change in this country, and that’s church and schools.”

Fite said he hopes to counteract how short-staffed Oklahoma school systems are and keep the average classroom size to fewer than 20 students.

If elected, Fite said, he would also prioritize decreasing the poverty rate in rural communities and advocating for children in abusive situations.

Fite said he’s particularly concerned about poverty in SD 3’s rural communities. In Adair County, for instance, the poverty rate is 24.6 percent, according to numbers from the United States Census Bureau, compared to a statewide rate of 15.2 percent.
“It’s crazy that there are parts of Oklahoma you can go to and see Third World poverty,” Fite said. “We’re supposed to be the United States of America, not a Third World country.”
Fite said that addressing the high rates of poverty in SD 3 must be a priority partly because the poverty rates put a tax burden on local farmers and ranchers. He believes cutting poverty will then make it possible to cut taxes.
“I feel like rural issues in the state of Oklahoma are always pushed to the back, and we’re a rural state,” Fite said. “Our ranchers and farmers are taxed to death and have to foot the bill, like for our schools.”

Fite said his commitment to helping abused children comes from experience.

“Child abuse is huge for me because I myself am a survivor of child abuse,” Fite said.

According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, the number of child abuse and neglect cases in Oklahoma rose annually from 2010 to 2015, with 15,252 cases filed in 2015 alone. Since then, cases of child abuse have steadily dropped, but cases of child neglect have steadily increased, according to Oklahoma Watch.

Fite said he is appalled with the lack of attention politicians give to children in abusive and neglectful situations. He hopes to reform the Oklahoma Department of Human Services and the foster-care system, including more thorough vetting for foster placements and mental health checkups to ensure that the abused children don’t become abusers.

‘No mudslinging’

Both candidates said they are proud to have run a campaign free of mudslinging, but they both also expressed discontentment with their competitor.

“As far as my opponent is concerned, I’ve always been taught that if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say it,” Stephens said.

Fite took a similar route, saying that he’s proud to have kept the campaign trail clean but expressing concerns about Stephens’ priorities.

“I’m the one who focuses on issues, and he focuses more on him as a person,” Fite said. “I fly the Oklahoma flag and my opponent flies the Blake Stephens flag.”

Stephens countered by pointing to his experience working with the residents of SD 3. He said he is only two years away from retirement, but he put time for himself aside in an attempt to better the lives of SD 3 residents.

“My background gives me a wealth of knowledge to relate with people and where they’re at,” Stephens said. “I’d love to work with people.”

Fite said he hopes party divisions don’t stand in the way of voters electing the best candidate.

“Ultimately,” he said, “we need to stick together, look past party and vote for the individuals.”