Sen. Greg Treat and Andrea Stone will meet on the Nov. 3 general election ballot, but they have met before.
Stone, the legislative coordinator for the local Moms Demand Action chapter, has appealed to Treat on the topic of gun laws multiple times. Treat serves as Stone’s senator, and he also leads the Oklahoma Legislature’s upper chamber as its president pro tempore.
Now, Treat (R-OKC) faces Stone in his quest for a final term representing SD 47, a northwest Oklahoma City district shaped like a B-3 bomber. Treat first won the seat in a January 2011 special election following Todd Lamb’s departure from the Senate to become lieutenant governor.
“We’ve had cordial meetings,” Treat said of Stone. “She came up this session, actually, and met with me even after she’d filed against me.”
Asked for her personal assessment of Treat, Stone found positive words.
“I appreciate that he is an invested father,” Stone said. “I know that he tries to take off every Friday to spend time with his kids. I think we have commonalities as involved parents, so I appreciate that about him.”
But she also said she has been “disappointed” by Treat on the issue of state gun laws in particular and by his “right-wing” political leanings generally. She said SD 47 voters should not be afraid to boot out the Legislature’s top senator and send her to the State Capitol to serve in the small Senate Democratic Caucus.
“I think ultimately what impacts the voters and the folks in SD 47 is the votes that the person makes,” Stone said. “If the person is voting against the interests of the people in the district, that matters a lot.”
Treat: Education issue ‘magnified for my district’
Treat believes he knows and represents the interests of his district. A gregarious man and a self-described avid door knocker, Treat said he enjoys the grind of door-to-door retail politics, even with attempts at social distancing and other precautions necessary during a pandemic.
“My district is similar to other suburban seats in that everyone moved to my district for educational opportunities,” Treat said, noting Edmond, Deer Creek, Putnam City and Bethany Public Schools. “All those neighborhoods were really formed for educational opportunities. The big focus I saw on education during the walkout I saw magnified for my district.”
Treat calls the package of tax increases that the Oklahoma Legislature passed shortly before the 2018 teacher walkout the hardest vote he has ever taken as a lawmaker.
“It was divisive within my party. And the issues that SQ 640 brought about by really putting (then-House Minority Leader) Scott Inman in the driver’s seat as far as driving the negotiation, because of having to have his caucus’ votes, really perverted the process in a way I wasn’t used to dealing with,” said Treat, who was Senate floor leader in 2018. “It was a deeply emotional time. I had my kids following me around at the Capitol and having people yelling at me and scream as the kids walked by, it was a very difficult time.”
Stone says Treat “has a lot of special interest connections,” but he counters that he voted in favor of the tax package that hiked education funding.
“I think over all I’d give myself a good grade on it,” Treat said. “I wish it wouldn’t have come to the way it was arrived at, but the end solution ended up being the best we could do.”
Stone: ‘My perspective might be a little different’
A former collegiate debate coach who has worked at state institutions of higher education, Stone doesn’t give Treat good grades when it comes to representing the middle and lower income residents of SD 47.
“Sen. Treat is very busy advancing his own political career. He may have aspirations outside of the State Senate. That’s great, but I think ultimately having a career politician in the seat helps the district less,” Stone said. “I’ve tried to get on Sen. Treat’s calendar, and sometimes that is hard. He has lots of obligations. My single obligation would be to the district.”
Now an employee of Enable Midstream Partners, Stone said she believes her personal life as a mother making decisions based on limited family finances helps her understand the needs of many voters.
“I have lived a life where I have seen many months where I had no money at the end,” Stone said. “My perspective might be a little different than Sen. Treat’s. I think I’m just very grounded in reality when it comes to those populations.”
To that end, Stone pointed to one issue facing the Legislature next year as an important topic for SD 47.
“Making sure we get Medicaid expansion right is a big concern of mine,” she said. “I think that health care and the financial concerns related to health care are really harmful to low-income people. With the pandemic, people need to be able to get health care without thinking it’s going to bankrupt them.”
Stone supported State Question 802, which passed narrowly in June to mandate state Medicaid coverage for any adult earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.
Treat did not support the measure.
“I don’t believe that Medicaid expansion was the right path forward,” he said. “I think it’s extremely costly, and I do think that there was a better path forward on some free market deals. But that would require some changes in D.C. So, the voters voted for it, we will implement it and get it across the finish line.”
Treat said stabilizing and diversifying Oklahoma’s economy is one of his priorities.
“The real answer to poverty in my area is trying to create more quality jobs,” Treat said. “The economy is absolutely front and center on everyone’s mind. I’ve talked to people who have run small businesses or had sole proprietorships that are really suffering right now because of COVID.”
‘It’s so polarized’
While Treat is pounding pavement and knocking doors, Stone has eschewed door-to-door tactics during the pandemic, instead working with volunteers to make phone calls and digital connections with voters.
Of course, using technology to accomplish typically in-person activities during the pandemic is a hot policy topic of late, and Stone believes her background in employee training makes her as knowledgable as anyone about how virtual and distance learning models can be improved for schools.
“My experience with distance education and having a strong understanding of how we can do that right would be important in the state Legislature,” Stone said.
But Treat says he is also keenly aware of the issue.
“People are really concerned about their kids’ education because of the half virtual and the half in-person (balance),” he said. “I really deeply care about these things. I’m right in the middle of it right now with my three kids. I hear about it. The neighborhood pool is closed right now where I live, but that’s all I heard about (this summer).”
Another area where Treat and Stone agree concerns the modern political climate. In short, it’s not good.
“As you go to the door, it’s so polarized,” Treat said. “But when you start talking about issues, most Oklahomans see things the same way.”
Stone also pointed to polarization and an increase in vitriol, particularly online.
“I agree. I think our country is broken right now. I think we have to do better if we are going to have better government and better policy making,” Stone said. “I think there’s also a lot of misinformation on social media about all kinds of things, and it’s hard to know what the truth is when you’re in an echo chamber. In either a progressive echo chamber or a conservative echo chamber, your ideas are being reinforced. And if your ideas are wrong, they are being reinforced.”
Stone confrontation video goes viral
In mid-September, Stone found herself at the heart of a viral video that resulted in numerous news reports and a challenge to the theory that all press is good press.
In short, her teenage daughter was returning home from taking the ACT and saw people rallying on a street corner with patriotic and conservative messages, and she stopped to stage her own counterprotest with a “black lives matter” sign.
The confrontation grew heated, and bystanders began taking video. Eventually, Stone showed up to defend her daughter and was shown on camera having a heated discussion with a veteran who goes by the nickname Old Ranger.
“The veteran himself was not antagonistic. I believe he is a kind man. There were other supporters with him that, before I arrived on scene, called my daughter a baby killer, called her a racist, called her a bitch,” Stone said. “I don’t think she’s without blame in that situation, but grown men were verbally attacking a 17-year-old.”
Stone said the videos taken did not depict the entire interaction, and she offered an explanation for part of the encounter that drew criticism online.
“The group wanted us to shake the veteran’s hand. He was not wearing a mask, and my daughter is attending school and has definitely a risk of having COVID,” Stone said. “None of us felt comfortable shaking his hand, for his protection and ours.”
Stone said her daughter faced private consequences for the event, and she said she met with Old Ranger at a later date to clear the air after social media exploded with criticism, some of which became personal and hurtful toward Stone.
“He was really upset about the social media situation,” Stone said. “We cried, we laughed, and ultimately he told me that I was the first person that he felt like he could have a meaningful conversation with throughout all of this.”
She said the saga reconfirmed for her that people need to be able to have conversations with one another, something Treat agrees with. A longtime political staffer and campaign aide who learned under former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, Treat said he learned from his mentor “to be bold and stick to your convictions.”
“I saw the good that he did and saw that there is some good that can come through the political world,” Treat said of Coburn. “He always talked about how evil politics was, but I saw him personally use the political process for good, and I realized you could do good through this process.”
Treat says he views his role as Senate president pro tempore as “leader of the Senate, not just the Republican Caucus.”
“I’m going to be a fair arbiter,” he said. “I like people to disagree with me. I like having debates on the issues, and I enjoy having conversations that sometimes other people may not want to have.”
Stone said she hopes she can help balance out the Legislature, which she said is too heavily Republican.
“The Republican agenda in general can fly by. We are not getting that iron-sharpens-iron kind of process that would allow for better policy making,” she said. “Where we find the best policies and ideas is in the middle, and we are not finding that right now.”