Both candidates in the race for Oklahoma’s House District 56 have lived in or near the small town of Amber — population approximately 450 — for many years, and yet they have never met each other.
Neither had an explanation for why their paths have never crossed, but each implied that his own community involvement that was not to blame.
“Never met him,” Dick Lowe, who is running as a Republican, said about his opponent, Craig Parham. “He’s been mayor 19 years, supposedly, and I’ve never met the man. I hate to count the number of activities — I’ve been in schools for the past (…) 10 years that we’ve been involved, go to church here, and I’ve never met the man.”
Parham confirmed the peculiarity.
“We’ve never met, no,” Parham said. “I could go on that and bash him, but that’s not what I’m here to do.”
Without much to say about each other, Lowe and Parham are both focusing on pitching themselves to voters, highlighting their community involvement and professional experience as they go out knocking on doors and talking to constituents.
House District 56, which covers Caddo, Grady and Kiowa Counties, has been represented since 2013 by the current minority floor leader, Rep. David Perryman (D-Chickasha), who decided not to seek re-election this year.
A focus on rural issues
Lowe said that, in his mind, the biggest issue facing HD 56 is economic dependence on the energy industry.
“We can’t raise prices on fuel or oil,” he said, “but we need to be able to figure out ways that we can maybe quit being quite so dependent on the energy industry.”
Still, he acknowledged that moving away from oil and gas is easier said than done, and he added lawmakers will need to be careful as they set up incentive programs to attract new businesses.
“We have to be careful as we bring industry in. We want industries that are sustainable,” he said. “We don’t want them coming in and [pulling up stakes] every time things change a little bit. (…) We need to bring industries in that can stay, have sustainability, and go along with our morals and ethics of our area also.”
Lowe said his other top policy priorities are supporting the agriculture sector and expanding the reach of rural broadband services.
Parham, meanwhile, said his top priorities are health care, rural infrastructure and services, and education.
“We’ve got people that have to drive 70 miles to get to a hospital in my district,” he said. “The constituents passed [State Question 802, to expand Medicaid]. Now we’ve got to make sure that money’s spent in the right locations.”
Parham noted that he was “the only candidate in the race” that supported State Question 802.
“Doing what’s right isn’t a difficult concept,” he said. “I’ll demand transparency in spending, hold government accountable to the people and I’ll work to increase classroom funding so our kids are prepared to compete in the real world and bring our tax dollars back from Washington to be put to use locally.”
Town and country
Lowe, who hasn’t held elected office before, said voters should choose him because he’s “very conservative” and “an old country boy” with “cowboy common sense.”
“We can’t go with every time the wind blows and some group wants to do something,” he said. “We need to stay with the way Oklahoma has been, with our conservative values, our moral values, our spiritual values.”
Lowe’s professional experience includes time as a rancher and as a teacher. He currently works as a workforce development coordinator at Canadian Valley Technology Center, a job that he says equips him to develop businesses in the district effectively.
“I work with small businesses every day,” he said. “I understand what they need, what their desires are and how we can help to make them successful.”
Parham has been mayor of Amber for 19 years, and he says that experience will make him a particularly effective representative of the district.
“Southwest Oklahoma’s getting left behind,” he said. “What they think works for the metros, it doesn’t work for us in these rural communities. We’re losing our hospitals, our schools, our family farms, our industry. When a town loses a school, we lose the town. I want to be the voice — 20 years of being mayor, I know what these small towns need.”
Parham discussed his accomplishments as mayor.
“There’s been so many things I’m proud of,” he said. “A new community center, expanded fire department, town offices, new cemetery, new water tower. The list goes on and on. None of it happened overnight. It took bringing the community together, listening to each other, doing what’s right for the town as a whole. We need some of this same type of leadership in the State Capitol.”
Even though Parham and Lowe haven’t met face to face, they will face off at the ballot box in the general election on Tuesday, Nov. 3.