CD 2 Republican runoff
Josh Brecheen, left, and Avery Frix, right, participated in a Republican primary debate for Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District on Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022, on News on 6. (NonDoc)

The Republican candidates for Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District, Rep. Avery Frix (R-Muskogee) and former Sen. Josh Brecheen (R-Coalgate), debated on Tuesday night, clashing over who is a bigger Trump supporter and what is the best way to reduce inflation.

The debate, hosted by News on 6, was held ahead of the Aug. 23 CD 2 Republican runoff after Frix and Brecheen advanced from a 14-candidate primary in June. Frix came in first place in the primary, with 14.74 percent of the vote, and Brecheen finished second, with 13.75 percent.

Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District covers much of eastern Oklahoma and includes cities such as Tahlequah, Claremore, Muskogee, McAlester, Durant and Bartlesville. The seat is being vacated by Markwayne Mullin, who is running for the U.S. Senate.

During the hour-long debate, the candidates compared their conservative credentials and addressed topics such as taxation, state-tribal relations and energy independence.

The winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Naomi Andrews and independent candidate Ben Robinson in the Nov. 8 general election.

Video of the CD 2 runoff debate is embedded at the end of this article.

Fixing inflation

The debate began with a series of questions on inflation and what can be done to give Oklahomans relief.

Frix suggested three actions: produce more energy domestically, balance the federal budget and “stop paying people not to work.”

“I’ve traveled 28 counties, I talk to small-business owners, and they say they can’t find anybody to work,” Frix said. “And the people that they can find to work don’t want to be on the payroll because they’ll lose their government assistance. That system is backwards.”

Brecheen blamed rising inflation on the federal debt. In particular, he pointed to projected Medicare and Social Security insolvency.

“We are so dependent as a society on free candy,” Brecheen said, “but all those checks that were sent in the mail, you just paid every one of them back through inflation.”

Responding to a statement that Frix had both balanced budgets and reduced taxes during his time in the Legislature, Brecheen said Frix had voted in favor of tax hikes 12 separate times. Frix called the criticism “dark-money half-truths.”

“(From) when I went into the Legislature to today, Oklahomans are paying less taxes, and I’m proud of that. Oklahoma is better off today than we were six years ago, and the only ones that would disagree are woke companies and the liberal left,” Frix said.

‘He’s gonna have to say the word Trump 12 times’

Later, when moderators asked about attack ads against both candidates funded by out-of-state groups, Frix once again referred to “dark money.” He blamed the School Freedom Fund, which is organized by the Club for Growth, as the source of mudslinging against him.

“I encourage you to look up Club for Growth and look what President Trump said about Club for Growth. They are anti-free trade, and they are a group that has allowed anti-Trump messaging,” Frix said.

It was one of many times throughout the evening that Frix mentioned former PresIdent Donald Trump, as Brecheen pointed out.

“It’s political theater. He’s been told to repeat the word ‘Trump.’ He’s gonna have to say the word ‘Trump’ 12 times during this discussion tonight to match the number of times he raised your taxes. He’s gonna have to say the word ‘President Trump’ three more times to match the number of years that he was a Democrat,” Brecheen said. “The dark money is the smears of trying to make me look like a liberal, and the truth is I’m the conservative in the race.”

Frix explained that he temporarily registered as a Democrat so that he could vote in a Muskogee County election that had no Republicans in a primary. Despite requests from the moderators to stay on the topic of campaign ads, the two candidates spent about 10 minutes accusing each other of not supporting Trump early enough into his campaign and presidency, as well as defending their own support of the former president.

Frix claimed he had heard from former Rep. Mike Christian (R-OKC) that Brecheen had refused to to endorse Trump during his presidential campaign, saying Trump was “too vulgar.” Frix said he would release a statement about the incident after the debate, but has made no update to his social media or website since.

Brecheen responded by saying, “the Bible says confirmation [requires] two or more witnesses” and that he would “love to find somebody else who’s not biased in that conversation.”

The candidates were next asked about whether they were willing to reach across the aisle in order to secure bipartisan support on legislation if necessary.

Frix answered first.

“I’m always willing to work with anybody who loves this country, but now we see over 90 members of Congress — last count that I heard — that go around the US Capitol building wearing a pen on their lapel that says ‘Socialist-Democrat,'” Frix claimed. “I can never sit across the table, I can never work with anyone who hates this country.”

Brecheen said he called “bull” on Frix’s answer.

“Ambition can cause you to do things that otherwise you wouldn’t do when the pressure’s on, but we have to love people,” Brecheen said. “The way that you influence someone is you love them. And you can have a disagreement — you still love them.”

Brecheen criticizes ‘lawlessness in eastern Oklahoma’

The two candidates had different opinions regarding tribal jurisdiction in the face of the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision, which has led to the recognition of Indian Country reservations covering much of eastern Oklahoma.

Frix characterized himself as “the candidate of law and order” and said he has heard from law enforcement officers and district attorneys throughout CD 2 about challenges they have faced in the wake of the ruling.

“But this can’t be an us-versus-them sort of a battle, because we’re never going to get anything done if it’s that way,” Frix said. “We’ve got to get everybody to the table and find real solutions to make sure everybody has equal protection under the law.”

Frix said it is important to address the issue through conversations between the state and tribal governments because, if Congress weighed in on the issue right now, he believes “under Pelosi’s leadership, we’re gonna allow people from California and other states to be making decisions about what happens here in Oklahoma.”

Brecheen took a firmer stance, saying that while he wants to treat tribes with “humility,” there is currently “lawlessness in eastern Oklahoma.” He added that although he is a Choctaw Nation citizen, he has not accepted any campaign donations from tribal nations. Frix is also a Choctaw Nation citizen.

Later in the debate, Brecheen told a story about a truck accident he had witnessed last week. A water truck, which Brecheen said featured tribal tags, had flipped onto its side. When the driver emerged, Brecheen said he “appeared like he’d had enough to drink.” Soon after, police arrived to the scene, and Brecheen asked an officer about his concerns regarding jurisdiction owing to the McGirt ruling.

“You never know, once these cases are turned over, what happens,” Brecheen said. “He told me about a child pornography case he’d handed over to the tribal courts. He’s never been subpoenaed on it. We’ve got to fix this McGirt issue.”

‘We’ve got to stand up and fight for that American Dream’

In his closing remarks, Frix talked about his grandfather, a prominent Muskogee construction company owner who taught him two main tenets: to value God and to have a strong work ethic.

“He said, ‘If you have the right work ethic, and you’re willing to work harder than everybody else, you can achieve anything you want to achieve.’ That’s the American dream,” Frix said. “We’ve got to stand up and fight for that American dream, fight to take our country back, or we’re not going to have a country where we can achieve that American dream. The liberals in Congress are wanting to redefine everything. They’ve redefined what a recession is. They’ve redefined what infrastructure is. They’ve redefined what a man and a woman is. We have got to get it back.”

Brecheen used his closing remarks to promote his integrity.

“My campaign is operating in truth,” Brecheen said. “There’s not something I’ve put out with my authorization on it that’s not truth.”

He touted endorsements from figures such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), former Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann and conservative author Stephen Moore as evidence of his character and credentials.

“You don’t have to worry when I get up there when I’m going to convert from outsider status into insider status, because my record tells you otherwise,” Brecheen said. “Records matter. Rhetoric is cheap.”

Watch the CD 2 Republican primary debate