HD 70
Republican Brad Banks and Democrat Suzanne Schreiber are running for Oklahoma's House District 70 in the 2022 general election. (NonDoc)

Both candidates for Tulsa’s House District 70 say listening to constituents will be a top priority if elected, and both tout their willingness to have conversations across the aisle.

“The majority of people aren’t concerned all the time about the details of politics. They just want somebody that’s honest, hardworking, and at the end of the day, isn’t going to lie to them and is going to listen to them,” Republican candidate Brad Banks said in an interview. “Even if you don’t vote the way that they want you to vote, they just want to be heard.”

Though HD 70 doesn’t lean heavily toward either party in terms of voter registration numbers — Banks calls it “very, very blended politically” — the seat has been in Republican hands since 1989.

Democrat Suzanne Schreiber, however, is optimistic she can flip it.

“The point of knocking doors and the point of visiting with people is trying to really demonstrate an individual’s judgment and values,” she said. “And certainly there are people who say, ‘I don’t vote for Democrats’ and close the door, but then there’s Democrats who say, ‘I only vote Democrat.’ The more interesting conversations, to me, are people who want to talk about issues with you. And I think this district has actually been very open to that conversation.”

Located in the middle of Tulsa County, HD 70 is being vacated by Rep. Carol Bush (R-Tulsa), who was first elected in 2016 and who opted to pursue a run for Tulsa mayor instead of seeking reelection this year.

Oklahoma’s general election is on Tuesday, Nov. 8, and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Early voting runs from Wednesday, Nov. 2 through Saturday, Nov. 5. More details are available from the Oklahoma State Election Board.

Background on Banks and Schreiber

Banks was born in Ada and has lived in Tulsa since 2011. He owns a construction company and previously spent five years as the chief engineer at Tulsa Ports (also known as the Tulsa Port of Catoosa), where he oversaw operations of the 2,500-acre industrial park. Before that, he served in the U.S. Marine Corps and studied engineering at the University of Texas-San Antonio.

This is the first time Banks has run for office, though he said he follows politics closely.

“​​I stay pretty involved in what’s going on in community and state politics, just in terms of keeping my ear to the ground,” he said.

In 2017 and 2018, he got a crash course in the operations of the Legislature when he was involved in working to pass two bills aimed at streamlining shipping in the state, instituting changes that had been discussed for years.

“I decided before I left the port, since I had come to learn so much about it, that I wanted to do what I could to actually carry that across the finish line and get something done with it besides just, you know, studies and meetings,” he said.

Schreiber is an attorney and currently works at the George Kaiser Family Foundation, where she has been involved in fundraising for the Gathering Place and various policy issues related to the foundation’s mission of promoting equal opportunity for children.

Schreiber grew up in New Mexico but moved to Tulsa to attend the University of Tulsa, from where she also graduated law school. She practiced law for several years and clerked for Judge Terry Kern in the federal court for Oklahoma’s Northern District and for Judge Stephanie Seymore at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Schreiber is no stranger to the State Capitol herself, and she has been involved in various political campaigns. She served eight years on the board of education for Tulsa Public Schools before leaving to run for the House.

“I truly believe that there is a real importance to public service and for those willing to do it. It still has a place in society to kind of make our communities work,” Schreiber said. “I want to make sure we’re represented well and want to bring a reasonable, practical, experienced voice, but also someone who’s open and willing to learn.”

Education and infrastructure

Because of her past experience, Schreiber said education is a main area she would focus on as a legislator. And it’s an issue that she believes touches almost every area of life in the state.

“That is our workforce,” she said. “So we need to be investing in that from the very beginning.”

Among other measures, Schreiber said she would like to increase students’ access to career counseling and their exposure to different career options, to make sure teens “have some intentional time around thinking about their path in life.”

“There’s some really innovative things going on around the country that, if we were at a stable level of funding and there was an interest in investing more, I think would be realistic for Oklahoma,” Schreiber added.

She also supports performance-based incentives to address the teacher shortage and “getting rid of red tape at the state level that really makes it difficult or cumbersome to become a certified teacher.”

Earlier this year, TPS’s accreditation was downgraded because of a controversy stemming from HB 1775, a 2021 law that bans the teaching of certain concepts regarding race and gender in Oklahoma public schools.

Schreiber said she believes the attempts to regulate schools through HB 1775 are a red herring to distract from a larger conflict.

“I feel like it’s just a way to continue kind of achieving this agenda of discrediting public schools in the name of privatization,” she said. “To me, that is the ultimate goal of all of this. It’s not about indoctrination, or curriculum or anything else.”

Banks said education is one of his top issues as well.

“I think that there are some really great school districts out there that are doing a good job of, you know, utilizing assets from the taxpayers in a great way,” he said. “And I think that there’s districts out there that aren’t doing it as well. And I think TPS is probably in that latter category.”

Banks said he lacks a firm stance on whether private-school vouchers are a solution, saying he remains “open to any ideas at this point that can result in a better-educated student.”

“I will say this,” he added. “I’m a product of public school my entire life, and of that was in Oklahoma. I got a good education in a public school. I think we should be able to provide the same education that we did then. But I also think that there are some schools (…) that aren’t living up to those expectations with parents.”

He said he would also like to see schools put more emphasis on teaching practical and technical skills to equip students for vocational careers.

“We have been prepping our students that are going to college to go to college all throughout high school,” he said, “but we really haven’t been doing a lot to prepare our non-college graduates for the life that’s ahead of them.”

If elected, Banks said he would like to bring his experience in engineering and infrastructure to the Legislature.

“I would like to continue to see the state work with manufacturers and shippers in order to make the movement of manufactured goods in Oklahoma easier to get to market.” he said. “Many people don’t realize how important Oklahoma is as a manufacturing base, not only for itself, not only for the United States, but for countries around the world. My time at the port showed me that transportation is the one thing that oftentimes is outside of the control of the business in terms of cost that has to be passed on to the consumer.”

Banks said fairly technical and obscure regulations — such as laws governing the weight of shipping loads — can have enormous effects on companies moving goods across state lines, and having laws that are out of line with those of surrounding states can deter investment.

Other issues raised

Though Banks said his main areas of focus in the Legislature would be transportation and infrastructure, the topics do not appear among the issues listed on his campaign website, where he says he will focus on freedom of speech, the Second Amendment, education, restricting abortion and eliminating medical mandates.

Banks said campaigning over the past several months has been “an incredibly enlightening experience.”

“If I didn’t get out there and knock on all these doors, and talk to not just Republicans but independents and Democrats, I’m just walking in there with my opinion in my perspective,” he said. “And I would rather have a lot of different perspectives going in.”

In addition to education, Schreiber said she would like to work on increasing affordable housing and instituting good governance practices if she is elected. Her website also lists “jobs and the economy” and “rejecting extremism” among her top issues.

Most of all, she said, she wants to be involved in addressing issues that affect constituents.

“What I think makes a great legislator,” she said, “is someone who doesn’t really have an agenda but is there to solve problems and create opportunities and work with other people.”

Andrea DenHoed is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma and was formerly the web copy chief at The New Yorker magazine. She became NonDoc's managing editor in March 2020 and transitioned to a part-time role as features editor at the end of 2022. She departed NonDoc in 2023 to pursue an educational opportunity.