Annie Menz and Teresa Sterling are running for Oklahoma's House District 45. (NonDoc)

East Norman residents voting in the House District 45 general election will choose between a former legislative assistant in the Oklahoma State Senate and a retired Oklahoma City Police Department officer who served nearly 30 years on the force.

Both candidates, Democrat Annie Menz and Republican Teresa Sterling, claim their experiences make them the best suited for the seat, which is currently held by Rep. Merleyn Bell (D-Norman), who did not seek reelection.

Having worked six years as an executive and legislative assistant in the state’s upper chamber, Menz — who faced no opponent in the June 28 primary election — says she would be ready to get to work immediately and argues she is more qualified for the job than Sterling.

“I have that advantage of knowing how things run up there, who key players are, and have worked to build relationships and connections that are still strong,” Menz said.

Sterling, who defeated Dave Spaulding in the Republican primary election, pointed to her 27 years with OKCPD, saying the experience she gained as an officer will carryover into her legislative duties.

“I started the sex offender registration program in Oklahoma City (…) and I’ve had a lot of interesting high-profile cases. I’ve had a lot of experience in a lot of different areas in life, and I just think my experience is more than hers,” Sterling said. “I’ve been solving people’s problems for nearly 30 years, or helping them with their problems, and I’m pretty good at it.”

Oklahoma’s general election is set for 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.

HD 45 candidates oppose OTA ACCESS project

HD 45 lies in east Norman, mostly spanning from East 12th Street out to the Lake Thunderbird area.

Both Menz and Sterling oppose the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority’s proposal to build toll roads in Norman as part of a 15-year, $5 billion statewide turnpike expansion program called ACCESS Oklahoma. There are two proposed roads for the Norman area. One would run through the Lake Thunderbird watershed and stretch from Interstate 40 to Purcell, while the other would run east-west along Indian Hills Road.

A grassroots organization that opposes the expansion, Pike Off OTA, counted 665 homes in the direct path of the proposed turnpikes and another 4,730 homes within half a mile.

The expansion plan was announced on Feb. 22, and affected residents were not notified about which homes would be demolished until late in the process. Menz said the OTA should have made more concerted efforts to communicate.

“People found out they were going to lose their homes on Facebook to the turnpike,” Menz said. “Having worked in the Legislature on the south side, I know that there are better ways to communicate with people.”

Sterling believes the construction of the turnpikes itself is illegal, and she said she will stand against it.

“At this point, the Legislature states they should all be built at one time under one bond issue, and so I’m going to fight for that,” Sterling said.

Candidates disagree on school choice, agree on nixing grocery tax

One of the most contentious bills during the 2022 legislative session was the Oklahoma Empowerment Act, authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat.

The bill, which narrowly failed in the Senate, would have provided parents access to an account containing the amount of money the state would pay for their child’s public education, which parents would be able to use for private school tuition or other educational expenses. One common objection to the bill was that it would take money from rural schools in areas where parents don’t have other options.

If the bill is brought back during the 2023 legislative session, Sterling wants rural schools to be protected.

“I am for school choice. My biggest issue with school choice is I want to make sure that the small schools — the rural schools — don’t pay the price and are hurt by it,” Sterling said.
“So I think we just need to look at the law and make sure that it doesn’t hurt our rural schools.”

In April, Sterling stated on Facebook that “critical race theory has set race relations back 100 years” and that she will “work tirelessly to make sure our children are protected from those ideologies, and the sexualization of our children.”

Menz said she would not take a specific stance on bills she has not yet read, but she said voters in House District 45 oppose school vouchers.

“I can tell you that after visiting with numerous voters on the doors — educators, stakeholders and parents — they have made it very clear that this district is square against vouchers,” Menz said. “So I will stand with them.”

Both Sterling and Menz support eliminating the state portion of the sales tax on groceries, saying it will help soften the impact of inflation on Oklahoma families. In May, Gov. Kevin Stitt called lawmakers into special session to do so, but ultimately, no measure was sent to his desk.

“I don’t know why people are so opposed to it,” Sterling said. “If we have the surplus that they say we do, if we can alleviate some, and make things a little better for people, I think we should definitely do it.”

Menz said she wants to make district residents’ lives easier.

“We’re struggling to put food on the table. So yes, if something like that comes up that will help the working families in my district, absolutely,” Menz said.

Menz: ‘You’ve had a Legislature riddled with extremists…’

Asked why Democrats should vote for her in a district Republicans have not represented since 2012, Sterling said the Democrats who previously held the seat were ineffective.

“So I say give me a chance, let me actually write some legislation, because they are not doing it,” Sterling said. “They are not writing anything that’s for regular people that will help regular, everyday folks or protect the elderly or the children.”

Sterling said she was first motivated to run after her mother died in a nursing home that Sterling believes was committing elder abuse, and she said she had a hard time getting in touch with legislators about the matter.

“So I decided I’ll go do it myself,” Sterling said. “I’ve got great legislation to write.”

Asked what she would say to House District 45 voters who want an outsider in the seat and may vote against her owing to past experience in the State Senate, Menz said staff members work in a “different capacity” than lawmakers and emphasized that her role was nonpartisan. Menz said partisanship plays a crucial role in determining the trajectory of the state, and she argued that the most difficult role to play within the Legislature is that of a moderate Republican.

“You’ve had a Legislature riddled with extremists, and they’re the ones in the driver’s seat. People often think that Democrats are to blame for a lot of stuff. We haven’t had a majority in a long time,” Menz said. “We don’t need any more extremists in the Legislature. We don’t need any more people who are just running because they want their name out there and they want more power.”

If elected, Menz said she would be the first Hispanic-American woman elected to the statehouse, which she called “an opportunity to make history.”

“In terms of representation, not only just for east Norman, but for an entire demographic, I think that’s impactful,” Menz said.