Four Republican candidates for the vacant House District 39 seat in Edmond participated in a candidate forum this afternoon at the University of Central Oklahoma, where they discussed their platforms and their thoughts about Gov. Kevin Stitt during his five years in office.
Despite 10 candidates running in the special election for HD 39, only Cris Price, Dr. Ross Vanhooser, Kristen Ferate and Ronda Peterson attended the forum, which was hosted by the Edmond American Business Club.
All 10 candidates in the race were invited, said Wayne Pettigrew, a former Republican House member and the chairman of the speaker’s committee at Edmond’s AMBUCS Club. Pettigrew said Regan Raff and Paul Timmons declined to participate, while Erick Harris said he could not participate as he was attending a funeral. Harris sent a video in lieu of his attendance.
The special primary election is set for Dec. 12, and in the seven-person Republican primary, the first-place finisher will advance without a runoff. The special general election is scheduled for Feb. 13, which falls in the second week of the 2024 regular legislative session. As voter registration applications must be submitted 25 days prior to any election in Oklahoma, residents of House District 39 must register to vote by Nov. 17 to participate in the special primary.
The House District 39 boundary stretches as far north as Waterloo Road and runs south to 15th Street in Edmond. The district has Bryant Avenue on the eastern boundary and Western Avenue on the western boundary.
‘I think Oklahoma could use more ladies in the room’
Prior to candidate introductions at Friday’s forum, a video from Erick Harris was played, in which he distanced himself from the Democratic Party.
“I’m a Republican by choice, and I say by choice, because like 90 percent of African Americans, my family are Democrats, and that’s what I was taught to believe,” he said.
In the video, Harris said he discovered that he agreed with Republican values after attending a Democratic National Convention.
“I heard the most pie-in-the-sky ideas and lies from Barack Obama, which led me to the realization that the Democratic Party’s views do not align with my own views,” Harris said. “Those views and beliefs include supporting traditional, conservative, Christian family values, valuing law enforcement, and the sound belief that government should be limited and does not know best — people do.”
Kristen Ferate, who introduced herself first, said she is a “longtime community volunteer.” Ferate has served as a member of the Edmond Historic Preservation Trust since August 2022 and has volunteered for several nonprofit organization.
“I’m obviously a fan of history, and you know Margaret Thatcher said that Ronald Reagan was at his best when there was a lady in the room,” Ferate said. “Well, I think that there’s a lot to be said for that. I think Oklahoma could use some more ladies in the room.”
If elected, Ferate said she would focus on attracting businesses to the state and cutting taxes.
“When you look at our savings in our state, we have a $500 billion savings account,” Ferate said, misrepresenting the state’s cash reserves by a factor of 100. “Now I’m not saying savings are bad, but I think we can look at income tax. We can look at the grocery tax, which is something I personally feel every Friday when I go to Crest.”
Ronda Peterson, an Edmond Public Schools’ bus driver, said she is running for HD 39 because she believes in a “citizen legislature.”
“I am not an attorney. I am not a doctor. I am not a high-powered executive. I am regular Ronda, and I am very proud to say that I am a school bus driver,” Peterson said. “If I can get behind the wheel of that school bus with a busload of 50 to 60 middle school students, navigate these streets of Edmond — and we all know how horrible traffic is in Edmond, I think we’ve all experienced that — manage that bus well, get those students home safely and do that for over 21 years, there is nothing that I can’t handle at our State Capitol.”
Before echoing Ferate’s comments on tax reform, Peterson said education is “near and dear” to her.
“Our students need to get back into that classroom learning, reading and writing and math, true history — the good and the bad — fact-based science, civics,” Peterson said. “Despite what Joe Biden says, our children do not belong to the government.”
Cris Price, president and CEO of Price Mortgage Group LLC, said state legislators need to focus more on working together.
“I think right now at the state, we’re worried so hard right now about how Republican we are and how Democrat we are, and there’s so much infighting that we’re not doing what we were supposed to do when we got there — and that’s to listen to one another.” Price said.
Price said that he is not a politician, nor a public speaker.
“But I am willing to get out there, and I’m willing to walk away from a company that I started in 1998, and I’m willing to say, ‘Hey, you know what, let’s fix some things.'”
Slew of candidates file for House District 39 special election by Joe Tomlinson
Dr. Ross Vanhooser, a physician for more than three decades, closed out the introductions by noting the numerous jobs he’s worked throughout his life to the business-oriented AMBUCS club. Vanhooser said he’s worked as a paper boy, a Sonic carhop, a busboy at restaurants and a janitor.
“I tell you that because I know that you are business people and you understand what it takes to risk your capital to work the hours to have to mess with the federal government and state government when it comes to OSHA requirements, liability concerns, insurance and long-term care for your people in terms of retirement benefits,” Vanhooser said. “All those things I’m sensitive to because as a private practice physician for 31 years, I’ve had to deal with a lot of that, not on the same scale, but certainly had to deal with it.”
Vanhooser said there is no simple solution for the education system in the state, but he said students should know college is not the only option.
“I believe that not everybody needs to go to college,” he said. “Trade schools, career techs are an important part of what we’re doing, but we need to have quality, high-level graduates and degrees that mean something, because that’s going to bring the businesses to Oklahoma.”
Follow NonDoc’s Edmond coverage
HD 39 candidates discuss Gov. Kevin Stitt
Following introductions, Pettigrew asked candidates to describe how they agree or disagree with Gov. Kevin Stitt on topics.
Vanhooser said he voted for Stitt in the 2022 election, but he said he disagreed with Stitt’s approach to negotiating with tribal nations.
“I agree with him on the need to try to make our state more attractive by lowering taxes. I disagree a little bit with his communication skills with the tribes,” Vanhooser said. “I think there has been a real disconnect there.”
Price agreed with Vanhooser’s assessment, saying that Stitt’s messaging on tribal relations needs improvement. Price added that he has a relationship with Stitt through business.
“He’s a mortgage guy. I’ve known Kevin longer than most, and I’ve dealt with him in business for years, and we have a great relationship. That being said, I voted for Todd Lamb (in 2018),” Price said. “It’s hard to vote for everybody you love. You only get one, so that’s why you should vote for me.”
Peterson said she feels let down on the topic of state agencies being audited.
“I remember him saying that he was going to audit agencies, and I did not see it happen like the way I thought it should happen,” Peterson said. “If we started to audit those agencies, we could find the waste that is there.”
Ferate, who was appointed by Stitt to the Oklahoma Department of Libraries Board, said she is proud of his track record regarding education, but she said she wishes the governor would work more closely with the House of Representatives.
“I can tell you that black and white is not always a good thing. Sometimes we need to be in the grey, and we need to make concessions and get along,” Ferate said. “I would encourage the governor to work with the speaker of the House to do what’s best for the people of our state.”