What Else Do Oklahomans Care About This Election Season?

A billboard advertises the services of Cordell Memorial Hospital’s only doctor and two nurse practitioners. (Jackie Fortier / StateImpact Oklahoma)

As the 2018 election season hits a fever pitch in Oklahoma, residents across the state are scrutinizing the credentials of the candidates. And with November 6 just three weeks away, some new political concerns are coming to light.

When Oklahoma’s public radio stations started the Oklahoma Engaged series this spring, there was one big issue center stage in Oklahoma: education.

While education is still a crucial issue, other topics are percolating. In Northeastern Oklahoma, it is again the issue of water quality.

Michael Patton is a well-known Tulsa environmental advocate. He is expressing concern over the sudden proliferation of chicken houses in eastern Oklahoma and the environmental hazards of chicken litter.

“I think the issue for me is: can we protect the water?,” Patton said. “I’m really concerned. If I could fix one thing, it would be that we respect our water and have laws that protect it for us.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Drew Edmondson has a lengthy history of fighting chicken litter in the water going back to his days as Oklahoma’s attorney general. But, the decades-old poultry industry lawsuit has yet to be settled.

Another issue gaining traction is a desire to curb special influence.

Avant’s Jeff Hemm wants to tighten term limits, which are currently 12 years for legislators and eight for executives. Hemm believes even tighter term limits would get special interest groups out of the pockets of elected officials.

“For the lack of a better term… I want to drain the swamp,” Hemm said. “I am a Republican and we have a Republican governor. But, I am so disappointed with her. The caree­r politicians are our biggest problem.”

Jeff Smith of Oologah also wants to see turn over, but worries tighter term limits would just speed up the same old problem.

“I think getting more ‘ordinary Joes’ into the legislature would help. It’s hard to say though, because they are going to get bought by the big oil companies too, like the current ones are,” Smith said. “So barring running big oil off, which Oklahoma can’t do… I am not sure the answer.”

An outsider to state government is the campaign cornerstone of Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Stitt, although you probably could not call the millionaire mortgage lender an ‘ordinary Joe.’

While taking a back seat to education in the last legislative session, health care is another issue coming to the forefront.

Tulsa’s Christina George is a trained trauma nurse, who used to live and work at the other corner of the state in Altus. She has great concerns about rural health care in the Oklahoma and says people put off seeking medical attention until it is too late because of a lack of a doctor or adequate health insurance.

When they were in my beds in the hospital, they were to the point where they had to be there,” says George. “And that is costly, that’s way more costly than somebody having access to a primary care (doctor) or a nurse practitioner.”

She thinks an easy answer is for nurses to be better utilized in Oklahoma.  Medicaid Expansion is also part of the equation. Edmondson favors it, while Stitt is opposed.

How will these issues play out in Oklahoma? We will know in three weeks.