The Last Candidate Forum

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This final candidate forum was hosted by the Lawton Chapter of the League of Women Voters (LWV).  It was set up differently than the last one, with 5 minutes for each candidate to introduce themselves and the rest of the time given to the audience for questions.

The candidates were Larry Bush and John Montgomery for House District 62, Jacobi Crowley and Rande Worthen for House District 64, Johnny Owens and Richard Strickland for Comanche County Commissioner, Caleb Davis and Michael Dixon for Ward 3, and Jay Burk and Jody Maples for Ward 5.  Strickland was said to have been called away, and thus the sole candidate not present.  Burk lacks a website or campaign Facebook page, so I didn’t have a link for him.

The Short of Things

The intros were fairly predictable.  All of the candidates either spoke about themselves or their policies, or both.  All of them thanked the LWV for hosting the forum.

I asked the first question, which pertained to the destruction our federal drug policy has wreaked in poor and especially minority communities.  I asked if they would support decriminalization, but though I wanted answers particularly from our city council candidates (since 34 other U.S. cities have already decriminalized marijuana), it was the state house candidates that answered first, and the city council candidates just looked at me while the lady ushering audience members with questions around urged me away from the microphone.

Bush and Crowley both favored some degree of justice reform where drugs were concerned.  Worthen and Montgomery did not.  Worthen still thinks cannabis is a gateway drug, and Montgomery was only concerned with the cost of rehabilitation and mental health versus simply imprisoning them.  I guess his pro-life stance ends at birth.

Beautification Question

The next audience member was a lady interested in making Lawton prettier.  What can I say about this?  Our national government is sinking our country and our municipality is a lifeboat in need of repair, and people are concerned about the length of grass and the color of flowers.

I did learn from Caleb Davis that we have 88 parks in Lawton, apparently more parks per capita than any other city in Oklahoma, and many don’t even have anything on them any longer.  Can anyone say…community gardens?

Veteran Programs Question

Next a retired military man asked what they were going to do for military vets.  Specifically, for landing them jobs over other non-vet job seekers.  The answers (from state level candidates) were mostly predictable.  Gratitude for service rendered, for example.  Bush mentioned a few rough ideas he’d had for increasing their employment, including hiring them as security in our high schools….which I’d suggest is less than a great idea.  I missed Montgomery’s answer, or maybe it was just too mumbly.  Crowley brought up helping veterans transition into new jobs by offering them the education to add a skill set, since the one they learned in the military is oft not applicable (such as blowing people up).  Worthen pointed out that there are already many great programs for veterans.

Any Jailbirds Here Today?  Oh, and domestic abuse.

Weirdest question of the evening came from an army lt. whose name I didn’t catch.  He asked if any of the candidates had been in jail in the past ten years and what was their stance on domestic abuse.  Usually with two part questions one has something to do with the other.  Anyway almost all the candidates said the exact same thing – no, and ‘zero tolerance.’  It would have been more entertaining had they said it in unison.  Maybe next time.

Worthen was no different, but did begin his answer by pointing out (for the third or fourth time) that he was the only one with any criminal prosecution experience.  Davis admitted to having enjoyed a brief stay in jail some years back.  Funny enough, so has Tanner, and he’s the most principled councilman we have.

Oh, and I’ve been to jail.  Lots of John Grisham novels floating around in our city jail by the way.  I’d vote for a candidate that promised some literary variety, maybe a few copies of Catcher in the Rye?

Lastly Maples took a different path and, after answering no to having lately been incarcerated, pointed to the complexity of domestic abuse cases by highlighting that some such allegations are just that.  Allegations.

The ‘Change of Use’ Question

Justin, a friend and owner of the Vaska Theatre and landscaping service, was there to ask would-be council members about the ‘change of use’ clause that’s caused so much trouble among local independent businesses in Lawton.  I’ve discussed this topic before.  Previously the Frozen Monkey was facing the possibility of having to close due to the same regulation.  For them it was about adding another fire hydrant.  For Justin and many others it’s been about adding costly fire suppression systems because of wanting to make even minor changes to their business.

‘Change of use’ is about fire hazard levels, but would trigger at bureaucratic discretion (at least I think Fire Marshals count as bureaucrats).  Businesses or developers not in a position of leverage would and do typically suffer more under our ‘change of use’ policy in Lawton, which includes many of our local independent businesses.

Anyway every candidate for council expressed concern over the issue and a desire to make Lawton more ‘user friendly’ to independent businesses.  Coming from Burk though, with 9 years of opportunity to bring the matter up in council, it can be no more than rhetoric.  I’m still waiting for a candidate to submit that markets can and do self-regulate if allowed, and rather than our town burning to the ground, our economy would grow by striking down the ‘change of use’ regulation altogether.

The SQ 780 and 781 Question

The final question was issued to the state level candidates.  The lady asked them if they supported State Questions (SQ) 780 and 781, both designed to help reduce Oklahoma’s incarceration rates, which are the second highest in the country.  Here again Bush and Crowley gave a clear yes, and again Montgomery and Worthen said no.  This is a perfect example of privilege.  Montgomery and Worthen come from communities and families apparently unscathed by the drug policy in the U.S., while Bush and Crowley belong to the most heavily incarcerated demographic in America – black males.  So we can understand why the latter two might perceive the need for reform.

My question to you is, do we empathize with the over-policed or the unsympathetic?

One Criticism on the Forum

There’s never enough time to really grill anyone at these events.  We need to exact more from our candidates.  How about an all day event, instead of an hour and a half?  These people are asking for the chance to make our bloody laws.  To run our lives!  Give them a chance to really be interrogated…  Ah well, I digress.  Just know that next time there are candidates, I’ll be looking for a group to host a more exhaustive interview.  We deserve it.

About the Author

Grew up in Jackson, MS. Moved to Lawton in '92, went to Tomlinson, then Lawton High, then back to Mississippi for some community college. Finished a degree in politics, economics and philosophy back in '05ish. Haven't used it since. There's much more to anyone's story, of course, but for that you'll have to ask.

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