In just three weeks, Mick Cornett and Kevin Stitt face one another in a runoff to win the Republican spot for Governor on the November Ballot.
Tuesday, August 7, both men joined News 9 for a one-hour debate on the issues facing the office holder.
First, here’s a quick introduction of the two candidates:
Mick Cornett is the former Mayor of Oklahoma City, the son of a postal worker, a school teacher, and a fifth generation Oklahoman. He is a graduate of Putnam City High School, The University of Oklahoma and also holds an MBA from New York University.
Before seeking elected office, he had a successful, 20-year career in broadcast journalism, where he served as a reporter, anchor and manager. Afterward, he was elected to City Council and finally as the Mayor of Oklahoma City.
He is married to Terri and has three sons and five grandchildren.
Kevin Stitt says he is a conservative Republican candidate for governor with a vision to be Top 10 in growth, education, infrastructure, healthcare, and government efficiency.
Stitt founded Gateway Mortgage in 2000. He is a fourth-generation Oklahoman, raised in Norman, where his dad was a pastor. He graduated from Norman High School and worked his way through Oklahoma State University by selling books with the Southwestern Company.
He has been married to his wife, Sarah, for nearly 20 years and together they have six children.
Candidates will have one minute to respond to a question.
The moderators will allow rebuttal responses, at their discretion.
We have asked the candidates not to interrupt one another.
Each candidate will be allowed two minutes for a closing statement.
Many Oklahomans are not happy with the direction our state is headed. In an exclusive News 9 and News on 6 poll of likely voters, 66-percent said Oklahoma is going in the wrong direction. A two-part question. First, do you believe the state is moving in the wrong or right direction? If you don’t believe we're headed the wrong way, how do you change that public perception?
Cornett: The citizens of Oklahoma should be upset. The budget process is a mess, as well as education. In OKC, I have had great success as mayor and I intend to bring that success to the entire state.
Stitt: We need a business person, someone from the private sector to come in and fix the state. The men who have been working for us have not helped us or brought us prosperity. We need accountability.
The Oklahoma legislature is polling at its most unpopular numbers. In out exclusive poll of likely voters, 70-percent of those surveyed had an unfavorable opinion of the state legislature. Governor Fallin's favorability is also polling low, with only 27-percent having a favorable opinion. If things are not going well, who is to blame?
Stitt: I have asked people in my line of business to tell me what I'm doing wrong, to hold me accountable. I plan to do that as governor.
Cornett: I do not intend to criticize my predecessors and I don't intend on starting it. I intend to work with the legislature to put the citizens first and work together and not put each other down.
Back in March, State lawmakers passed the largest tax increase in state history to give teachers a raise. That included an increase on tobacco, gas, diesel fuel and the gross production tax. Is raising taxes on these kinds of goods the right way to fund teacher pay raises or to solve budget problems?
Stitt: We have to pay our teachers competitively. I'm not for new taxes. We have to address the funding formula, we have to look at other states and use their strategies for our success.
Cornett: I have been a part of the last 14 budgets in OKC, and none have had the poor performance of state education budgets in the past. I want to bring the success of the city budgets that I'm a part of to the entire state.
Special Guest Question:
Broken Arrow High School science teacher Donna Gradel is Oklahoma's teacher of the year. She has this question for the candidates about education funding:
Donna Gradel: "My question for the candidates is can you provide two details of your plan to adequately fund school operations, including providing and retaining effective teachers."
Stitt: We have to fix the funding formula. The equalization formula that we use now is not working. We need to incentivize competition.
Cornett: We need to prioritize education more. I remember the teacher walkout, and thinking that the teachers probably thought that no one at the Capitol cared about them.
Out of the 30 states that allow medical marijuana, Oklahoma's law has some of the broadest language, especially pertaining to qualifying conditions. Do you think lawmakers need to amend any part of state question 788?
Cornett: I am all for medical marijuana, I believe people should get the help they need. I did not support 788 and I think the State has the obligation to change 788 and make regulations.
Stitt: I think there is a mood for medical marijuana, and recreationally there are a lot of questions.I applaud them for supporting the will of the people and changing their rules.
There is now a push to expand our marijuana laws, and Oklahomans could vote on whether to legalize recreational marijuana, a move, which, among other things, could bring much-needed tax revenue to our state. Do you support efforts to legalize recreational marijuana? Why or why not?
Stitt: Until it is legal federally, I oppose it. Drug testing is a huge question, especially for business employees, that needs to be answered first.
Cornett: I also do not support it. I'm skeptical about money coming in, I would not guess that we would get additional revenue. However, if the voters want it, I will do my best to implement it.
Special Guest Question 2:
Now a question from U.S. Senator James Lankford about how you'll make decisions if you are elected as Oklahoma's next governor.
James Lankford: "As Republicans, the two of you have very similar policy perspectives on multiple different issues. We've had the opportunity during the debate time to be able to see some of the similarities. The challenge is, for any Governor there are a lot of issues that are coming that we don't even know to ask about yet because they are not the big issue yet. So, help the voters understand some differences and how you'll make decisions based on your own personal world view, based on your own personal faith, based on your own family background. Those things that will drive how you make decisions on the issues we are not even talking about yet. So, help people understand how do you make decisions. What well do you draw from that's most significant to you during those hard decisions?"
Stitt: I'm a man of faith. I'm a businessman. I'm a lot like many of our viewers out there. I'm excited to lead us to top 10 in job growth, top 10 in infrastructure. I'm ready to take us into the future.
Cornett: I always as myself what can I do for someone else who needs my help? I have grown the economy and grown jobs and job opportunities in OKC and plan on bringing those jobs all over the state.
Viewer Tom Rogers has a question about crime, asking, "Our state leads the nation, and in fact the world in incarceration rates. However, Oklahoma also has the least amount of "second chance" employment for a convicted felon.” He wants to know, “As governor, would you do anything to help make employment opportunities more available for those who are not re-offending?”
Stitt: As a business owner, it's difficult to hire a felon. We cant paint everyone with the same brush. It goes case by case. We are doing something wrong compared to the states around us and it needs to be fixed. We need to find drug problems earlier.
Cornett: It's embarrassing to lead the nation in incarceration rates. We all know if a kid drops out of high school, they probably won't go back, but the same can't be said when someone gets out of prison. They will probably go back. This needs to change.
Do you support constitutional carry?
Stitt: I would sign it into effect. I'm a constitutional conservative.
Cornett: I would not have vetoed the bill, I believe in the second amendment.
What would you address in your first 90 days?
Stitt: It starts way before we get elected. We should be efficient, and create accountability between counties. We need to run our government more like a business, through better structure.
Cornett: We need to get our financial situation together. We need more accountability, we need more money in our rainy day fund, we need to invest in technology. We have a lot of work to do.
How can voters be sure that you will advocate for them outside of OKC?
Cornett: We need the entire state, we need more engineers, educators and a stronger workforce from all counties.
What made you run for Governor?
Stitt: The Lord put it on my heart about 2 years ago. That is the short answer. I also want to do it for my family. I want to make the state better for my kids.
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