Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team
TULSA, Oklahoma -- Originally, the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce planned to have five journalists on the panel questioning gubernatorial candidates Mary Fallin and Jari Askins during a forum Thursday night, but only four were present. The fifth panelist was supposed to be a News 9 reporter.
Originally, the Tulsa Chamber invited News 9 reporter Emory Bryan to ask questions on the panel, but when he initially had a scheduling conflict, News 9 suggested Ashli Sims, instead. But we were told, that substitute was not allowed.
Ashli has been busy lately covering politics, doing truth tests, so it made sense for her to question the candidates, in Emory's place. The Vice President of Communications for the Tulsa Metro Chamber told News 9 on the phone, the campaigns actually said no to the switch.
"So, you went to the campaign and said, hey, they've offered Ashli, instead of Emory and what did the campaigns tell you?" asked Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team
"Uh, basically to stick with the original invite," responded Sheila Curley, Vice President of Communications for the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce
"And what was the reason?" Lester asked.
"They didn't give me any reason," Curley said.
"They just said to you, 'We want to stick with Emory, that's it, period?'" Lester asked.
"Yes," Curley said.
It made us wonder, why would they not allow Ashli on the panel? Are they afraid of something?
Jari Askins campaign manager, Sid Hudson, said they had no problem with Ashli. She was on a list of panelists they approved.
"From my standpoint, I was always of the opinion that whomever the entities were proposing would be OK with me. I never objected to anybody," Hudson said.
Mary Fallin's communications director, Alex Weintz, said he can't confirm or deny whether they declined Ashli's participation.
"There's a negotiation process with the Askins campaign, the Fallin campaign, and the Tulsa Chamber about the format of the debate and those negotiations are confidential," Weintz said.
What complicated the situation even more -- after first telling News 9 the campaigns rejected Ashli, then the Chamber spokesperson changed her story, saying she's the one who decided not to accept panel substitutions.