Staff and Wire Reports
EDMOND, Oklahoma -- Lt. Gov. Jari Askins laid out her conservative credentials as she opened a governor's office debate Tuesday, saying that even though she's in the same party as an unpopular president her values were the same as those of the mainstream Oklahoma voter.
Aggressive from her three-minute opening statement, Askins said outsiders supporting Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., had tarnished her reputation by attempting to link her to national Democrats.
"I am an Oklahoma Democrat. Oklahoma Democrats are conservative. We are not extreme," Askins said to open the hourlong debate at the University of Central Oklahoma. "I am a pro-life, pro-gun, pro-education, pro-business, protect-our-borders Democrat."
Fallin, a two-term congresswoman who preceded Askins as lieutenant governor, said a weekslong tour of Oklahoma -- at times working side-by-side with Oklahoma residents at their jobs -- helped her identify with the troubles they've gone through.
"They're worried about the economy. They're worried about their jobs. They're worried about making their house payment," Fallin said. "They're worried about where Washington is trying to take our country."
Askins said the state's leaders understand that residents are hurting, but said she was the candidate who brought more solutions.
"The job requires more than a warm smile and a friendly hug," Askins said.
Fallin specifically criticized a new federal health care plan and said, locally, lower taxes and a smaller government would help Oklahoma improve a budget that could fall a half-billion dollars short by next June.
"We need a leader who will stand up to Washington and together we can create a stronger, more-prosperous Oklahoma," she said.
Askins, too, criticized Washington -- saying political debate had degenerated into a bitter battle of words and no solutions.
"What is on people's minds?" she asked in her closing. "Over and over ... they're tired of the fighting. They're tired of the bitterness. They want results. They want civility."
Askins and Fallin are leaving relatively safe seats to seek the open governor's post. For the past four years, Askins has been lieutenant governor and Fallin has been in the U.S. House. Incumbent Brad Henry, a Democrat, is leaving office because of term limits.
Fallin said that to turn its economy around, Oklahoma should consider a top-to-bottom change in its tax structure. She suggested a review of tax credits to determine which ones were really working. Askins said a citizens' coalition she has worked with has already made suggestions to upgrade Oklahoma's tax code and agreed that changes should be considered.
The lieutenant governor also said experts should look at data that could trigger an automatic income tax cut and consider whether Oklahoma needs long-term economic improvement instead of cutting revenue after a one-year improvement in the its financial fortunes.
Fallin also said that, as governor, she would consider changes in the parole process if it would lead to improvements in the Oklahoma prison system. Both candidates said changes were needed in a corrections system that is crowded with inmates and often short-staffed.
Fallin said she would consider a suggestion that the governor not be involved in parole decisions for nonviolent offenders. She said that for heinous crimes, the governor would still have to be involved.
Askins said the state should look at whether its sentencing plans are consistent and pattern anti-crime efforts after successful anti-drug programs.