Editors note: This is part of an ongoing series of conversations with city and county officials, beginning in Carter County before branching out into greater Southern Oklahoma. This week features Carter County District 2 Commissioner Bill Baker.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge as a commissioner?
A: “Learning the ins and outs of government. I find myself referring to the state statutes. You know, county government isn’t something you can just run the way you want to. There are rules and regulations in place. So you have to make sure that you’re abiding by all of those when you conduct the business of the county.”
Q: Has there been a certain statute that you have had to look to more than others?
A: “No, everyday brings a new challenge and new things to you. So you find yourself looking for something new, it seems like, all the time. There are some things like purchasing that have different limits and things you have to do when you reach each limit. So remembering those limits and always referencing back so that you make sure you’re doing things right.”
Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge the people of Carter County face?
A: “Carter County is such a large county, so I think it depends on where you’re at geographically. Being out in the west and the northwest part of the county, in particular, life hinges seemingly on the price of a barrel of oil. And that determines what the job market looks like. You know it determines people’s quality of life. Out there, that struggle is real. I know it’s real across Carter County and is not just exclusive to the northwest part of the county, but that is a real struggle out there. Prior to being county commissioner, I was the food bank director and when there was downturn in oil you saw an upswing in the need for folks.”
Q: What prompted you to want to run for county office?
A: “I graduated high school at Ringling, which is in Jefferson County, but I’ve lived most of my life in Carter County. Anyway, I graduated high school over there and I always thought that law enforcement would be my thing. I always thought I would run for sheriff in Jefferson County, but life happens and you move on to different things. I had kinda given up on that, and my dad worked for Carter County District 3. My dad worked for the county when he was in high school and (under two county commissioners). My dad always had a great respect for the county and for county commissioners. I think we learn things like that from our parents. And so growing up and graduating high school in Ringling I knew the county commissioner over there. My dad raised me to have a great respect for county commissioners and that’s something I took an interest in. Mr. Roberston, being the county commissioner for 25 years, retired. So, I told a friend of mine, ‘I think I may run for county commissioner.’ And he’s the kind of friend who is really honest. He looked at me and smiled, and said ‘you would make a great county commissioner.’ When I told my wife she didn’t say ‘have you slipped and hit your head?’ or anything like that. She didn’t immediately say yes but she began to think about ways to help me facilitate that. So I decided I would give it my all because if you’re going to do something you may as well give it your all. So from day one, since I decided I was going to run, I’ve been all or nothing. I love it. I look forward every day to getting up and going to the county barn, the courthouse and helping people solve their problems and meet their needs wherever we can.”
Q: Will you run again?
A: “Absolutely! That’s a one word answer. Absolutely I will.”
Q: Out of everything you have accomplished so far, what are you most proud of?
A: “One of the things I heard the most running for office was about intersections and the safety of them. I began thinking, ‘how do we take care of that?’ So we purchased a considerably smaller tractor than anything else the county had. District 2 is the largest district, but we had the fewest number of hands. So we made some hires and we’ve had those guys mowing and weed eating those intersections. I’m proud of that because there was a concern people had when I was running for office and now we have acted on those concerns to try to fix the problem. That’s what being an elected official is all about. It’s about hearing the concerns of the people and then doing your best to meet those needs when and where you can.”
Q: What is the best and worst part about being a commissioner?
A: “I don’t know that there is a bad part to it. I genuinely love it from the minute I get up until I go to bed at night. So, I’m not sure I can tell you what the best part is. I guess I would have to say the best part is when you get letters in the mail from people who have seen the work that you have done out on their road and they take the time to write you and your guys a letter saying thanks. That’s good stuff. I keep those letters. I have a drawer in my desk where I keep them because those letters mean something. But, I don’t know what the worst part is. I haven’t found that part yet, I guess. The people of Carter County are good people and I think that makes the job easier.”
Q: How have you seen Carter County change?
A: “The growth in Carter County is huge. When I was a kid my parents and I would drive down the road and say ‘I remember when there was nothing there.’ And there are places I remember driving in Carter County, like North Rockford Road for example, I remember when that was a cut through down a chug hole infested road. You only took it when you needed to go somewhere fast. I remember cattle being where Lowes is now. Carter County has grown a lot. I can take you to places where there are nice housing additions now that used to be pastures. You look around and the old saying, ‘the only thing that stays the same is that everything changes, is true.’”
Q: If you could change one thing about Carter County what would it be?
A: “Nothing. We’re fortunate to live in the Bible belt. We live in a place where people still say please and thank you. They still say yes sir, no sir and yes ma’am and no ma’am. This is just a great place and I wouldn’t change anything about it.”
Q: What do you think the people of District Two expect of you?
A: “When I was running for office I said we were going to have equal representation in Carter County and that we’re going to work evenly across the county. We’re fulfilling that. Our work is spread out all across District Two. I think that’s what’s important. They want to know that there are no big I’s and little u’s. I want to make everyone feel important.”