Editor’s note: Candidates for state and national offices on the ballot for the August 28 runoff election were invited to respond to questions for profiles in The Ardmoreite. Those who chose to respond will be featured alongside their ballot opponent. For those that did not participate, basic information will be provided.
My name is Ashley Nicole McCray and I am a Democratic Candidate for the Corporation Commission. As an enrolled member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, I am proud to say my family’s Oklahoman roots predate statehood. I was born and raised in Shawnee and I currently reside in Norman, where I attended graduate school at the University of Oklahoma. I hold a B.A. from UCO, an M.A. from UCO, an M.A. from OU, and I was admitted to a doctoral program there in 2014. My expertise includes environment, industrialization and political economy. Most of my career has been as an educator and research, but since 2016 I have focused on using the tools I have acquired to help educate and empower ordinary Oklahomans about the environmental issues we face while assisting communities that are already organizing around these issues with additional tools, resources, and support.
Why are you running for this office?
The OCC is Oklahoma’s regulatory agency responsible for overseeing oil, gas, utility, transportation, pipeline safety, and upholding EPA regulations such as the Clean Water Act. I’m running for this position because as a lifelong Oklahoman, I love this state and I love this land. I’ve spent significant time committed to studying the interplays between industry and community and the past several years putting this knowledge into action by working with Oklahoman communities directly impacted. I understand what the community’s concerns are and what can be done to address them. The current path our leadership has taken us on is destructive and we have become too comfortable with those in the pockets of oil and gas making life-impacting decisions that prioritize profit over people. I’m running because I want to restore the voice of the people back to the OCC for the benefit of our communities, economy, environment, and future.
What do you think are the top three biggest challenges facing our state?
While issues like raising the GPT, funding education, and social services are crucial to our state, they are symptoms of systemic root causes, which can be pared down to lack of accountability, communication, or transparency in Oklahoma government. Transparency and communication ensure our elected officials are held accountable to the communities they serve. For example, transparency enables Oklahomans to know where elected officials receive money, which usually indicates who they answer to. Transparency also enables Oklahomans to elect candidates who will prioritize people over profit. As the only candidate in my race to disclose personal financial information requested of statewide candidates by Oklahoma Watch, I am proud to not only advocate for Open Government and the people’s right to accountability, communication, and transparency, but to also lead by example. With more accountability in government, our elected officials will advocate and legislate on behalf of the people.
What are your top five priorities to address while in office?
While the scope of this position is specifically regulatory, and the commissioners make decisions on the different incoming projects on a case-by-case basis, it is important for commissioners to have a vision for their time in this position so that constituents – the consumer – can know what to expect. My priorities as a commissioner are to prevent and abate pollution caused by industry, to protect Oklahoman’s drinking water, reduce man-made earthquakes, revisit the issue of interstate dumping of frac wastewater, and to foster better accountability, communication, and transparency at the OCC. Currently, unless Oklahomans are scouring legal notices across the state, the OCC “administratively approves” incoming projects. This puts the onus of responsibility on consumers to protect their environment, communities, and property values, when instead, it should be the responsibility of the corporations that seek to profit. We are not disposable people and this is not disposable land.
When faced with a specific situation that puts your personal viewpoint at odds with a great many of your constituents, what decision do you make and why?
I’m a unique candidate because my years of community organizing enable me to authentically represent the concerns of the many people of Oklahoma being adversely impacted by corporate overreach. I’ve traveled the state listening to the many issues impacting Oklahomans from all backgrounds – voter, nonvoter, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, independent – previously as a community organizer and now as a candidate. While there are specific issues constituents and I may disagree on, I guarantee the decisions I make as a commissioner will be based on community input and the available science, data, and research appropriate for the specific case at hand. When Oklahomans feel like their voices and concerns are being addressed, regardless of political affiliation, we are better able to move forward on the issues. It’s time to center our communities, our citizens, and our consumers. As the people’s candidate, this is precisely what I will continue to do.
What is your position on the gross production tax? What do you think the max GPT should be? What is your stance on GPT for resources other than oil?
At the Energy Committee’s Interim Study at the State Capitol, AJ Ferate from OIPA declared, “You [Oklahoma] already got us [Oil & Gas] enough,” in reference to proposed GPT increases. I couldn’t disagree more with this statement. Although the Corporation Commission is not responsible for GPT, raising it would benefit Oklahoma in many ways, including better funding for state agencies like the OCC. Ultimately, it should startle us that corporations are operating at 2 percent, 4.5 percent, or even 5 percent GPT here in Oklahoma, while paying upward of 13 percent GPT on their projects in other states. Of course, corporate overreach is possible in any industry – including renewables – so I think all projects should be assessed for their impact on the surrounding communities and our economy. Eleven percent or even the meager 7 percent GPT would significantly improve our state’s budget. In turn, our state’s agencies – including the OCC – can operate effectively and efficiently.