Editor’s note: A summary of answers from the Candidate Forum held at the Ardmore Convention Center by the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce, Ardmore Young Professionals and Leadership Greater Ardmore Alumni on Tuesday from Rep. Tommy Hardin and Carter County Commissioner Jerry Alvord will appear in the Thursday edition of The Ardmoreite.

Democrat Justin Arledge and Republican incumbent Frank Simpson are running for State Senate District 14. This district includes portions of Carter, Love, Johnston and Murray counties along with communities like Ardmore, Marietta, Healdton, Sulphur and Tishomingo. After a brief introduction, each candidate was asked their opinion on a variety of issues and allowed a closing statement.
Each question is listed below followed by each candidate’s response.

Question 1. Gross Production Tax is a critical issue in Southern Oklahoma. With increased revenue passed last session and better than anticipated returns, many suggest additional increases to GPT will help address state funding. What are your thoughts on this?

Simpson: “I’m very cautious about raising gross production taxes any higher,” Simpson said, adding that while some advocate for a rate of as much as seven percent, he feels the current rate of five percent is a fair, even place to allow companies to profit and citizens to benefit from production in the state. He said he believes raising GPT any higher would punish productivity.

Arledge: Arledge said that while he thinks the current GPT rate of five percent was an appropriate amount for the first 36 months, he is comfortable with allowing the GPT to increase to seven percent. He pointed out that while Carter County has historically relied on oil and gas production revenues, it is a non-renewable resource and the area should work toward diversifying the economy.

Question 2: As other states like Arkansas and Nebraska take part in the program, the discussion to potentially expand Medicaid will be an important topic of the next legislative session. What are your thoughts on the potential expansion of Medicaid and would you support this?

Simpson: “I have mixed feelings about Medicaid expansion after reading about some of the results in other states,” Simpson said. He said that Kentucky has not experienced any real improvement in overall health despite expanding Medicaid, while adding that he was “not completely ruling out some form of Medicaid expansion.”

Arledge: Arledge said he would support an expansion of Medicaid, adding that it would support local hospitals and those employed by the hospitals.
“We are closing hospitals in Wilburton, Guymon, and Pauls Valley, and if we don’t do something soon Tishomingo, Healdton, and Marietta could be next,” Arledge said, adding that he believes a Medicaid expansion would help prevent this and keep people employed in more communities.

Question 3: What are your thoughts on potential government efficiencies and accountability given the high number of state agencies in recent auditor investigations.

Simpson: Simpson  said he wants to increase overall transparency and used his work as chairman of the subcommittee on health and human services as an example. There he said he holds regular meetings with all agencies involved to discover how they are spending their money.
 “I want to see where every dollar comes from and where every dollar goes, and through that we can create much more transparency in our state,” Simpson said.

Arledge: Arledge wants legislators to personally provide more transparency and is particularly concerned about a recent audit of the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs. The audit reported on harsh tactics being used on both patients and caregivers.
“When we aren’t defending our employees from administrators and state agencies, then we are not representing our constituents, and we are not doing our job,” Arledge said. He wants to create new measures of accountability that should be easily accessible online and sent out in a report to every constituent.

Question 4: Education has been at the forefront of this state’s political conversation for some time. Even with measures that increased funding last legislative session, teacher pay, aging curriculum and low performance still haunt the state’s education system. What changes to the system, particularly regarding funding and accountability, would you propose to address this important issue?

Simpson: Simpson said he believes the Legislature has done too much micromanaging with education and keeps repeating failed tactics. He said education can be improved by better healthcare in schools through telemedicine, saying that this has worked well for schools in Shawnee and Poteau.  Simpson said this would keep the child in school and the parents at work, with the prescriptions being emailed to a pharmacy, allowing children to remain in school and not miss because of minor illnesses.

Arledge: Arledge said he believes that in addition to increased funding for schools the state can save some funds by turning to forms of renewable energy. He pointed out Ardmore’s recent installation of geothermal energy and suggested  installing windmills and solar panels as well.
“When we can budget our utility cost we can further lengthen the budget that comes from our legislature so that we do not have to continue to raise taxes,” Arledge said.

Question 5: There’s been significant discussion of the elimination of tax breaks and incentives to help balance the budget especially in those given to wind energy. What are your thoughts on the importance of those promised tax credits?

Simpson: While Simpson said he was not for revoking tax incentives currently in place for wind energy, he said he thinks the legislature made a bad decision when they were first put into place. Once the incentives expire in 2020, he said he does not want them renewed. He added that he does not believe all tax incentives are necessarily a bad thing, they just must be well thought out to benefit the community.

Arledge: Arledge said the state must honor its agreement for current wind energy tax breaks but should not  extend them. He suggested applying the five percent GPT to wind energy that is currently applied to oil and gas.