By Tim Farley
Democratic gubernatorial front runner Drew Edmondson isn’t taking any days off from the campaign trail despite having a 30-point lead over the nearest challenger.
Edmondson, with superior name recognition and more campaign funds than his nearest competitor Connie Johnson, is pushing forward with his momentum he earned early in the campaign.
“I have not eased up on the schedule one iota,” he said, during a brief stop at Johnnie’s in Yukon on Wednesday. “The other day I was in Muskogee, Stigler, had lunch in Tulsa, went to two evening events and now I’m in Yukon.”
Edmondson’s support has been geographically broad-based, beating Johnson in every congressional district, both urban and rural, including Johnson’s hometown of Oklahoma City, according to SoonerPoll.com. Edmondson also bests Johnson with voters of all age groups and among liberal, moderate and conservative voters.
Still, 42 percent of voters contacted in the poll said they are undecided, which leaves Johnson with a margin of hope.
However, Edmondson is confident his message is getting through to voters, which will allow him to watch Republican gubernatorial candidates attack each other in the primary and the likely runoff election in August.
“I’m eager as anyone else to see which two (Republicans) get in the runoff,” he said.
As he campaigns across the state, education funding continues to dominate voters’ concerns. Most Democrats are concerned that the $400 million approved for teacher and staff raises might be rescinded depending on the outcome of a legal challenge at the Oklahoma Supreme Court.
“I hope it ($400 million) remains available but remember a good portion of that $400 million is only earmarked for one year,” Edmondson said. “The immediate challenge is plugging that hole. We’re working on additional sources of revenue.”
One major source Edmondson advocates is increasing the gross production tax to 7 percent.
“Major oil companies do not need to be subsidized,” he said. “And, the capital gains loophole has not worked. I can see an exemption for agriculture, but right now we have $479 million in lost revenue from capital gains.”
The state Senate passed a bill that would have eliminated the capital gains loophole, but the measure failed in the House.
“I’m reasonably sure we could get that through the legislature,” Edmondson said.
Edmondson, who served as Oklahoma’s attorney general from 1995 to 2011, said he wants to build a non-partisan coalition of legislators who will move Oklahoma forward and off the many lists that place the state in a negative light.
“Anybody in the legislature who wants government to work is someone I can work with. If there’s a caucus that wants government to fail I can’t work with that,” he said. “I’m hopeful to facilitate discussions among legislators regardless of party.”
When Edmondson was district attorney for Muskogee County, he served on the legislative committee for the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council.
“I always tried to get a Democratic author and a Republican author on bills to show it was bipartisan,” he said.
That philosophy extends to Edmondson’s campaign for governor. As he drives around the state, Edmondson finds people are more concerned about results, not labels or political parties.
“In the early polling of the campaign, half of the registered Republicans were dissatisfied with the way the state has been managed the last eight years. They are ready for a change. When people ask if I am conservative or liberal I tell them I take positions on issues, not along political lines. Others can make those judgments and label me. I’m going to figure out if it’s the right thing and do that,” he said.
Among those right things Edmondson said are increased funding for education and not just teacher salaries, but additional money for the classroom and reduced class sizes.
He’s also an advocate for criminal justice reform, which would reduce prison overcrowding by listing many non-violent crimes as misdemeanors instead of felonies. In similar fashion, Edmondson promotes more funding for mental health and drug and alcohol abuse treatment.
“Why spend $20,000 to $30,000 a year to send someone to prison when you can spend $3,000 to $5,000 for treatment?” he said. “Again, it’s the right thing to do.”
Edmondson also said he would opt into Medicaid expansion as soon as possible after being elected governor. Gov. Mary Fallin declined to participate in the federal government’s Medicaid expansion program, which Edmondson described as “the worst decision seen in my lifetime.”
Failure to participate in the program left 150,000 to 180,000 people without basic healthcare and placed rural hospitals at risk, he said.