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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — James “Jay” Bridwell is running for the District 3 County Commissioner seat against incumbent Kevin Calvey because he thinks there needs to be much more listening to diverse groups within Oklahoma County.

Bridwell talked with Free Press in his office Tuesday at the Homeless Alliance Westtown campus where he is the director of support services. He oversees 21 different staff in four different housing programs.

After seeing and hearing the anger and protests during the last two years and the levels of distrust some have of county government, Bridwell decided that it was time for the commissioners to start listening much more to a broader spectrum of people and build trust.

Listening and relationships

Bridwell says that there is “a great divide” in concepts of how county government should be run. And what’s needed now are county commissioners who are able to listen and bridge relationships as well as being focused on physical bridges and roads.

Jay Bridwell
James “Jay” Bridwell talks with Free Press in his office at the OKC Homeless Alliance July 13, 2021. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

“Overall, if you think about things like social services, and the jail, and all the things that the county does oversee, it touches everybody in the county,” said Bridwell.

He said that he thinks there are a lot of underrepresented communities in the county.

“The LGBTQ community, persons of color, pockets of low income are not given a voice. And right now, we’ve got some really great people who are using their voice,” he said.

“And I think we need to start listening.”

Listening and building relationships with many different people has been the focus of his entire life of service from the Boy Scouts when he was young to 24 years of service to his country in the Air Force. Post-retirement, he has been working in community mental health services at Northcare and now at the Oklahoma City Homeless Alliance.

County Jail

Especially when it comes to the troubled Oklahoma County Jail, Bridwell believes that there needs to be much more listening and conversation within the community.

“When people get angry, they express their anger outwardly but the anger is from loss of power, loss of control, fear, disappointment, all of that stuff,” he said.

The Oklahoma County Detention Center, or Jail, 3-27-21. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

“I think there were some egos busted in the county sheriff’s office. I think there were some egos busted within the county government,” Bridwell said about the whole conflict over the jail transition to the Jail Trust. “They were just playing games with people’s lives, right? It made people angry.”

Bridwell said that the makeup of the Jail Trust was not diverse enough and the Action Committee formed later was more reflective of the diversity of the community.

He also said that there needs to be much discussion in the community about what direction to take with the jail next in order to have satisfaction and support for the solutions to the jail problems.

Calvey ‘not listening’

Does he think incumbent Calvey is listening?

Bridwell said that if published reports that he has seen are accurate, “it appears that he’s not listening.”

And, in a Facebook Live session with Wayland Cubit, Bridwell said that his impression of county government so far is that there was an effort to “stifle conversation.”

Calvey has been a state representative twice and, as county commissioner, has shown some of the same proclivities for deciding what is needed and engineering it to happen that he was known for in the state House of Representatives. Some critics believe that right-wing ideology determines Calvey’s actions more than constituent needs.

But, he has supporters in the county who believe that he is standing up for the right thing and continue to support him passionately.

Certainly, he has been a political lightning rod both on the Board of County Commissioners and as the BoCC’s representative on the Jail Trust.

Bridwell believes he has a better way.

He said that his background of “being able to listen to, and bridge partnerships to solve solutions” could be instrumental in resolving “the struggles that we’re having with the county jail.”

Rural needs

District 3 has the largest proportion of rural areas along the northern and northeastern parts of the county. Bridwell said that he believes those areas “are not even getting a voice, either.”

He said that in order to get work done on many of the rural roads and bridges there needs to be work done to listen to needs and to build relationships with cities within the county, the state, and the federal government which is often the source of money to fix those.

Rural broadband access is another area of concern Bridwell intends to pursue if elected.

“The American Rescue plan will allow for funding for those kinds of projects,” said Bridwell. “And so, part of that conversation is look, let’s go back to the basic need. So the pandemic really proved that education and internet infrastructure is sorely lacking.”

What the pandemic showed when schools had to go to remote learning was that there were wide differences in quality access to the internet and connectivity with the rest of the world.

He said that while the school districts gave out notebooks and hotspots, in many cases those were barely adequate.

“So you heard lots of stories about glitches and freezing and all of that kind of stuff,” he said about remote learning for students. “We need to look more at broadband to be able to provide for people who are working from home, too.”

Lining up

Announcing his candidacy in May, he is the second Democrat out of three who announced their intent to oppose Calvey in the November 2022 general election.

The first, Cacky Poarch, announced her intent to oppose Calvey in August 2020 when she referred to Oklahoma County at that time as “an absolute dumpster fire” and calling Calvey’s actions “reprehensible.”

She recently decided to take herself out of that race, however.

The latest is Cathy Cummings who recently announced her intent to run setting up a Democratic Party primary race in June of 2022 to decide who will oppose Calvey, a Republican, in the general.

Last Updated July 14, 2021, 12:55 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor