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Republican Senator James Lankford might have felt like he just couldn’t catch a break Tuesday night in the second of five sessions of his “community conversations.”

Six question cards he drew from a bucket all revealed some level of opposition to ideas and actions of the Republican Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress that Lankford now finds himself defending.

“I am a lifelong Republican who was deeply disturbed by the nomination of Trump and his election, so much so that I left the party. Because I felt like the Republican Party was no longer in line with my values,” said Beverly Tuberville, whose card was drawn.

Beverly Tuberville
Beverly Tuberville (gesturing) asked Senator Lankford “How can we trust you?”

And when it came to his confirmation vote for Betsy DeVos for education secretary, she was even more direct.

“You could have very easily pleased both parties in Oklahoma by not confirming her. In my mind that tells me party over country. So now you are on the committee that is to investigate Trump. How can we trust you?”

The loudest applause of the session came after that statement.

It was quite a change from just six years ago when political newcomer Lankford rode the ultraconservative Tea Party wave of anger into his seat in the Congress.

Now a senator, he is in the position of defending the Congressional majority and the White House instead of attacking them.

Careful control

During this recess he is traveling the state in a series of in-person meetings that he is calling “community conversations.”

They are typical town hall single session settings in all but Oklahoma City and Tulsa, which have been under tight scheduling controls.

In Oklahoma City if you wanted to go to the event, you had to go onto Lankford’s Senate website and sign up to attend one of the 30-minute sessions planned for the evening.

His staff said it was to make sure that the crowds were small enough for him to have a chance to visit with everyone.

But as Free Press observed in the second session, only the five people whose cards were drawn had the opportunity to speak.

Andrea Unrue
Andrea Unrue (gesturing) asks a follow-up to her original question about how much Lankford plans to listen to progressives in the state.

Upon arrival at Kamp’s 1910 restaurant near NW 10th and Broadway, attendees were carefully checked off a list under the watchful eye of uniformed police and four to five of Lankford’s staff.

Participants were held in the main dining room of Kamp’s 1910 restaurant until their scheduled turn and then directed into the conference room on the second floor arranged with tables and chairs in a rectangle with Lankford standing in the middle.

There they were greeted by two more uniformed police and more serious staffers.

Education concerns

The second card drawn was from Molly Jaynes who was concerned that with Betsy DeVos as the new Education Secretary there would be further weakening of public schools.

“Why should I believe that you have the best interests of public schools in mind when you supported a candidate like Betsy DeVos,” Jaynes said, referring to Lankford’s vote to confirm DeVos.

At one point in his answer, Lankford sought to ease the minds of those who are concerned about damage DeVos might do to public schools.

“Betsy DeVos does not have the ability to come to our state and to say, here’s how your state will chose to do vouchers, charters or private schools or any of that,” said Lankford.

Trump investigation

The third person whose question was drawn went on from her statement that she was no longer a Republican because of Trump, using the previous discussion about DeVos as a foil.

He countered that the DeVos nomination was different from the investigation into whether Trump or his campaign was colluding with Russia during the campaign.

“This is not an investigation that we can mess up. For the sake of our democracy, we don’t want any other foreign government covertly engaging in our election process,” said Lankford.

Or if there was any engagement with any member of the campaign with a foreign country, you can’t do that. It’s already illegal,” he said.

And to Lankford’s insistence that the Senate Intelligence Committee would be focused on facts and not opinion, she sharpened her questions to put him on the record.

“So can we trust you to put country over party in the Trump investigation?”

His response was, “Yes.”

Health concerns

The first, fifth and sixth cards drawn had various questions about the future of Medicare and Medicaid.

Lankford drew on an often-used example of how Canadians are coming into the United States and even Oklahoma for surgical care rather than having to wait on a list in Canada.

He said that when the Oklahoma Surgical Care Hospital in Oklahoma City “put their prices online, their biggest surprise was the flood of Canadians that started coming.”

“About 25 percent of their business now are Canadians,” Lankford said.

He also talked about how states need to determine their own needs, but that Oklahoma is in a tough spot right now because “low oil and gas prices.”

Lankford said that Social Security and Medicare were “promises that need to be kept.” But what that would mean for the distant future was another matter. He said that there needed to be adjustments that the Congress was working on “long term, to make sure that those programs continue to exist into the future.”

Doubts persist

After the second session was over Free Press visited with a few of the people who had their questions drawn from the bucket.

Linda Monroe, who had one of the questions about the future of Social Security and Medicare said she didn’t think that Lankford answered her question at all.

“I want to know what his plan was,” and he didn’t give her one, Monroe said.

Andrea Unrue, who had expressed concerns about health care and the lack of response to Lankford’s progressive constituents, said that she is “worried.”

“Knowing the people who are in mass contacting him, it doesn’t seem like he is listening to them,” Unrue said.

“I really do think that he is party over representation, and I don’t think that that’s going to change anytime soon.”


Correction: The education secretary’s name was misspelled in the original version of this story as “DeVoss”. It has been corrected.

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