OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Runoff candidates for the vacant District 22 State Senate seat had a platform to talk about their policies Wednesday night ahead of the upcoming special election on April 6.
The 22-minute long forum was hosted by VOICE OKC, a local organization that promotes civic engagement and addresses issues such as education, economic justice, and restorative justice.
Both candidates Republican Jake Merrick and Democrat Molly Ooten were invited to join the conversation via Facebook live.
Merrick did not respond to the organization’s invitation. The forum continued without Merrick and Ooten was given the chance to discuss her position on local issues.
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Ooten is running as a lifelong Oklahoman, mother, and practicing speech pathologist at Sooner Start, an early intervention program for infants and toddlers. During her campaign, Ooten
prioritized education, health care, community justice reform and LGBTQ+ issues.
“So often the listening that happens from our current elected representatives is performative rather than authentic,” Ooten said during the forum. “And it’s been my goal this entire campaign to change that.”
Criminal Justice Reform
During the forum, Ooten was asked about how she would address the current funding of the state’s justice system. In Oklahoma, court fines and fees are used to provide funding for its court system and other government functions.
“I would support any legislation that reassess how we fund our court system, because right now the power balance is off and it needs to be corrected,” Ooten said.
The topic of education is an issue that both candidates prioritize in different ways.
Throughout her campaign, Ooten said she would focus on supporting teachers and educators to ensure students have equal access to resources for a quality education.
The democratic candidate was asked if she would support legislation that would pay for school support staff during a health emergency or inclement weather.
“Absolutely,” Ooten said. “School staff is just as important to a thriving school system as teachers and administrators.”
Ooten was asked about how the mental health crisis can be addressed, particularly in students.
Ooten said the first thing that comes to mind when talking about teen mental health issues is the LGBTQ+ community. She said she would support legislation that would extend protections for this community if elected. Ooten also said that there is a mental health access barrier in the state for more than just students.
“I think that mental health in general is something we need to work on,” Ooten said. “It should not be harder to access mental health care than it is to buy a gun.”
The last question Ooten was asked was what would be one of the first pieces of legislation she would bring to the Senate floor if elected.
Ooten said she would like to introduce legislation that would mandate trauma informed training for the criminal justice system.
According to data by the United Health Foundation, 19.8 percent of children ages 0-17 experience adverse childhood experiences. Adverse childhood experiences are traumatic events that may have a remaining impact on a child’s health and well-being.
“We need to have people in power making decisions about our most vulnerable kids that know the impact of trauma on the human brain,” Ooten said.
Merrick is a licensed minister, personal trainer, and local business owner. He is the owner of True Cross Training and co-owner of a construction company in Yukon, Oklahoma. Merrick has emphasized his desire to abolish abortion and remove mandates of any kind if elected to represent SD-22.
According to Merrick’s campaign website, Merrick would prioritize improving job opportunities, education, health care, and protecting individual freedoms for Oklahomans.
SD-22 covers parts of northwest OKC, Edmond, Piedmont and Yukon. The vacant seat called for a special election after Stephanie Bice was elected to represent Oklahoma’s 5th congressional district in November.
Registered Republicans make up 58 percent of the voters in the district, with Democrats making up 24 percent.
The nonpartisan election on April 6 will determine who will serve the district in the Senate for the next two years.Voters can request an absentee ballot using the voter portal at https://oklahoma.gov/elections/ovp.html, or download an absentee ballot request form at https://oklahoma.gov/elections.html.
Last Updated March 31, 2021, 3:53 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor