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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — Two newcomers, Republican Jake Merrick and Democrat Molly Ooten, will compete for the Oklahoma State Senate seat to represent District 22 in the upcoming special general election on April 6. 

The two candidates advanced with a majority of the vote from their respective primary elections in February. The SD 22 seat is currently vacant after Stephanie Bice was elected to represent Oklahoma’s 5th congressional district in November, which made the special election necessary. 

The Republican-majority district covers parts of northwest OKC, Edmond, Piedmont, and Yukon. 

Free Press spoke with both candidates about their positions on issues concerning the district ahead of election day. 

District 22 Candidates 

Ooten, the Democratic candidate, is running to represent the district as a lifelong Oklahoman, mother, and practicing speech pathologist at Sooner Start, an early intervention program for infants and toddlers. Throughout her campaign, Ooten has prioritized education, health care, community, criminal justice reform, and LGBTQ+ issues. 

In an interview with Free Press, Ooten said she believes her experience as a speech pathologist will serve her as a senator who will actively listen and advocate for constituents. Ooten said she’s running for the Senate seat to “put people first” and work together with state legislators on both sides of the aisle to find solutions to state and local issues. 

“That is kind of the theme of my whole life, making people feel like their voice is heard,” Ooten said. 

(For a detailed map of SD-22 follow this link.)

Merrick, the Republican candidate, is a licensed minister, personal trainer, and local business owner. He is the owner of True Cross Training and the co-owner of a construction company. 

Merrick’s main priorities include improving job opportunities, education, mental health care, and protecting individual rights. On his campaign website, Merrick emphasized his desire to end abortion and eliminate mandates of any kind in the state.

Merrick said he’s running for the state Senate to stand up for the conservative values that he shares with most of the constituents in the district.

“I really wanted to come in and take a stand in my home state and for Oklahomans to ensure that we really preserve our God-given rights and really stand for the values that I feel like most Oklahomans share, which are conservative,” Merrick said in an interview with Free Press. 

In the interview, Merrick said he’s concerned about protecting individual liberties for Oklahomans. If elected, he said he would protect 2nd Amendment rights, lift mandates, and stabilize the economy by increasing job opportunities. 

COVID issues

When it comes to moving forward with the pandemic, Merrick believes the best plan of action is to lift mask mandates and ease up on restrictions on school and business closures. 

“I’m accused all the time of being anti-mask and anti-vaccine, but I’m not,” Merrick said. “I just want to ensure individual liberties are being protected.” 

Ooten said she trusts in state health officials and science, rather than politicians, to make the most informed decisions on how to protect Oklahomans from the virus. 

“It’s wise to listen to science, and not rely on partisanship to make these types of decisions,” Ooten said “Which I think has been kind of the trend for our political leaders in the state.”

Education positions

Both candidates prioritize education in different ways, however, they both agree this is an important issue that needs to be addressed. 

Merrick said he would support public education by extending parental choice by giving them the opportunity to choose the best schools for their children. He believes this would create competition which would improve the quality of education in public schools. Merrick would also focus on making sure educational funding is being spent effectively. 

“When people have a real choice on where they can send their kids, then that creates competition,” Merrick said. “And I believe competition is always good in a free market.” 

Ooten said she would focus on supporting educators in the public school system to ensure all students receive an equal opportunity for quality education. 

“We don’t need to be diverting funds and investing in other revenues,” Ooten said. “We need to be focusing on building up our public school teachers.” 

The winner of the special election will serve until 2022 when State Senate District 22 is up for election again. In the district, registered Republicans make up 58 percent of the voters, with Democrats making up 24 percent. 

Absentee ballots must be requested by 5 p.m on the Tuesday before the election. 

Update: We originally said that Merrick wants to decriminalize abortion. According to his website, he wants to end abortion and we have changed that line in this report.

Last Updated March 18, 2021, 10:54 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor