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January 27, 2012

Four Senate District 20 Republican candidates debate in Mulhall

MULHALL, Okla. — Increasing government efficiency and fixing the Oklahoma state budget were dominant themes at a debate Thursday among four Republicans running to represent Oklahoma Senate District 20.

Phil Berkenbile of Morrison; Wayne Murphey of Guthrie; Ann AJ Griffin of Guthrie and Chris Humphreys of Guthrie face off in a primary election on Feb. 14. The winner will take on Democratic candidate Mangus W.T. Scott Sr. of Langston in the general election on April 3.

State legislators recently remapped Senate District 20. The district now includes all of Logan, Noble and Pawnee counties and most of Kingfisher County.

The seat was vacated when Sen. David Myers, R-Ponca City, died in November.

The Republican candidates presented their opinions and goals at a debate at Lucille’s Restaurant in Mulhall. They spoke over the rumble of diners and the occassional train passing nearby. Candidates introduced themselves to the audience before answering questions submitted on notecards.

Berkenbile is state director of the Oklahoma Department of Technology and Education. He’s an Oklahoma State University alum and a former teacher and superintendent of Morrison schools. He’s also a former rancher, he said.

Griffin, also an OSU grad, is the director of Logan Community Services, a nonprofit agency that runs a youth shelter and provides other services. She introduced herself by saying she believes in the power of hard work, communities, families and community members’ responsibility to each other.

Humphreys, a pastor at Heartland Baptist Church in Warr Acres, carries a copy of the U.S. Constitution and the Bible on him at all times. Americans, he said, must decide if “we want to take back our country or watch it go over a cliff.” When asked later how he would take back America, “we need more people of integrity” in elected offices, he said.

Murphey is a a deputy county commissioner for Logan County. He’s been a court-appointed advocate for children, and Murphey said he’s pledged not to take money from lobbyists. He also said Oklahomans should fight President Barack Obama’s health care plan.

Griffin wants to nix the overlap in the efforts of state agencies, she said in response to answer a question about first-term goals. The agency she oversees works under six state agencies, she said.

Humphreys said he wants to support pro-life initiatives and education.

Murphy wants to repeal the state personal income tax. Later in the debate, he said he wanted to eliminate the state debt.

“I do believe (the state income tax) can be changed, but it’s 32 percent of the income that comes into our state,” Berkenbile said.

Berkenbile took a firm stance on school consolidation after one question about the future of rural schools. If a school is successful, it shouldn’t close, he said. For example, Mulhall-Orlando schools had a 100 percent graduation rate last year, he said.

Berkenbile was also asked why he would leave a good job with CareerTech to make less as a senator.

“I feel I owe the state something, not in money, but not in service,” he said.

Murphey and Griffin bemoaned the hundreds of agencies, budgets and commissions Oklahoma has. Targeted cuts may be necessary, Griffin said. Many people wouldn’t notice if some of these groups evaporated, she said.

Murphey said any excess income should be returned to the people, and Berkenbile said unused tax dollars should be returned to the community.

Murphey and Berkenbile also said the Oklahoma Department of Human Services needs reform. Murphey said he has been a court-appointed attorney for children abused while in DHS custody.

Audience member Phil Macy said he liked the candidates’ introductions and the format of the debate. Macy is registered to vote in Edmond so he can’t vote in the Senate District 20 election. But Macy said he owns a farm in Logan County, and he plans to talk to his neighbors about the candidates. Griffin seemed the most “senatorial,” he said.

“I think she was very professional in her presentation,” he said.

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