Criminal justice reform, education top the topics in District 34 Voter Forum

Dr. Aaron Means and Rep. Trish Ranson.

From criminal justice reform, to school choice and pandemic mitigation, an apparent theme of questions from people during the Virtual Voters Forum for District 34 Forum hinged on the role government bodies have in the lives of the people they serve.

Both incumbent Rep. Trish Ranson (D-Stillwater) and challenger Dr. Aaron Means pitched themselves to the electorate as people willing to listen to the voices of District 34 and bring those concerns to the state capitol.

The Forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Stillwater Public Library, was hosted via Zoom and broadcast on Facebook Live, so it would be typical in this online setting that the pandemic would get a fair amount of attention. In this regard, though, having been asked how to best contain it, both Ranson and Means said it starts with individual care.

“There’s a lot of misinformation there,” Ranson said, and that it takes, “Personal diligence, just making sure that you were a mask, keep distance, wash hands regularly. This will also help us as we enter flu season, which will compound things dramatically.”

She said we also have to keep finding innovative ways to support business, churches and nonprofits during the pandemic.

Means talked about how Stillwater and Payne County had really turned a corner at the end of May, before an influx of people led to the spike.

“We went into another phase of managing this pandemic,” he said. “I think having personal responsibility of how we conduct ourselves in public is key. We can get to a point where we will not have new increases in transmissions.”

Means said he feels that Stillwater is now in a good position from a medical standpoint to react to the illness.

With State Question 805 on the ballot during the general election, some of the focus turned to criminal justice reform. SQ805 would reduce sentencing for some nonviolent offenses, meaning that past infractions for nonviolent offenses couldn’t be considered in sentencing.

Means isn’t in favor of 805 and instead would like to see more programs that deal with people on a personal level.

“We want to have our District Attorney to be able to make a judgment on how far people should be held responsible for past things,” Means said.

Ranson called 805 a “tough state question.”

“We definitely need criminal justice reform and it has not been happening in the legislature, therefore we have the petition to put it on the ballot,” she said. “Not all nonviolent crimes are without violence.”

Means also took the opportunity to double down on a criticism he leveled at Ranson during a Q&A that ran in the News Press – that Ranson’s voted no on House Bill 2591 which would have made it harder to identify pedophiles. The bill, known as the Defunding Statutory Rape Cover-up Act, creates new rules for medical providers concerning the failure to report child abuse.

“What we have here is to have legislators who have finger on the pulse of the legislation, … we know that there are men out there who can prey on our daughters, it is critical that we do everything we can to identify pedophiles,” Means said. “This was a very good bill well though out, but my opponent did vote against it.”

Ranson rebutted, saying that medical professionals already have these requirements and the bill was just another way to strip Medicaid.

“Medical professionals are statutorily required to report any abuse, this bill put an extra added layer onto it so that if a medical professional didn’t, the medical system they are associated with, the whole system, would lose their Medicaid funding,” she said. “It was one of those things, it was another attack on trying to peel back Medicaid in our state. Of course, we want to safeguard our children, of course we want to protect their safety.

That bill passed whether I voted against it or not.”

Another issue made topical was that of Epic Charter schools, recently making headlines for being accused of mismanaging funds. Means and Ranson where asked how schools such as Epic should be held accountable.

“It’s not about the model,” Ranson said, “it’s not about anything other than the fact that taxpayer money wasn’t properly accounted for.”

Means said he believes auditing to be very important in watching out for taxpayer money.

“The main thing we want to do is follow the money, and that’s almost true with everything,” he said.

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