Q&A for District 34 candidates

Dr. Aaron Means and Rep. Trish Ranson.

The Stillwater League of Women Voters and Stillwater Public Library are sponsoring a virtual forum between Rep. Trish Ranson (D-Stillwater) and Republican challenger to the District 34 seat of the Oklahoma House, Dr. Aaron Means.

Hanson and Means will be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot, but before that they will take questions from moderators in Wednesday’s forum. It will be live streamed on Facebook, from 5:30-6:30 p.m.

The League of Women Voters sent Ranson and Means five of the same questions ahead to be printed ahead of Wednesday’s forum.

1. Should Oklahoma’s voting system be changed to make it easier for voters? If so, how would you change it? Poll workers in Oklahoma are getting harder to recruit. What can be done to assure that everyone (not just us old geezers) can easily vote? What measures would you support?

Ranson: Oklahoma’s voting system is generally safe and easy. Registration, early voting, and election day voting are straightforward. Absentee voting is more complicated for security reasons, but it could be easier. The pandemic has proven that we can eliminate the notary requirement. We can then simplify instructions. As absentee voting becomes easier, we can encourage it to help voters and address staffing challenges. We should continually investigate computer system upgrades, including online registration, signature-matching technology, and chip-card identification. Online voting will happen someday, but security remains a question. I would also support making election day a state holiday.

Means: The most important question here is how can we ensure the integrity of our elections. Oklahoma must not lower standards that verify each individual is eligible to vote. Anything less threatens our Constitutional Republic. Mass mail-in-ballots can be very problematic. In 2004, US Congressman Jerry Nadler (D) was quoted as saying, “paper ballots are extremely susceptible to fraud.” In 2012, the New York Times published potential problems relating to voting by mail. Therefore, we should ask how can we maintain a voting system that guarantees only eligible voters can cast a single vote without ballot harvesting and without voter fraud.

2. Each Senator and Representative in the state legislature as well as each US Representative from OK now represents the same number of people. Do you think the system Oklahoma currently uses for redistricting after each census should be changed to reduce the power of elected officials to set district boundaries, also known as gerrymandering?

Means: Gerrymandering is not the official name of the process by which Oklahoma legislative districts boundaries are established. The correct term is Redistricting. Oklahoma’s population which includes large cities, small towns, private properties and government owned properties is dispersed across our state in irregular patterns. If all residential communities were laid out as perfect squares or rectangular grids, we could easily eliminate irregularly shaped voting districts. One possible solution is to require a justification for each irregularly shaped extension that would be added to voting districts. Additionally, justifications can be required for excluding communities which otherwise could lie within a district.

Ranson: Our goal when redistricting should be to ensure that each vote has its full and fair impact. Redistricting overseen by majority legislators too readily ends in gerrymandering, unfairly tipping the scales of democracy. Also, because of our 12-year term limits, few legislators have historical knowledge of redistricting processes or district demographics. Some people have proposed computer-driven redistricting, but computer models will reflect programmer biases and knowledge gaps. I propose that Oklahoma establish a nonpartisan districting commission, such as outlined by Common Cause. By retaining historical records, following best practices, and avoiding partisanship, a commission would be the fairest approach.

3: What is the best way OK can fund Medicaid expansion? Do you support SQ 814?

Ranson: Oklahoma’s 10 percent share of Medicaid expansion could be $164M in its first year. The Oklahoma Policy Institute has outlined options to cover this cost. Expansion itself will generate $123M in new state tax revenue, leaving $41M remaining. This spring, the legislature approved increasing the Supplemental Hospital Offset Payment Program (SHOPP) fee, which hospitals already pay to fund Medicaid, from 2.3 to 4.0 percent, to generate $134M – much more than needed. Increasing the fee to just 2.9 percent would more than suffice. I don’t support SQ 814, which would take funds dedicated to anti-smoking programs and cancer research.

Means: If Medicaid expansion was the best choice for Oklahoma, we would not have to find a way to fund the program. The percentage of dollars the federal government contributes is insufficient. Now there is a significant financial burden that may result in budgetary cuts of core services. Medicaid was designed for senior citizens and children. The massive infusion of younger healthier adults into this group of patients will reduce the number of appointments available for the elderly and children. This will create a healthcare access insecurity. Federally Qualified Community Health-Centers are great alternatives to provide healthcare in Oklahoma.

4: How can OK state pay for their fundamental responsibilities for education, health care, safety and infrastructure? In light of the changes in the oil and gas industry, should changes in revenue sources be made?

Means: The top priority of our state government is to ensure the rights, freedoms and safety of all Oklahomans and visitors in our state. Our current District 34 Representative voted against a bill that helps identify pedophiles. If legislators are not willing to protect our children Oklahoma communities will soon collapse. She voted against a bill to help keep assisted suicide out of Oklahoma. When our legislators are voting against protecting the lives of our children, the elderly, and disabled citizens nothing else will matter. The real Fundamental Responsibility of legislators is protecting the lives and safety of all Oklahomans.

Ranson: Oklahoma faces tough budget years probably through 2022. Essential services that directly support people must be prioritized and their budgets maintained. These include education, health care, family and child services, and public safety. Other agencies will still provide services but with temporarily reduced budgets. Important spending can be continued, but projects that can be delayed should be delayed. These are stopgap measures, not long-term budget solutions. Our revenue problems run deep, and we must do much more, from economic diversification to improved trade agreements, to increase and stabilize revenues and fully fund all state services.

5: What are your thoughts on the “super majority” rule in the Oklahoma Legislature for increasing income tax rates ?

Ranson: The question is moot until Oklahoma is no longer dominated by a super majority party. The rule simply ensures that income tax rates will not be changed since the majority party refuses to look at taxation seriously and objectively. Our taxes are among the most regressive in the country. A person earning just $22,000 per year pays the same top income tax rate of 5 percent as someone earning $1M. The tax burden on lower-income individual and families is inequitable and unconscionable, but this is a reality the majority won’t address.

Means: The Super Majority rule was voted in place by the will of Oklahoma citizens with the passage of SQ 640. This was done in the same fashion as state SQ 780, SQ 781 and SQ 788. Proposals for increasing personal income taxes and Oklahoma corporate taxes should not be taken lightly. Any proposal to increase or decrease taxes in Oklahoma should include an in-depth impact study to ensure changes will not have negative consequences for working families, small businesses and corporations in Oklahoma.

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