Thursday’s vice presidential debate was fairly entertaining to the watch party audience at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center in downtown Tulsa, but not everyone was satisfied with the substance of it.
“We’re hearing nothing but generalities,” said Steven Michael Hall, referring not only to Thursday’s debate but to the presidential campaigns in general. “I hope to hear specifics, but I very rarely do.”
Thursday’s debate, like last week’s presidential debate, focused on the big issues — the economy, Medicare and Social Security, the Middle East, taxes.
At least some Oklahomans, though, would like to hear about other issues. For Hall, it’s the “social safety net and consideration for all people.”
For Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett, it’s roads and bridges.
Bartlett said earlier in the day that he is disappointed that neither candidate is talking about federal funding for infrastructure, especially roads and bridges.
“I think it’s one of the things government does best, and it’s one of its responsibilities,” Bartlett said.
Government funding for transportation projects creates jobs in construction and allows goods to move more efficiently, further spurring the economy, Bartlett said.
It’s the sort of thing both parties should support, but neither seems to be discussing it much, he said.
Bartlett said he is also disappointed that neither candidate is discussing federal regulations on the international sales of liquefied natural gas.
It’s a very specific issue but an important one, especially for Tulsa’s economy, he said.
Federal permit requirements and other regulations make it difficult to export the product, Bartlett said.
While there are potentially strong markets for liquefied natural gas in Asia and South America, there is a glut of natural gas in the United States, he said.
Federal regulation constricts the product’s trade, costing American jobs and inflating the nation’s trade deficit, Bartlett said.
“We should very aggressively have the opportunity to sell (liquefied natural gas) overseas,” he said.
One topic unlikely to get much attention during the presidential campaign but of great interest to many Oklahomans is American Indian policy. Ross Swimmer, former Cherokee chief and currently special trustee for American Indians with the U.S. Department of the Interior, said those interested in Indian affairs can take a few cues from the debates.
“What you’ll find, especially with tribal leaders, is they’ll focus on the budget — whether either administration will continue to support the budget (Indian programs) we have now and whether they would increase it,” said Swimmer, who also was interviewed before the debate.
Health care, and particularly the Affordable Care Act, could be of interest because it includes the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, the basis for the nation’s Indian health services, he said. If the ACA is repealed, said Swimmer, “it could take down Indian health care with it.”
Swimmer said Indians have very little representation in the national government.
“No one is speaking for them, for the most part,” he said.
Michael Patton, executive director of the Metropolitan Environmental Trust, said there has been some talk about energy policy in the campaign, but not much of that has centered on the key issues of conservation and renewable energy.
Republican Mitt Romney has emphasized the potential for exploring domestic fossil fuels, and President Barack Obama has avoided the issue to avoid having to talk about Solyndra, a California solar power company linked to Tulsa billionaire and Obama supporter George Kaiser, Patton said. The company, which had a federal loan guarantee, went bankrupt, leaving taxpayers on the hook for more than $500 million.
“If politics is a card game, then the green cards are very rare,” Patton said.
The issue has a seldom-recognized national security edge, Patton said: Every bit of energy that the United States conserves or produces with renewable energy is energy that it doesn’t have to import from unfriendly overseas nations.
“If we’re really talking about energy independence, why is it focused on a finite fuel? I don’t believe the sun is going to burn up. I don’t think the wind is going to stop blowing.”
Patton pointed out that another issue of importance to thousands of Oklahomans — veterans affairs — is getting practically no discussion in the campaign.
He said he is amazed at how seldom the issue has been raised by either candidate, considering the large number of veterans who vote and care passionately about it.
Doug Drummond, commander of Tulsa’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 577, agrees.
He believes that Democrats would be bad for veterans benefits and that Republicans would be better, but neither party is really addressing important veterans issues, including the problems of a new tide of veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“They’re not talking about it,” he said.
Recent troubles with the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs — including the scalding death of a resident of a state veterans facility in Claremore — are symptomatic of the federal government’s failure to oversee the rights and well-being of those who have served in the military, Drummond said.
A U.S. Army veteran of Operation Desert Storm, Drummond said he is concerned about the lack of sufficient federal spending for veterans medical care and the lack of protections for vets against scammers looking to take advantage of education and disability benefits.
He said he also is puzzled that those issues aren’t being raised in the political campaign, and he has heard some VFW members wondering about the same thing.
“It’s not happening,” he said.
Gov. Mary Fallin, who has taken an active role in the Romney campaign, said voters need to hear even more of what they’ve already heard — the economy, taxes and the series of tax and budget measures due to kick in early next year.
“There needs to be a better awareness among voters of the fiscal cliff,” Fallin said earlier this week during an appearance in Tulsa.