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Rare runoffs to decide 1st Congressional District nominees

Correction: This story originally contained incorrect information about Tim Gilpin, who served out his term on the Oklahoma State Board of Education and was not reappointed. It has been corrected.


Maybe it’s another sign of upheaval in state politics or maybe it’s just a coincidence, but Tuesday’s runoff elections in the 1st Congressional District are unlike any before.

Tuesday will be the first time that Republican and Democratic CD 1 runoffs have occurred in the same year.

Runoffs, in fact, have been quite rare in the 1st District, but then, 2018 has proved an unusual, and perhaps unprecedented, year for runoff elections in Oklahoma.

Republicans Tim Harris and Kevin Hern have held most of the spotlight since the June 26 primary, largely because of Hern’s media blitz in an attempt to overcome Harris’ 5-point lead coming out of that first round.

Democrats Tim Gilpin and Amanda Douglas, without the financial backing of the two Republicans, have waged a more subdued contest for the Democratic Party’s place on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

Harris and Hern have also gotten more attention because the survivor will be the general election favorite. The GOP hasn’t had much trouble holding the seat since winning it 30 years ago.

Hern, 56, has invested more than $1.5 million into his campaign, which emphasizes his success in business and aligns him as closely as possible with President Donald Trump.

Polls taken in early August showed Hern trailing by about 10 points, but his campaign says more recent internal polling indicates he’s turned that around and now leads.

Harris, 66, is a former four-term district attorney who has campaigned on his record of public service and his promise to be “the people’s representative.”

Harris’ personal wealth cannot match Hern’s and neither can his fundraising, although a late infusion of cash allowed him to go on television and radio to counter Hern’s claims that Harris is not enough in step with Trump and that his years at the DA’s office make Harris a “career politician.”

Harris took 27 percent of the vote in the five-way primary and Hern 22 percent.

The Democratic primary was even closer. With far more money and initial name recognition, Gilpin finished just 1,500 votes and 2 percentage points ahead of Douglas.

Gilpin thought the unexpectedly large turnout threw off his campaign’s calculations of how many votes it would need and may have helped keep the primary close.

Gilpin and Douglas seem fairly close on the issues, with health care, education and bread-and-butter issues at or near the forefront. Their similar outlooks are reflected in their slogans — “Enough is enough” for Douglas and “Something’s got to change” for Gilpin.

At 57, Gilpin is more than 20 years older than Douglas and emphasizes his experience as a lawyer and as a former member of the state board of education.

Douglas, 36, has run her campaign on just more than $10,000 but has found a receptive audience with her plain-spoken approach. She is a business analyst in the energy sector.

Democratic congressional runoffs are also on the ballot in the 2nd, 4th and 5th districts.

Matched in the 2nd District are Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols and teacher and retired Army colonel Clay Padgett of Soper. Nichols, first in the primary, has been more directly critical of Republican incumbent Markwayne Mullin, while Padgett has talked more generally about the need to provide opportunities for the people in the district.

CD 4 matches former teacher and school counselor Mary Brannon and former University of Oklahoma General Counsel Fred Gipson, and in CD 5, it’s political organizer and campaign manager Kendra Horn against retired college professor Tom Guild.

There are no other Republican congressional runoffs.


Marijuana
'I started sobbing uncontrollably': Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority starts approval of patient licenses

Just after 9:45 a.m. Saturday, Cement resident Aron Pasley accessed the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority’s online portal to complete his cannabis patient application.

By 10 a.m., which was the scheduled application start time, Pasley was one of the first 10 Oklahomans to submit paperwork for what he assumed would be review sometime within the next two weeks.

But less than five minutes later, an email arrived in Pasley’s inbox saying his application was approved. It was one of only 23 such emails sent to prospective licensees on Saturday, with Oklahoma State Department of Health spokesman Tony Sellars saying OMMA staff granted a handful of patient applications early to ensure the process worked correctly.

“I started sobbing uncontrollably. That’s how excited I was,” Pasley said of his reaction to the news. “I’ve been in pain management for years. I need shoulder replacement surgery right now. I have a bad hip.”

He said he tried opiates to relieve his symptoms but said, “I didn’t like going to pain management (doctors) because even though you went to that doctor for that reason, they still made you feel like you were a criminal.”

“Opioids can help with your pain, absolutely, but the side effects are not worth it at all,” Pasley said. “I feel like my life is going to get better now.”

Sellars said the agency collected more than $1.5 million in application fees by 4 p.m. Saturday, the first day residents were able to apply for licenses using a portal operated by Complia, a Denver-based license management tool. The same system is used for Maryland’s and Montana’s medical cannabis industries.

Sellers said the base cost for the Complia contract is $543,375, meaning the state took in nearly three times the amount of the contract in fees.

Sellars said the OMMA will begin its work reviewing applications “in earnest” next week in accordance with State Question 788.

As of 6:15 p.m. Saturday, the department received 1,054 patient applications and three applications for caregivers. Of commercial applications, the OMMA tallied at least 323 potential growers, 214 dispensary operators and 97 processors.

“We didn’t set any expectations,” Sellars said of the first day’s totals. “I think some of it is dependent on how successful people were with getting a doctor’s recommendation.”

The application experience appeared to go mostly smoothly, although applicants using Yahoo and iCloud accounts ran into a roadblock due to what Sellars said was those platforms failing to show registration confirmation emails in users’ inboxes. The OMMA has encouraged applicants to use Gmail and to access the portal on a desktop or laptop computer.

Several people also reported being unaware that the application required digital images of the front and back of driver’s licenses, prompting the OMMA to issue a reminder on social media.

A Tulsa-area man who asked that his name be withheld over job-related concerns submitted one of the first five patient applications and, like Pasley, learned Saturday that he will be able to legally use medical marijuana. Now an employee in the technology industry, he told the Tulsa World it was “surreal” to see cannabis legalization become a reality for him in Oklahoma, as he uses it to relieve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s always been unfortunate to be considered a criminal when I’m otherwise a pretty boring person,” he said. “But now I feel legitimized by the state. I can go around like any other person without losing all the things I’ve worked so hard to build.”

But although he is now an approved patient who intends to grow at home, he said he remains reluctant to publicly disclose his status because of continued legal ambiguity. He said he was concerned about potential workplace regulations, inconsistent law enforcement oversight and possible complications related to custody of his son.

Heather West of Tishomingo was one of four people who signed onto her limited liability company’s grower license application Saturday morning. She said the company already has a location in the Johnston County Industrial Authority’s Industrial Park and is hopeful city officials there won’t take any steps to enact codes that restrict businesses beyond rules in SQ 788.

“We went to Colorado last week so we could get a picture of what dispensaries look like and what grows look like,” she said. “Me and my husband, we’re just pro-marijuana. When (788) passed, we just felt like we wanted to help this thing work in Oklahoma. We’re already business owners, so why not start this business?”

Oklahoma City resident Melissa Fahringer submitted her patient license paperwork on Saturday, and it is in review. She said she intends to file her dispensary license application on Monday. She said she has had a medical marijuana card from California and has been waiting for Oklahoma to catch up for “a long time.”

According to the language of SQ 788, patients are supposed to be able to legally possess seedlings as of Sept. 3 and can have mature plants beginning Oct. 26. Products could be available for sale by December or January.

“Without the medicine, I can’t function day-to-day. I have chronic nausea,” Fahringer said. “And now I’m not a criminal. When you buy it on the black market, you call the dealer and he brings you whatever. You don’t know where it came from or what’s in it. Now I can walk into a dispensary, talk to someone that’s knowledgeable about it and get what I need.”


News
Mick Cornett, Kevin Stitt vie for GOP nod in Tuesday's election

Clarification: This story has been edited to reflect that Mick Cornett's children and grandchildren are from a previous marriage.


OKLAHOMA CITY — The GOP gubernatorial race featuring former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Tulsa businessman Kevin Stitt is entering the final stretch after a hotly contested battle crisscrossing the state.

Voters will decide Tuesday who will face Democrat Drew Edmondson, former attorney general, on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

The winner of the Libertarian runoff featuring Chris Powell and Rex L. Lawhorn will also be on the general election ballot.

Gov. Mary Fallin is serving the final year of her second term and can’t seek re-election to the post.

Cornett and Stitt have gone on the attack in television advertisements and on the campaign trail.

Stitt’s ads question Cornett’s position on immigration and his loyalty to President Donald Trump.

Cornett has defended his record on immigration and said he has a good relationship with Trump. His ads accuse Stitt of not telling the truth about his record, using the phrase “Bull Stitt.”

Cornett is the son of a mailman and a teacher. He holds a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s in business administration from New York University.

Stitt is the son of a pastor and homemaker. He holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Oklahoma State University.

Both men are pro-life and support the death penalty.

Stitt has said he would appoint pro-life justices to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, a body that has declared unconstitutional several bills that put additional regulations on abortion.

Cornett has said he would appoint justices who had conservative values, adding that he is not convinced the way the state selects judges is broken. The Judicial Nominating Commission sends three names to the governor.

But the candidates differ dramatically on how they would have funded recent teacher pay raises.

Stitt has said he would not have signed House Bill 1010XX, a tax hike bill to pay for the raises. Instead, savings could be found through efficiencies, he has said.

He plans to audit agencies, which have already been cut by the prior administration due to budget constraints.

Cornett has said he would have signed the tax hike bill to fund teacher pay raises, saying educators deserved it.

Stitt and Cornett said they would have signed a controversial bill Fallin vetoed.

The measure would have allowed people to openly carry a weapon without a permit.

Stitt is a relatively new player in politics, billing himself as a political outsider.

He has not voted in at least the past four elections for governor. He has put in at least $3.7 million into his campaign in the form of loans.

He recently was endorsed by former Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.

Stitt's wife is Sarah. The couple has six children.

Cornett married his wife, Terri, in 2014. He has three sons and five grandchildren.

Cornett said he is a complete outsider to state government and is running to fix the mess at the Capitol.

Cornett and Stitt were the top vote earners in the June 26 Republican primary, which featured 10 candidates.

Cornett garnered 29.34 percent of the vote. Stitt attracted 24.41 percent.