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PAVE: County, state candidates introduce themselves to voters

By Vicky O. Misa | Vicky.misa@news-star.com | (405) 214-3962 | Twitter: @Vicky_NewsStar
The Shawnee News-Star

On Thursday evening PAVE (Pottawatomie Advocates for Voter Education) hosted a candidate forum for 11 hopefuls running for offices relating to county and state seats, though two did not participate.

Three candidates are running for Pottawatomie County Sheriff: Incumbent Mike Booth, Jeff Griffith and Ben Henderson.

For District 2 County Commissioner, Incumbent Randy Thomas and Jason Evans seek the seat.

Competing for the state Senate District 17 position are Incumbent Ron Sharp, Brandon Baumgarten and Shane Jett.

Vying to secure the state Senate District 28 seat are Zack Taylor, Mike Haines and Christian Ford.

Questions ranged from things like budget concerns due to COVID-19; mental health and medicaid; crime rates; training; roads; and justice reform.

The election is June 30.

Pottawatomie County Sheriff

• Incumbent Mike Booth said no other candidate has the law enforcement or military experience that he has.

“I've worked with three former sheriffs and two former district attorneys in the county,” he said. “I was elected sheriff in 2008.”

The successes of the sheriff's office since 2009 are unmatched, he said.

“Since becoming sheriff, we have more eputies of the year in Oklahoma, more reserve deputies of the year in Oklahoma, we have the most decorated deputy in Oklahoma,” he said. “We are currently the second most decorated sheriff's office in Oklahoma.”

He's been named Sheriff of the Year for Oklahoma by his peers; and elected president of Oklahoma Sheriff's Association.

“I'm a Special Deputy United States Marshal and the only person here that is certified in county government operations through the OSU Extension government training program,” he said. “We have more training and advanced training and instructors than ever in the history of our county.”

He said when he took office, the county was fourth in the state for fatality crashes.

“We are now 41st,” he said. “The National Highway Safety Program has used our program's success in its national presentation.”

• Jeff Griffith grew up in Shawnee. After high school he went into the military. After that he came back and joined the Shawnee Police Department. Later, he joined the Highway Patrol, working in the area.

“I have a pretty good understanding of what's going on here, in Pottawatomie County,” he said.

He said the reason he's running for sheriff is because there's a problem in Pottawatomie County.

“Our crime rate is pretty high, we rank No. 2 and No. 4 in the state,” he said. “What we need to do is focus combined efforts in Pott. County to make sure we can tackle this crime rate.”

He said he thinks it can be done with good relationships and cooperative efforts with others to help reduce costs with the manpower that's needed to do that.

“We need to pay attention to what's important, which is taking care of our kids and families,” he said.

• Ben Henderson said he has spent a lot of time in law enforcement — since 2002, spending most of his law enforcement career in the county.

“One of the reasons I'm running of sheriff is because there is an increased crime rate in this county; we need to reverse that,” he said. “I've seen a lot of things. We have resources that are not being utilized; we have expenses that are not necessary.”

There is training that need to be addressed, he said.

“There are a lot of issues throughout the entire county that need to be addressed,” he said.

District 2 County Commissioner

• Incumbent Randy Thomas has been District 2 County Commissioner for the past eight years.

“I've been a difference maker as a firefighter for 25 years, loved it,” he said.

He's been through some ups and downs, one of which was the May 3 tornado in 2013.

“It wiped out 87 structures in a trailer park,” he said. “It took us $400,000 to clean it up.”

In May 2015 there were overwhelming floods, where the county experienced more than 20 road failures, he said.

“My men worked 31 days straight and got everything patched up at the cost of $700,000,” he said. “This COVID-19, we're going to make it through this, too.”

Thomas has many rural road projects under his belt, also.

“I pride myself in working with different entities — the tribes, the city,” he said.

• Jason Evans was not in attendance; he did not participate in the forum.

State Senate District 17

• Incumbent Ron Sharp is a Shawnee native; he spent 38 years teaching at Shawnee High School.

“This is my home,” he said. “This is where I work; this is the kids of which I taught, this is the kids of which are now going to have the opportunity, hopefully, to vote for me.”

Not only is he a resident here, because of his dad's occupation, he grew up visiting the areas he now represents.

“I represent everybody,” he said. “I'm there for you.”

• Brandon Baumgarten said this is his first time running for office.

“I can tell you I went to Oklahoma State University and was the first person in my family to graduate from college,” he said. “At 21 years old I started my own leadership training business … those experiences have served me very well.”

The youth pastor and his wife, a teacher at Dale, have a 7-month old daughter.

“That's the reason I'm running for office,” he said. “I believe we have a future worth fighting for.”

Senate District 17 has great potential, he said.

“I will fight for our future in many different ways,” he said. “Fiscal responsibility, integrity, grit, heart and transparency are all things I want to bring to the table; I love this place and I want to continue to make it better.”

• Shane Jett has been out of public office for a decade.

“I served six years in the Oklahoma House of Representatives; I served during the economic crisis of 2008 — the financial crisis and recovery in 2009 and subsequent budget cuts,” he said. “I think that experience is quite relevant for what we're anticipating the legislature coming up.”

In the 10 years Jett has been out of the legislature, he served in the U.S. Navy.

The experience he has gained from the past decade has equipped him to tackle the budget crisis, he said.

Jett said he was recognized by President Trump in 2016 to serve in the U.S. Treasury — specifically in economic development.

“I believe in public service, I like serving in uniform,” he said. “In military experience, you're looking out for the people at home, standing up for people that matter.”

State Senate District 28

• Zack Taylor, current state Rep. — Dist. 28, grew up around Seminole.

“Rural Oklahoma is all I've ever known,” he said. “I graduated from Seminole High School in 2002, then went on to OSU, where I graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Science in aviation management and a minor in finance.”

He said eventually he ended up in business with his dad, owning and operating about 50 oil wells across Seminole and Pottawatomie Counties.

“I know what it's like to make payroll; I know what it's like to have to make cuts when times are tough,” he said. “The oil and gas business is very cyclical.”

In 2017, by special election, he was elected to the House.

“I have enjoyed service there; that's what my family is always done — is serve the community, through church, through outreach and industry. I wanted to further that service in the House,”

He said he decided to run because he wanted to make a change in Oklahoma, the only place he's ever known as home.

“I will continue that change in the Senate,” he said.

• Mike Haines, a pastor, has started three small, successful businesses and is a farmer and rancher.

“I'm a servant to the community,” he said. “I'm a rural firefighter for years, and I've been with folks in their very worst times in their life.”

He said he's a problem solver.

“I've worked for IBM both as a contractor and as an employee, and my job was to come into failed projects,” he said. “To find out the issues that were going on, find solutions, build a consensus and move us forward, and that's exactly what I'll do for you if you hire me as Senator of District 28.”

He said he is running because there are problems and issues that are specific to rural communities — including this one — that linger for decades.

“I believe that often the metro centers take up a great amount of our time and effort and we ignore our little communities,” he said. “Some of those issues include empowering teachers and supporting rural hospitals and building economic development that lasts for decades.”

These are things that need to be done — including the infrastructure — to make that work, he said.

• Christian Ford was not in attendance; he did not participate in the forum.

For more

Watch for next week's editions of The Shawnee News-Star or visit news-star.com for upcoming stories reporting candidate responses to some of the top issues discussed at the forum.