Incumbent fields questions in bid to keep Dist. 26 seat

Vicky O. Misa
The Shawnee News-Star
Incumbent state Rep. Dist. 26 Dell Kerbs is seeking the seat again Nov. 3.

PAVE (Pottawatomie Advocates for Voter Education) hosted a candidate forum Thursday for five races on the Nov. 3 ballot.

One of the races up for grabs is the state House Dist. 26 seat. Shawnee resident and Incumbent Dell Kerbs participated in the forum, fielding several questions, though his opponent, Bryce Barfield was unable to attend, as he was isolating at home after recent COVID-19 exposure.

Kerbs was asked about criminal justice reform and health care, as well as his stance on State Question 805.

SQ 805, also on the Nov. 3 ballot, would keep a person's former non-violent felony convictions from being used to enhance the person's sentence.

Though Kerbs was asked if he was in favor of or against the measure, he instead offered some advice.

“What I would encourage everybody to do is do your research on that,” he said. “There are always concerns I have with state questions. One of those is putting classifications on crimes in the constitution.”

He said that creates a challenge itself.

“Do your research and don't rely on any elected official or somebody just telling you it's the right way to vote or the wrong way to vote,” he said. “Do your research, look at the state questions and decide which way you want to vote.”

Next, referencing a recent case featured in the network news, Moderator Ronnye Sharp detailed a situation where an African-American woman had served 15 years of a 30-year sentence for “allowing” her children to be physically abused by her husband, while he was given 2-year sentence.

“Does Oklahoma need criminal justice reform and sentencing reform?” she asked.

“Absolutely, we do,” he said. “Look at that case at face value, the scales are obviously extremely off balance.”

What Oklahomans need to understand, he said, is the entire case history is unknown.

“We need to make sure, before we start casting judgments and decisions, that we understand all of it — that specific case or any case,” he said. “Criminal justice reform is itself is not just one thing. It is a mass network of problems that we have.”

Health care was another topic up for discussion.

Lack of health care and insurance coverage remains a real problem for nearly 200,000 to 300,000 Oklahomans, plus the closing of some rural hospitals, leaving many to have to drive great distances for emergency care, Sharp said.

“How do you plan on fixing this problem?” she asked.

Kerbs said one of the side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic was getting a crash course in technology for those wanting to stay connected with family, friends, meetings, etc.

“It did bring up telemedicine,” he said. “The problem we have with that in our rural areas is broadband.”

Kerbs said, with some of the Cares Act money, the state is already working on a rural broadband initiative.

“One of the challenges we have already noticed is the overloading of the system just trying to get our schools to be able to communicate with their students,” he said. “When we talk about health care, nobody thinks about rural schools,” he said. “We've got all those components we're trying to filter themselves up into one technology at the end of the day that's up on one pole trying to communicate back and forth.”

Regarding the Medicaid expansion with SQ 802, Kerbs said the managed health care side also has to be looked at, to keep those dollars in the state.

“We've been doing it for years, quite well,” he said. “We need to be sure we continue that so we can fund our rural hospitals the way they need to be funded.”

PAVE

The city broadcasted the forum live on the city website and on its cable channel, and recorded it as well. Ronnye Sharp served as moderator. 

Since there wasn’t a live audience allowed, questions were submitted in advance.

PAVE is a non-partisan voter education group that welcomes new members.

Watch news-star.com for Q&A responses from other candidates in other races over the next several days.