Pair face off for Senate Dist. 17 seat

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

Recently PAVE (Pottawatomie Advocates for Voter Education) hosted a candidate forum for several local and state level races on the Nov. 3 ballot.

One of the state races is for Senate District 17, a seat long held by Sen. Ron Sharp. On Nov. 3, voters will decide between Republican Shane Jett and Libertarian Greg Sadler for the position.

The pair were asked about things like criminal justice reform and health care, as well as their positions on State Question 805.

Libertarian candidate Greg Sadler, at left, and Republican Shane Jett fielded questions at a PAVE forum last week. The pair are seeking votes Nov. 3 for the state office of Senate District 17.

SQ 805

SQ 805, which also is on the Nov. 3 ballot, would keep a person's former non-violent felony convictions from being used to enhance the person's sentence. Candidate positions on the measure were, as follows:

Jett's response: Like everyone, I get one vote on SQ 805; I will vote no. the reason is because when you start cluttering up the constitution with a lot of nuance legislation … that shouldn't be there, it not only convolutes the constitution, it also prevents your legislators and real time in adjusting for unintended consequences. One thing I do as a legislator, I always reach out to my district and find out who are the experts living on the ground floor of these types of reforms and ask them how's this affect your job? I heard overwhelmingly across the state, law enforcement are opposed to this state question. I think the answer is to go back to the drawing board and have our state legislators take the hard position at really crafting something that addresses the needs that (SQ) 805 is trying to address. We have too many prisoners in prison, some of whom should not be there, and guess who's paying the bill? Taxpayers. Unfortunately, because of the way it was done and where it going to be located in the constitution, this is not a good bill.

Sadler's response: I'll be voting for it. I do acknowledge, however, it's not perfect, there are things within there that aren't just right, but I think it's a good first step. My understanding is that judges will still look at prior convictions, it's just that this will put a cap to any kind of sentencing enhancement, so someone can't walk in there and get a ridiculously long sentence. It brings us closer to the direction we need to go. Are there things that can be tweaked in there and things that can be maybe a little better? Sure. But, overall, when I look at it, I have to vote yes on it.

Criminal justice reform

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.

Jett's response: (Referencing the example,) No one in their right mind would think that is just. Yes, we need reform. We need reform that addresses those inequities; we also need a little more flexibility where judges can take into consideration circumstances. Sometimes in our efforts to give justice we end up restricting the common sense element in the court room. One of the things in 2008, I was part of the Academy For State Goals, we interviewed prisoners at length and talked to experts trying to figure out what's the right formula to keep our citizens safe, keep our police officers safe, and what we discovered was we have to focus on putting people in prison (who) we are afraid of and not the people we're just mad at. At the end of the day, taxpayers pay 100 percent of their upkeep — their meals, room and board, everything. We have to balance that. As legislators we have to figure out exactly how much of a tax burden should there be to taxpayers and how can we integrate them back into society if they're not violent. It's a difficult set of circumstances that have ripple effects, but you can count on me, I will be willing to do the research and take tough stances to try to address that.

Sadler's response: Quite simply, yes. That's a very good illustration of the discrepancies between sentencing. We need to have something that's a little more forward to give judges the opportunity to give a fair sentence out. I'm not for mandates that say you must have “x” amount of years, because every situation is different. Some people are coming in an getting a slap on the hand and someone else is getting a very harsh penalty. We probably need to adjust both of those. Abuse is a very serious (crime) — it's not a non-violent crime, that is a violent crime — so that's something I believe needs to be dealt with and handled in a way where we're being fair and not giving one person an extreme amount of years and someone else very few.

Health care

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.

Jett's response: Wicked problems are those that there's not a clear answer on how to resolve it. Everyone understands it needs to be resolved, but it's multi-faceted; this is one of those wicked problems. One of the things I think COVID's highlighted is the way you can project health care into rural areas using technology. Which requires us to have proper broadband access for our families and internet to the homes so they can have access to these types of technology. That is one, we also need to look at legislation that restricts out-of-state companies who come in and cherry-pick patients — we have some coming in from Texas that try to set up clinics and virtually put out of business a local practice and they'll end up shutting down after that practice closes, which will create a health care desert. So, this is an issue we've been working on for quite some time.

Sadler's response: I'd like to start off by looking at some of the regulations. If we could deregulate some of the regulations that are tying the hands of the health care industry, get those regulations out of there, give the decisions back to the people. You get too many government restrictions in the way,and then it's not as profitable or as feasible to open up a clinic or hospital in a rural area. If we could do that, we could be more efficient; it also creates competition. The less regulations we have, the more competition we have, that should drive down prices, which will make it easier to open up those rural clinics, those rural hospitals. (Also,) broadband is an issue. I live in a rural area, we have DSL, we do not have access to broadband; it's terrible. That's one consideration we do have to take, not everybody is connected the way that folks in the city are.

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 few days.