The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 6, 2014

Forum: House Dist. 40 hopefuls talk pot, education, philosophy

Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — GOP candidates for Enid’s open House seat both say the state’s pot policy should be studied, and neither staked a hard-line position on whether it should be legalized for medical or recreational use.

Mike Stuber and Chad Caldwell told the Enid Noon AMBUCS today that they would support more research.

Stuber said he hadn’t thought about the issue until two weeks ago.

“I don’t really have an opinion as of yet,” he said, although his first reaction when discussing the topic was to balk at the idea. “But that’s a gut reaction based just on my Oklahoma upbringing.”

There has been a wave of states that have either approved marijuana for medicinal use or decriminalized it enough so that possession only results in a small fine. Colorado and Washington are the only states that have approved it for recreational use.

“I think there’s propaganda on both sides of the issue, and you have to look at the actual facts — the studies, and I would like to visit with doctors to find out what the real effects of it are,” said Stuber, who currently is an Enid City Commissioner.

He also noted that it could present issues for law enforcement, although it eventually could lessen the strain on the state’s prison system.

“You have to look at the whole issue and the ramifications of going either way,” Stuber said.

Caldwell, who originally is from Colorado, agreed that the issue deserves study, but he is wary of any medical benefits.

“Legalizing marijuana hasn’t been quite the utopia that you have all been led for to believe. There are still plenty of issues (in Colorado),” he said.

As executive director of Hospice Circle of Love, Caldwell talks with doctors on a regular basis. He said the ones he’s chatted with about marijuana are skeptical it can do good.

“Their message to me was that the (health) claims, in their opinion, have been grossly exaggerated – but also have been grossly understated about the harm it can do to the individual,” he said. “I have to rely on those folks. They’re the experts in their field. I’m going to go with their expertise.”

Caldwell and Stuber will face each other in the June 24 Republican primary. In November the winner will face Pierce Jones, the only Democrat running for the Oklahoma House of Representatives in District 40.



Representatives

At the candidate forum organized by the AMBUCS group and the Enid News & Eagle, moderator Frank Baker asked the candidates about their philosophy on governance, whether they would vote against their constituents. Caldwell said the one guarantee he has made on the campaign trail is that voters shouldn’t expect to agree with everything he does.

“My job, I believe, is to listen to the constituents, to listen to both sides of that argument, and make the decision that’s going to best represent and be the best for the people of Enid and the state of Oklahoma,” he said.

In politics, he added, there is a “disease” that prevents lawmakers from making tough choices.

“We have too many folks who are willing to say and do whatever it is to get elected. That simply can’t be your focus,” Caldwell said.

Stuber told the audience that his own beliefs mirror the majority of his constituents.

“I haven’t had to vote against my conscience, but at the end of the day, we’re there to represent the people of District 40, not go there and push our own agenda,” he said. “We’re there to listen and that’s it.”



Education policy

The candidates also chimed in on Common Core, the national education policy that the legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin rejected during the most recent session.

Read: Common Core — What does it mean to your child

Stuber said he was glad to see Fallin sign the bill.

“I am concerned she will attempt to re-package that under a new name and bring back pretty the same thing,” he countered.

Any changes to education policy should make sense, he said.

“Not all students learn the same way. Not all students test well. We need to give power back to the teachers that we’ve trained and educated, and really put more control into our local school boards and school systems,” said Stuber.

The bill signed into law this week was a “great first step,” Caldwell said.

“The question really is, where do we go from here? What do we do now?” he added.

Caldwell’s answer is to get everyone with a stake in education together, including teachers and parents.

“Instead of focusing on our differences, it’s about time we start focusing on where we agree — and that better be that we all want excellence in education for our kids,” he said.



Lawsuits and taxes

The Republican candidates both agree with tort reform, but were careful to say they want to make sure that lawsuits remain an option for people with legitimate cases.

“We don’t want to discourage those folks from correcting that right,” Caldwell said. “However, I don’t think you have to look very hard to find plenty of instances of frivilous lawsuits.”

Baker also asked them to parse the difference between taxes and fees, and whether raising fees is a viable option when faced with lagging revenue. Caldwell said the real question is whether someone gets true value from paying a fee.

“There are plenty of areas we should trim back because of waste and inefficiency. The easy thing to do when the budget gets tight is figure out ways to take more money from somebody else,” he said.

Stuber noted that when a fee isn’t fair, it becomes a tax.

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