Forum and debate notes


I am rarely in the mood or condition after a debate to blog about it, but these are some of the most interesting and fun parts of the campaign. They are both mentally energizing and physically exhausting.

Last Friday was the Channel 47 debate. I had just flown home from Montreal earlier in the afternoon. (Thank heavens for all the empty seats on AA -- I was able to standby for an earlier flight than one that would have landed less than two hours before air time.) Following the debate, I was cornered by two vote yes supporters. One young fellow berated me, asked me questions then wouldn't let me answer, and when I decided I'd rather have a conversation than the shouting match he was pushing for, he yelled at me for walking away. The other supporter, an older fellow, was calmer in tone and demeanor, but just as accusatory. He said he wanted to ask me one question: "What will you say to your children and my grandchildren five years from now when they ask you why you set out to kill this great city?" I respectfully disagreed with the premise of his question and set out to address his premise, but he kept interrupting me: "Answer the question!" Then he offered to buy me lunch.

These people were not rubes or bumpkins. The vote yes campaign has succeeded in riling up intelligent middle class people, convincing them that Tulsa will dry up and blow away unless we pass this billion-dollar tax. It doesn't help to have the Mayor going around town saying things like, "If this doesn't pass then I don't know what hope we have for the future." It ain't that bad, folks!

Wednesday morning, I spoke to about 70 CITGO employees. I have deep CITGO roots -- Dad worked for them for 20 years, starting in Bartlesville, then moving with HQ to Tulsa in 1969. We rented a company-owned house in downtown B'ville for a while. I could identify service station logos and recite commercial slogans before I was three. ("Cities Service is CITGO... now!") A Cities Service National Merit Scholarship paid part of my MIT tuition bill. Of course, Dad was laid off in 1985, after Occidental Petroleum bought the company.

Most of the questions seemed to come from an opposition perspective -- these folks understand that this sales tax isn't going to help them keep their jobs in Tulsa. Got some good questions from a younger woman, who seemed to be leaning in favor, maybe buying into the idea that this will magically give us the momentum to help keep her job in Tulsa. It was a unique event for me -- I had the floor for 45 minutes, spent about 15 minutes setting out my key points, then taking questions. Other than questions, there was no one to rebut or challenge me. "How nice," I thought. "The Mayor gets this kind of setup every place he goes."

Last night I was at the Lewis Crest neighborhood association, perhaps the most surreal event of the campaign, held in the Fellowship Hall of Christ Presbyterian Church -- my home church -- before about 30 neighbors. Karen Keith was scheduled to appear, but was also scheduled to do the Fox 23 debate, so in her place, not one person but two -- Michael Sager of the Blue Dome District and Michael Buchert of the City of Tulsa Public Works Department. Instead of showing the schmaltzy video, the two did a standup routine of sorts, covering the ballot items and tossing the conversational ball back and forth while moving back and forth in the front of the room. It reminded me of some sort of minimalist improvisational drama. Before their presentation was over, Michael Hughes, formerly working with the Mayor on the vision process, now with the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, showed up.

I had a Powerpoint presentation on my laptop, prepared to help me compete with their video. I didn't wander quite as much, as I had to advance the slide show, but I was able to hit my objections / concerns with each ballot item.

Then came questions. Now all three Michaels were front and center -- with me between Mr. Buchert and Mr. Sager. There were no time limits, so the yes side answered, and usually wandered on to other questions, then I rebutted, then they both rebutted my rebuttal, and so on.

Then Councilor Susan Neal showed up and asked to make a few remarks, which turned into a lengthy and impassioned appeal. Then I got to rebut her, then Susan and Michael and the other Michael got to rebut my rebuttal. Then more questions, more wide-ranging answers, more rebuttals and re-rebuttals.

There was a lot of energy and passion expended in that room -- all to win the hearts and minds of about 30 voters. The event should have been taped and televised -- it had a lot more spark than a traditional TV forum with limited reply and rebuttal time. None of the homeowners got up to leave or complained about the time. I guess it was spellbinding.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 5, 2003 2:15 AM.

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