John Wright for Tulsa County Commissioner, District 3

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There are four candidates in Tuesday's Republican primary for Tulsa County Commission District 3, to fill the unexpired term of Fred Perry, who is resigning with a year and a half to go.

This is the ideal situation for Instant Runoff Voting (ranking your candidates in order of preference), but in this case, because of a quirk in state law, we don't even have a regular two-man runoff primary. (You may recall that Perry was first elected in 2006 thanks to a runoff, in which he defeated Bill Christiansen.) This race is first-past-the-post, and the candidate with the most votes wins the nomination, even if his total is far less than a majority.

Ordinarily, in this kind of election scenario I would be encouraging you to vote tactically, to consider not simply which candidate is your top choice, but which acceptable candidate is in a position to finish first.

But this time, even if I wanted to recommend a tactical vote, I couldn't. My crystal ball is too murky. There are no poll numbers to consult. The biggest spender in the race may be so far ahead that it doesn't matter. Then again, there may be several candidates neck-and-neck to finish first. So let's just vote for the right choice.

I urge District 3 Republicans to vote for former State Rep. John Wright, the best qualified candidate in the race, the candidate who best understands how county government works, the candidate with the core principles and the tenacity to protect taxpayer interests against the predations of special interests.

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During his 12-year service in the legislature, Wright was a consistent vote for conservative policies across the board. His voting record earned him a lifetime score of 91% on the Oklahoma Constitution Conservative Index. He was a leader in the House, serving as chairman of the Republican caucus and chairman of the House Administrative Rules and Agency Oversight Committee. Wright has been endorsed by many of his former legislative colleagues, including State Sen. Gary Stanislawski, who says that John Wright "is a man of integrity who researches the facts to make informed decisions."

Since leaving the House, Wright, a Realtor, has served in the Tulsa County Assessor's office. In that capacity, he has attended dozens of County Commission and county board meetings, adding direct knowledge of county operations to his work on county government reform at the State Capitol.

This past Tuesday evening, I attended the League of Women Voters forum and heard from all five County Commission candidates. It confirmed my opinion that Wright is the only candidate thoroughly prepared to serve. He was able to answer every question knowledgeably, with specifics, without hedging.

Regarding the county budget, Wright says that all county revenues, whether from property tax, sales tax, grants, or previous year surpluses, should be budgeted up-front, not just accounted for after the money has already been spent, and he pointed to an Attorney General opinion backing up that view of state law. Sadly, this common-sense view is not the majority view at the Tulsa County Courthouse.

John Wright is soft-spoken, but you should never mistake his soft-spokenness for a lack of spine.

In 2003, Wright was the lone vote in either chamber against HB 1676, which would have removed requirements for counties to follow generally accepted accounting principle (GAAP). Wright's courage to stand alone against the bill caught then-Gov. Henry's attention, and Wright was able to persuade Gov. Henry to veto it.

When asked about what should happen when the Vision 2025 tax expires, Wright said that a lower tax rate generates a higher level of economic activity and results in a higher, more secure revenue stream. Higher sales taxes encourage consumers to defer purchases or divert them elsewhere.

Wright believes that the county's role in economic development is to focus on basic public safety and infrastructure. "The core of economic development is public safety." Funneling tax dollars to private companies (as Vision2 would have done) leads to elections that go to the highest bidder, the sort of thing that happens in Third World dictatorships.

Wright wants to see the county excise board do its job of scrutinizing the budgets submitted to it rather than acting as a rubber stamp. He worked with the legislature to require county board of equalization members (who also serve as the excise board) to take training in their powers and responsibilities under state law.

Ron Peters, another former State Rep., made sure we all knew he was the Tulsa Regional Chamber's endorsed candidate in the race. Peters wants another "Vision"-type tax, controlled by the county, although he wants to take some time to put the next package together and try to get everyone on board. Early in the campaign, I detailed Ron Peters's decidedly un-conservative legislative record on gambling and local control of zoning and his worrisome roster of supporters, led by Bob Dick, former Tulsa County Commissioner.

Brandon Perkins lost me with his answer to a question about the structure of a tax vote to replace Vision 2025 when it expires: "Let the voters decide." That's a cop-out. The voters can only vote yes or no on whatever plan the commissioners send their way. It's up to the commissioners to filter proposals and only let solid ideas go to the voters. Perkins's radio ads suggest that he wants an expansive role for county government, hinting at massive public infrastructure projects and a "legacy." What we need, rather, is a modest county government focused on meeting its statutory responsibilities.

Don Crall was the most confident speaker of the candidates at the LWV forum and was the first to step out from behind the podium. Crall teaches business classes at Southern Nazarene University. On a replacement for the Vision 2025 sales tax, he made a good point -- the cities may claim it before the county gets around to renewing it. Crall is the only candidate who lives in Tulsa County's ever shrinking unincorporated territory and so understands the special role county government plays in roads and law enforcement where city jurisdiction doesn't apply. If Wright weren't in the race, Crall would be my pick.

At the same time, however, there are some worrisome things about Crall. In his interview with Tulsa Beacon publisher Charlie Biggs, Crall characterized the County Commissioner's job as his ideal role in government because it's an administrative post, not legislative, which Crall doesn't find appealing. In fact, there is a strong legislative and policy-making aspect to the county commission, shaping policy with the other two commissioners, picking loan recipients as a member of the Tulsa County Industrial Authority, setting policy for Expo Square as a member of the fair board, and serving with the other elected officials on the budget board. You're making policy choices, not simply administering someone else's policy choices.

While Crall talks a good game on taxes and limited government, it bothers me that he didn't stick his neck out in public opposition to the disastrous Vision2 tax plan. Did he pull his punches on the issue because of his desire to run for County Commissioner? And the current Tulsa County Commission appointed Crall to the Vision 2025 Sales Tax Overview Committee, which he serves as chairman. Does that mean that they believed Crall was tame enough not to stir up any trouble or ask any probing questions? (UPDATE 2013/06/11: Crall reached out with an gracious email on June 7, which has set my mind at ease somewhat on these questions. Unfortunately, it got caught by the spam trapper and I am only now (midday on Election Day) seeing it.)

There's the distinct possibility that the same voters who defeated Vision2 (Prop. 1: 45.9% to 54.1%; Prop. 2: 47.7% to 52.3%) will split their votes so many ways that they'll guarantee the election of a commissioner like Peters who will actively push for Vision2.1. Ronda Vuillemont-Smith, who led the successful campaign to defeat Vision2, saw that danger and stepped aside just after the filing period, pulling her name off of the ballot in deference to John Wright. Given the lack of a runoff, it would have been lovely if Crall and Wright had agreed to make their case to a panel of conservative leaders and then unite behind the candidate that the group thought best suited to the job.

But it's too late for that and the candidates have too much invested to pull out now. So the best the voters can do is make the right choice and live with the results. And the right choice for Tulsa County Commissioner is John Wright.

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1 Comments

David Van Author Profile Page said:

Yeah, I think John Wright has the best background, best record, best team, and best philosophy.
John is a gentle and considerate man. He doesn't 'toot his own horn' and leave a wake of enemies in his quest of personal ambitions. We are fortunate to have a man of his character who's dedicated to public service.
In a personal note, John has been a trusted personal mentor to me and helped me tap into his brilliant mind. John understands government process in a way that few politicians ever bother to learn.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 6, 2013 11:07 PM.

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