Jari Askins says she’s ‘focused on Oklahoma’ and ready to lead

In a wide-ranging
interview, Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins talked about her passion for
Oklahoma, her disdain for D.C.-style politics, concerns about upcoming
budget Jari Askinschallenges, and television advertisements criticizing votes she
cast in the state House several years ago. 

Askins also restated opposition to State
Question 744. She said the state is likely facing a $1 billion funding
gap, making next year’s budget process difficult even without a massive
funding shift if the initiative prevails.

She told Tulsa Today and CapitolBeatOK, “I’ve been speaking against State Question 744
for a year. I believe we need more money in our classrooms, but this
flawed proposal has no funding mechanism.”

Askins reflected, “Sometimes observers say Oklahoma has a system that
results in a strong Legislature and a weak governor. But an area where a
governor can clearly impact or direct policy is in the budget. The kind
of a mandate in S.Q. 744 would simply cripple my ability, as governor,
to negotiate with legislative leaders.”

Asked to identify key issues in her campaign as the Democratic nominee
for governor, Askins said, “First, my heart is in Oklahoma. People tell
me they believe I’m who I am, all the time. What you see is what you
get. People use the words ‘genuine and authentic.’ I hope that’s right.
It’s so gratifying.

“Second, I care about Oklahoma. It is my focus. I’ve had no desire to
work in Washington, D.C. or to live there. I don’t like the way
business, the people’s business, is done there. I care about Oklahoma.
That has always been my focus.

“Third, my reputation, both personal and working or professional. I like
and enjoy people, meeting them and learning their concerns and trying
to make life better in Oklahoma. 

“In the public or professional arena, I have always tried to find
solutions, rather than to divide or conquer. I have found that people
don’t like the fighting and bitterness that has come to characterize so
much of politics, and that is so pervasive in Washington.

“I have a reputation for working without regard to partisanship. I work
with different groups well. That’s urban and rural, east and west, and
between the parties, to take their ideas and make a better solution for
everyone. You know, Oklahoma is not a big enough state to fight among
ourselves like they do in D.C.”

Describing Oklahoma’s continuing budget challenges, Askins said, “It’s a
big part of the reason I decided to run. This is exactly the time, the
sort of circumstances, when I need to be … a decision-maker. I believe
that in the midst of this slow-moving recovery, my experience in the
appropriations process is a perfect fit to the situation in which we
find ourselves.  You can be certain I will have important conversations
with Speaker-designate Kris Steele and the new Senate President Pro Tem
is to assure we get engaged to make the tough choices.”

Askins said state leaders might want to consider “doing things
differently at the Capitol this year. I think we can and should do the
budget first. If you look ahead at the 2011 session, the two most
important things we need to deal with are the budget and of course
reapportionment of the legislative and congressional districts.

“These are tough times, as the budget cuts that had to be made in
2002-03 have never really been fully restored. And now we’re dealing
with a whole new set of budget reductions.”

Askins recalled, “I’m comfortable dealing with the budget issues.
Looking back, ten of my 12 years in the Legislature I was right in the
middle of the budget and appropriations process because of my position
on that House committee.”

CapitolBeatOK asked if there is a need for changes in what government
does, or room for more budget cuts. She replied,  “I’m not sure there
are entire areas to step away from, but we do need to burrow deeper in
the way the agencies operate. I will try to get on the ballot a state
question, a proposal to convert to a two-year state budget cycle, which
might help elevate the policy focus and avoid some of the politics.

“Under this idea, every other year would be a ‘budget only’ year at the
Legislature. This would allow the opportunity to work more carefully on
spending issues and to answer questions such as what you asked.”

Askins asserts, “The process can be improved. There are 101 members in
the House. I think that we can probably have every member serve on a
budget subcommittee, as is the case in the Senate, as a way to make the
process more inclusive.

“As for the things government does, there may not actually be
duplicative services across agency lines, but there are similarities
that might mean work can more efficiently be done elsewhere.  I am
certain we have to look more deeply at the programs and the processes
within the agencies. And certainly, if we don’t look for duplication or
inefficiencies, we won’t ever find them.”

She added, “The time to make ourselves, our government, more efficient
is right now, when the need to do so is so manifest and clear.”

Her advertising push in the final weeks of the election will include
more focus on her personal record and achievements: “I still own my home
in Duncan. All I’ve ever had here in Oklahoma City is an apartment. I
have kept my roots at home, in my community. I go home as many weekends
as I can to Duncan, and when I’m there I attend First Christian Church
of Duncan. I still sing in the choir.”

Making her case versus the Republican nominee, Askins said, “I think one
important difference is qualifications, and what is needed for this
particular time in Oklahoma history. My background growing up in the
family small business helps me understand that in business and in
government every penny matters. It certainly matters to me.

“The next 18 to 24 months are going to be rough, even though Oklahoma is
better positioned than many states. The recovery is under way, but it
is slow to show itself to some people. Comparatively, Oklahoma is still
not where we need to be. It’s not unusual for unemployment to lag behind
in a time of recovery, but that doesn’t make it easier if you’re the
one unemployed.”

Askins has faced criticisms for a vote she cast supporting a
Republican-sponsored bill providing educational benefits to the children
of illegal immigrants. She told Tulsa Today / CapitolBeatOK:

“I voted for a bill to allow children who have graduated from Oklahoma
high schools be able to access the higher education system. I knew when
making the decision to run for governor that attempts would be made to
tie me to Washington D.C. and just have that be enough reasons to oppose

She continued, “When you serve in the Oklahoma House for 12 years, you
eventually cast thousands of votes. You vote on nearly every conceivable
issue. Some might not understand that you oppose a bill that has good
provisions because there is something or more than one bad thing that
more than offsets the good tings or vice versa.

“A 10 second sound-bite on a vote I cast seven years ago might not be
fully illuminating of what I think and feel. Taking one short snapshot
like that does not reflect my work product, my approach to working with

“I will point out that the bill on higher education benefits passed
overwhelmingly in the House, then went to conference committee and back
to the House. It was closer the second time but still popular. It was
about kids, about children who had graduated from high schools in
Oklahoma, about establishing a process to move them toward citizenship. I
thought that it seemed better than leaving them to the streets or
pushing them toward gangs.”

She said support for the bill benefiting children has been distorted:

“We have to control our borders as a country. As a judge, I know the
impact of illegal activity. Some come to our state to commit crimes.
Drug trafficking and even human trafficking are among those criminal

“For those who come here to work legally, or study, or who want to
become a legal citizen, we have to find a way to advance citizenship
that doesn’t take years and years. It shouldn’t take 12 years or more
and $15,000 to do that. The federal government has to step up, to
control the borders and to create a process so people can legally
fulfill their dreams.

“Any attempt to tie me to DC doesn’t work and won’t work, especially
with the people I’ve represented at the Capitol. … I’ve never met Barack
Obama. I’ve never met Nancy Pelosi. I’m not the one who has lived and
worked in Washington D.C. for years. I’m not running to be governor of
Washington, D.C. I’m running to be governor of Oklahoma.”

Askins commented, “The rise of the Tea Party movement is evidence that a
lot of people are angry at elected officials who won’t listen to their
concerns about spending, about all issues. I encourage people to look at
my record. I work in coalitions and I work with and not around people.

“This is an important election for Oklahoma. I want to help keep the
ship of state steady and moving forward. I have the confidence in my own
beliefs to listen to others and help fashion the best policy. That is
about Oklahoma and not a political agenda.

“I believe the negative ads from out-of-state will likely continue, and
will show that there are some who don’t believe in the way things are
best done in Oklahoma, by working together. We’re still a populist state
and I’m not sure our people like being told by out-of-staters how they
ought to vote. We don’t like being told what to do.”