In Tulsa’s State House District 70, Shane Saunders, 31, works with a purpose every day. Saunders is on a mission – not for profit or fame, but in honor to build a better future for the next generation. He is walking the district, listening to constituents and studying issues he expects to face. Saunders is well experienced in public service, but this is his first race.
Q: Why do you want to run at this time for this office?
I hear that question a lot. So people ask noting that I have a great family, great business so why mess it up with politics and tilting at windmills? The second question they ask: What took you so long?
I earned an MBA, have a great family, great business so some ask why tilt at political windmills? It is hard to give time to tend to the matters of the State of Oklahoma. But those are the very reasons I am running to represent the people of District 70 because I am a small businessman and I am terribly concerned about the direction our state and nation are headed. It is easy to complain. The hard route is to go out in public to offer ideas and expertise and attend with honor the people’s business.
I’m a Tulsa boy born and raised. I am growing a family and building a business here and as I look at my 18 month old daughter I think: This America, this Oklahoma, this Tulsa is different from the land that provided opportunity for me to succeed. I shudder to think what her world will look like when she is 18 years old if good people don’t awaken and step up to defend the free market and the Constitution of the United States of America.
Q: What are your top three priorities?
In the Oklahoma Legislature, I will focus on development of small business and supporting fiscal and regulatory infrastructure that fosters entrepreneurial success in our state. I started my company seven years ago, but to start today – it would be almost impossible.
We have to push back against crippling Federal intervention and regulation. The Obama Administration has put crosshairs on small businesses. They don’t want people to be independent – they want people dependent on the government. They are increasing disincentives to risk hard earned capital, grow economy, add employees and reap the rewards of their own hard work. As strange as it sounds, the Obama Administration doesn’t support creating wealth and growing the economy.
Government doesn’t create jobs, but we can build a business environment in which job creation and capital investment thrive. The way to encourage start-up business is to reduce the barriers to beginning businesses. Government regulators are not bad people, but their default answer is no. We have to find a way to change the default to yes. We have to improve access to capital for new businesses. In many ways, that is more a Federal issue, but local community banks in Oklahoma deal with it every day. There are multiple ways to attack that problem, but it is my first priority so people may start their own businesses and chart their own destinies.
I am not opposed to the idea of attracting businesses from other regions to Oklahoma. It would be great to hit a home run with a new big business, but the far more likely scenario is that our home grown companies will become big. We had four local companies in downtown Tulsa go public last year. That is four companies with four management teams that are investing locally. As they grow, so will our economy as they earn and spend in Oklahoma. I think we have a better chance of success when we grow companies from home rather than swing for the fences in the hope a Fortune 500 company will locate in Oklahoma. If those big companies locate in Oklahoma because we offer some special benefit then there is nothing to stop them from moving again for an even better offer somewhere else.
I file tax returns in eight different states. My Texas return was one page long, my Arkansas return was two pages, but my Oklahoma return was eight pages long. How we haven’t figured this out is amazing to me. We could use a post-it note: Gross revenue minus cost of goods equals net revenue times your rate equals what you owe. If you can’t fit that on a post-it note then you have really big handwriting or you are using a crayon. It should be that simple again. The benefits of simply streamlining the paperwork would be tremendous.
My second top priority is education. No one wants to come to a state without an educated workforce. The recent rally named “49th is not OK” made a good point. When we are that low compared to other states in the funding of education then it is a problem. We must prioritize. We must reduce administrative costs. It is politically unpopular to use the phrase “consolidate school districts,” but we have got to get real. Oklahoma’s school administrative costs are top heavy which results in fewer dollars reaching the classrooms where actual learning takes place. That is backwards.
Another education area due careful investigation is the formulas for funding. Common education is suffering, but Vo-tech schools are abundantly funded. Also, why do Tulsa tax dollars support other schools statewide? I understand that other communities do not have the tax base that Tulsa does, but I made a decision to live at 41st Street and Birmingham and pay higher property taxes and have less acreage – things I give up to live in the city. There are things they give up to live in the countryside. We have to find a more equitable way to keep local dollars in the local systems.
Number three, Oklahoma is still ripe with waste, fraud and abuse. When we spend hard earned tax dollars we have to make sure money is spent the appropriate way and getting the highest return on each expense or investment possible.
When I begin my family and business budgets, they start at zero. The State of Oklahoma should do the same. They don’t. They take last year’s budget less one time capital expenditures and up it by ten percent. That is a recipe for bloat and nonstop unfettered growth of the cost to taxpayers of their government. That is not the path for greatness.
Sometimes Legislators must say, “You are an inefficient agency or an inefficient board or commission. What are you doing, why are you here, and what is your purpose and mission? Are you meeting your stated objectives? Do you have stated objectives and standards by which you measure results?” These questions are not being asked. Some elected representatives are not rolling up their sleeves to do the detail work for fear of political retribution – because of the fear of hurting someone’s pet project or hurt someone’s protected segment of the population.
I believe you have to be fearless. You cannot worry about the next election cycle. If I go down there and get to work and people are not happy about it then, please, send me back to my real job and my real joy – my family. That’s ok with me. This public office for me is about going to work hard, with honor, and making a difference.
Those three together; encouraging small business growth and entrepreneurship, improving an educated workforce and making sure we are spend our dollars efficiently and wisely while reforming government at all levels (State, county, local and Federal to the extent you can as a State Legislator) is my plan to begin. I may not be able to do it all even in twelve years, but you have to be willing to do it and take unpopular stands if that is what it takes.
Question: After 100 years of Democrat control, Republicans have held the majority for two years so why isn’t Oklahoma fixed yet?
The unfortunate reality is that regardless of party label, too many elected officials worry about making a newspaper headline or a television story or just finding a way to splash their name in the news. They take up controversial or alienating issues and offer lip service fixes to real problems that get a quick news hit, but have no real impact on the daily lives of people in Oklahoma. Those quick cheap ideas are not the recipe for long term relief. I believe people will respect honesty.
If I tell you that I am fiscal conservative, a budget hawk, a social conservative who is worried about our communities and our values – I must represent those positions in the Legislature. It doesn’t matter what the party leadership thinks. It doesn’t matter what the opposition party or any special interest group or individual may think. It’s about representing people of House District 70 of midtown Tulsa – their values, thoughts and ideals.
This race will be decided in the Republican primary, but it is still my job to represent Democrats and Independents as well as Republicans. So when you go to the Capital, you have to keep in mind that it is about the folks back home – all of them. It is not about personal agendas or what is expedient or what is popular. It’s about doing the job you are paid to do and that is to represent your district.
Question: In House District 71, adjacent to the west of your District 70, two candidates that had never before served competed, but in the last days of the race the Democrat mailed constituents several times with scary images demonizing Republicans and his competitor who had voted on none of the issues he raised. How will you deal with such dastardly disingenuous demagoguery?
I think those attacks (as despicable, shameful, and improper to public debate as they are) miss one central and critical point. The people of Oklahoma aren’t stupid. The people can see what such attacks are attempting and recognize a sham when they see one. Maybe that kind of fraudulent attack may affect some fringe folk at the margins, but I don’t think an intelligent candidate can mail a piece that says his opponent, for example, hates kids. No one hates kids. No one can honestly believe anyone else hates kids. Maybe it is possible a few might, but it is almost impossible to believe that someone with a “hates kids” attitude would offer themselves up for public office.
I think the most important thing you can do is to be honest with people during the campaign and throughout your public service. Don’t give people milk-toast answers. Be direct. Be honest. Be open and if someone attacks you then attack right back with boldness and confidence in truth. You cannot let others define you and politics is not a spectator sport. You have to be willing to engage when attacked and trust in Divine Providence for the best outcome.
I prefer for debate to be at a high level of civility with honest respect for dissenting opinion. If people oppose that approach and take the debate to the gutter arguing nonsense issues and fabrications, then they must be met on the field of public discourse as aggressively as they may attack.
Your point is well taken that neither candidate had yet served, but one attacked on purely patrician grounds. That is simply disingenuous and has no place in public discussion.
Question: Is there anything else you would like to tell Tulsa Today readers?
The people of District 70 will select their representative from a field of three Republicans. We are all very similar in our thoughts on any number of topics. What distinguishes my candidacy is my education, background, experience and point of view. I am proud that Congressman Sullivan has endorsed me and is supporting me in this race. One of my opponents, Ken Walker, is supporting Congressman Sullivan’s challenger Jim Bridenstine. That is his choice. Every candidate has their own base of supporters.
I have two bachelor’s degrees and a master degree, but the three years I spent in Washington D.C. working for Congressman Sullivan was an advanced education beyond anything I could have imagined. What you learn in that hyper-sensitized political environment is how influence, special interest, and lobbyists impact the system of government. If you don’t recognize the influence coming in, you are powerless to stand against it as they slowly corrupt your ideas, thoughts and values. I have already been approached by these people and we are still months away from the election. I have said to them, thank you for your point of view and the education on your issue, but at the end of the day I represent the people of my district.
Q: Can you without reservation give your oath to stand in the gap with honor to defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of Oklahoma for the best interests of the people of your district?
Without hesitation I can tell you that on my honor, I will uphold that oath and that phrase means something special to me. My education at Washington and Lee University was governed by an honor code that Robert E. Lee instilled when he was President of the University after the Civil War. The code says simply that I will not lie, cheat or steal and before every exam and in every bit of work we submitted we would take an oath that said, “On my honor, I have neither given or received any aid on this particular paper or exam.” There was only one penalty if you violated that code and that was expulsion from the university. So when a Washington and Lee man tells you “on his honor” then you can go to the bank on it. So on my honor; I will uphold the Constitutions of these United States and the State of Oklahoma.
I appreciate what Tulsa Today does with investigative reporting and I welcome you to hold me accountable to my oath.
Candidate Background: Shane Saunders was born in St. Francis hospital and attended Jenks Public Schools through middle school. He graduated from Bishop Kelley High School. He earned his undergraduate degrees in Politics and Classics from Washington and Lee University and holds a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Tulsa. Saunders is owner and President of Trident Energy, Inc., a Tulsa-based oil & gas exploration and production company with interests in hundreds of wells throughout the US.
Shane is married to Taylor (Tidwell) Saunders and together they have a one-year-old daughter, Bay. Shane and Taylor are active in a number of local philanthropic causes; Shane is a board member of The Bridges Foundation, having previously served on the board of R.A.R.C. The Saunders attend church at Holy Family. Shane is proud to be solidly pro-life, having worked for pro-life causes since high school. Shane participated in the first ever Tulsa March for Life and has participated in each successive march. As an avid hunter and fly-fisherman and life-long member of the NRA, Shane is a firm believer in the Second Amendment and in the principle that our right to keep and bear arms shall NOT be infringed.
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