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Sheriff Candidates Square Off At PAVE Forum


Gloria Trotter

Sheriff candidates answer questions submitted to PAVE as they work for votes in the upcoming election. Seated, from left, Ben Henderson, moderator Ronnye Sharp, Jeff Griffith and Sheriff Mike Booth.

For the second week in a row, political candidates, reporters and members of PAVE gathered at Shawnee's City Hall for a candidate forum. This week's forum was for state and county level candidates. The event was closed to the public to reduce the risk of viral transmission, but video of the entire forum is available on the City of Shawnee's YouTube page. Here are some of the highlights are summarized below.


Incumbent Commissioner Randy Thomas said he's been doing the job for the last eight years, and he's loved it. He said in his time as a firefighter, he was on scene for numerous disasters and emergencies. "This COVID-19? We've been through a tornado, we've been through a flood, we're going to make it through this," Thomas said. He said the virus would certainly impact the county's budget, but promised to maintain critical services. "You won't see no new projects, but core services will be taken care of," Thomas said.

He said as the incumbent commissioner, his constituents have his cell number, and he prides himself on making sure he gives people a call back when they want to talk to him. It's important to help people when you can, but not to overpromise, Thomas said. He said the county was booming, and that economic development was progressing well. "We had the state auditor in two months ago, and she complimented Pottawatomie County, saying we were one of the best run counties in the state," Thomas said. Thomas said that compliment was an honor, and asked the public for one more term as District 2 Commissioner.

Jason Evans, the other Republican candidate for District 2 County Commissioner, did not attend the forum.

Pottawatomie County SHERIFF

• Sheriff candidate Jeff Griffith said he was running because he noticed some issues with Pottawatomie County's public safety. "The reason I'm running for sheriff is, we've got a real problem here in Pott County. Our crime rate is pretty high," Griffith said. He said if elected, he would focus on inter-agency cooperation. He said Sheriff Mike Booth doesn't work well with other law enforcement agencies. At one point, Griffith said if he was elected he wouldn't hire Booth without some counseling to improve his conduct. Griffith emphasized on multiple occasions the need to share resources between agencies. He said cities, the county, other law enforcement agencies and the tribes all had to work together to efficiently allocate resources. "We need to be good partners with our tribal friends, and do the very best we can," Griffith said.

• Sheriff candidate Ben Henderson described himself as a conservative Republican, who had the experience necessary to lower Pottawatomie County's crime rate. "We have resources available to us that are not being utilized, we have expenses that are not necessary, and we need to make some adjustments to that," Henderson said. He said if elected, he would restructure the command staff at the Sheriff's Office. More supervision and attention need to

He said the schedules would need to be restructured, in order to have officers on patrol 24 hours per day, and to increase officer visibility. He said the office needed to establish a vehicle maintenance program, and build on the existing K-9 program. Henderson said he was the best candidate for the job, but also that he would hire both of his opponents if elected. "They both have good experiences and good knowledge, and I think we could find a use for them," Henderson said.

• Incumbent Sheriff Mike Booth said his office has already implemented many of the programs suggested by his opponents. He said his office has a good working relationship with the law enforcement agencies in the county, and encouraged voters to ask their local police chief about Booth's performance. He said his opponent Jeff Griffith had applied to his department, and not been hired. He said if re-elected, he would not hire either of his opponents. Booth said his hiring practices are in line with county policies, and that he's happy to hire qualified candidates.

He was against the agency adopting stringent new physical requirements for employment. "I don't care what their race, color, creed, gender is, if they're a deputy, they meet our standards," Booth said. Booth also said that his office had received a number of calls, including from ODOT, about his opponent Griffith's signs being placed on private property and in the right-of-way on highways without permission. He said he believes the signs should be taken up, and said people had reported seeing Griffith placing the signs personally.


• Mike Haines said he is a businessman, and pastor at Deer Creek Baptist Church. He said he's a farmer and rancher, and had served for years as a rural firefighter. "I believe that often the metro centers take a great amount of our time an effort, and we ignore rural communities," Haines said. He promised to bring a voice to the rural communities in Senate District 28. "I will represent us, because I believe in us. That's why I'm running," Haines said.

He said his top priorities were the budget, diversifying the state's portfolio to rely less on oil and gas, and expanding access to healthcare and mental health resources. Haines said he wasn't willing to get involved in the Shawnee Expo controversy if elected, because it isn't a state issue. He did, however, say he would get involved if it became a state issue. Haines said Oklahoma needs to stop letting drug offenders walk free without treatment. "I think Oklahoma has a lot of work to do on criminal justice reform," Haines said. He said the state needs to make sure the punishment fits the crime. "Just sending people to prison doesn't help," Haines said.

• Rep. Zack Taylor said rural Oklahoma was all he'd ever known. He said he hadn't originally wanted to pursue politics, but rather a career in aviation. "Apparently God had a different plan, and I went in a different direction," Taylor said. He said his top priorities were the budget, infrastructure, and rural economic development. Taylor also said he supports criminal justice reform, with a focus on helping people reintegrate and get back to gainful employment.

He said that although the Shawnee Expo controversy wasn't a state issue, he would be more than happy to help in his own way. "It might not be a state issue, but I would be very willing to help the stakeholders in the equation sit down in a room and hammer out what needs to take place," Taylor said. Taylor said he thought it was important for a senator to have experience, and said he'd been in the legislature for years. He said he'd been available to his constituents as a legislator, and worked well with local agencies and communities.


• Incumbent Sen. Ron Sharp said he'd been accessible to his constituents during his eight years in the position. "This is where I live. This is where I work," Sharp said. He said his top three priorities were the budget, education, and transportation. He said he had worked with ODOT to improve transportation, and diligently supported improvements on roads and bridges. Sharp said his path to criminal justice reform focused on improving education, providing counseling services and mental health treatment, and improving the conditions of those who are incarcerated. He said he supports law enforcements, and reforming sentencing guidelines.

Sharp also addressed his public confrontation with Epic charter schools, and said he just wanted accountability and transparency. "I do not like the idea that public money is being used to support schools which were not constitutionally created," Sharp said. He said he is not an ideologue for the left or the right. "I am a thinker who just happens to have conservative values," Sharp said.

• Former Rep. Shane Jett said he had served in the legislature during the 2008 financial crisis, and been tapped by President Donald Trump's administration to serve at the United States Treasury. He said his top priorities would be addressing the economic impact of COVID-19, education, and infrastructure. He said it was time the legislature made relevant cuts to the budget. "This is an opportunity for us to take a hard look at Oklahoma, and determine what are essential services and what are not," Jett said. He said he supports criminal justice reform, and re-examining who the state incarcerates. "Prisons are not where you send people with mental health. Prisons are where you send people that you're afraid of," Jett said. He assured the public that his campaign was not receiving funds from Epic charter schools. He said the public had lost faith in the legislature, and that he wants to represent his home. "My passion is public service, and I believe Oklahoma is in crisis," Jett said.

Gloria Trotter

Candidates for State Senate, Dist. 17 take their turn in the hot seats. From left, Shane Jett, moderator Ronnye Sharp, Brandon Baumgarten and incumbent Ron Sharp.

• Brandon Baumgarten, a youth pastor at Hazel Dell Baptist Church, said this was his first time running for public office. He said since graduating from OSU, he started his own leadership training business, and now had a wife and daughter. "I believe we have a future worth fighting for, and that's why I'm running for office," Baumgarten said. He said his top three priorities were the budget, infrastructure, and expanding internet availability. Baumgarten said he supports criminal justice reform focused on rehabilitation rather than reprimanding people. He said he values even those in prison, and wants to help prisoners with mental illnesses. He also weighed into the Epic charter schools controversy, saying that Sharp had been the subject of political attacks, and assuring the public that his campaign had not been responsible. Baumgarten said he supports consolidating agencies and sharing state resources. "The less costs we have, the better off we're going to be," Baumgarten said.

The City of Shawnee will rebroadcast both the June 11 and June 18 forums on Vyve Channel 3 several times before Tuesday.


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