Everybody loves an underdog.
Of course, that isn't to say everybody will necessarily vote for one in a political race, a nationally televised and wildly popular singing competition, or a contest for prom king or queen.
If contestants were guaranteed that advantage simply by virtue of being underdogs, they wouldn't be underdogs then, would they?
We love them for trying, for thumbing their noses at the odds, for taking the top dogs down a notch or two.
And that's how every innovation and advancement has ever occurred throughout human history: somebody decided the status quo was not set in stone, and that the obstacles to changing it were, with sufficient courage and tenacity, surmountable. Underdogs inspire us to dream big, to struggle against our own fears and limitations, to take our own shots at glory despite risks and ridicule.
That describes some underdogs, at least. The successful examples, anyway, like the Wright brothers, our nation's founding fathers, the Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae, and the guy who first thought to put cheese in aerosol spray cans.
The vast majority of underdogs, though, are too naïve to know they don't have a chance, and too stubborn to listen when people tell them those cliché-packed sports movies feeding their hopes are only loosely "based on true events."
Which brings us to the 2008 election.
Or any election season, for that matter, since they all have incumbents and they all have challengers.
Incumbents typically have the advantage in any race, but that never stops the innumerable unknowns who emerge every election year to challenge them, sinking untold fortunes on their campaigns as they grab for their 15 minutes of fame before fading again into obscurity after the votes are counted.
While underdogs are a dime-a-dozen in any election season, some stand out more than others, whether it's because they're more colorful than most, or interesting circumstances draw them into the race.
Or because they might actually have a shot at winning.
Take state Sen. Andrew Rice, for instance.
He's the guy running for U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe's spot on Capitol Hill.
And that's probably his greatest claim to fame at the moment.
It's not that he hasn't been an active and successful state senator. If you ask his constituents, they'll likely say he has.
But, no matter how energetic and effective you are, if you only spend a short amount of time being energetic and effective in a public capacity, people outside your district will invariably respond to mention of your name with, "Who's that guy?"
The Democrat from Oklahoma City just wrapped up the second session of his freshman term in the state Legislature, having been elected in November 2006 to fill the shoes of 28-year veteran lawmaker Sen. Bernest Cain, who was a legend among fellow liberal Democrats and a continual bane to conservative Republicans.
Rice was Cain's anointed heir in an urban district that stands out from the rest of an otherwise conservative state like a bright blue neon sign, as its voters repeatedly sent Cain back to the Capitol year after year, until term limits precluded an eighth term.
And because Oklahoma at large is a red state, it's no surprise that we keep sending former Tulsa mayor Jim Inhofe back to one office or another, term after term after term since before 35-year-old Rice was born, and to the U.S. Senate for the past 14 years.
Inhofe has not only the incumbent advantage over Rice, but also the benefit of more years of political and campaign experience than Rice has of dressing and feeding himself.
With that in view, one can't help but admire Rice's moxie in announcing his candidacy for Inhofe's job last September--barely ten months after he won election to his first public office.
"I wasn't intending to jump into something this big so soon--even when I ran for the state Senate I didn't know if it was something I wanted to jump into," Rice told UTW of his seemingly impulsive decision.
"I really felt like it's a unique election year where there's a lot of anxiety about the direction of the country, and Inhofe could be vulnerable," he continued, listing motivations beyond "just not being happy with (Inhofe) as a senator."
Know Thy Senator
Rice isn't the only challenger to the long-standing lawmaker, though.
He's just one of a half-dozen contenders for Inhofe's title.
He'll have to defeat fellow Democrat Jim Rogers of Midwest City in the July 29 primary election. Then he'll face Independent Stephen Wallace, as well as whoever wins the Republican primary, be it Inhofe or one of his three challengers from his own party: Ted Ryals of Moore, Dennis Lopez of Thackerville and Evelyn Rogers of Tulsa.
According to our own armchair political analysis, though, we suspect that Rice will probably be the one to give Inhofe the toughest run for his money. He's a bit more recognizable to the voting public because he announced sooner, and he's the only candidate currently holding office.
Rice's discontent with his political rival's performance, he said, is "not necessarily always because of his policy positions, but because of his approach to the job."
That approach, Rice contends, is one of "abrasiveness" and rigid, uncompromising partisan politics.
"I don't personally know Jim Inhofe, but I just don't think he's really a part of the solution in Washington, D.C.," he said.
Another reason for the sudden bid to upgrade from state to national office, Rice said, is that "a lot of my personal political and policy passions are federal."
"I mean, I enjoy being a state senator--it's a big honor, and I have a good situation right now, and my house is walking distance to the Capitol, but a lot of the issues I'm passionate about--national security issues, our direction as a country, our role in the world--are federal issues impacted by what happens in Congress," explained Rice.
Regarding his particular qualifications to pursue those issues, he said, "I think people want someone who does things differently, whether that means being more bipartisan or more transparent and open in how they communicate with the public about where they are."
And, whatever else one thinks about Rice's performance as a state legislator or about his chances for unseating Inhofe, his resumé is quite a departure from that of a typical politician.
While he is Harvard-educated, his background isn't in law or business, but religion.
He earned a bachelor's degree in Religious Studies from Maine's Colby College, then a master's in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School.
Rice said his religious interests were more personal than professional, arising, he said, out of "personal religious changes."
"I was getting more serious about it, working through some personal problems I had. I was drinking a lot and not doing well in school, and my life sort of turned around, religiously, and at the same time, I got real interested in studying it, from an academic standpoint," he recalled.
"And by the time I got to college, I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I thought I'd continue to study it, maybe to teach. And that was my plan, when I got my master's, that I'd go on to get my PhD and then go on to teach, maybe, theology," Rice continued.
The emphasis of his studies centered on Christian history: "how the church was formed, the role of religion in social movements--specifically the Civil Rights movement," he said.
"I also studied religious extremism. Ironically, I'd studied the problems of religious extremism in Islam and other traditions--looked a little bit at how it reared its head in violence and terrorism. And this was prior to David getting killed," Rice added. David was his older brother, who was among the thousands killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks while working as an investment broker in the World Trade Center.
As his campaign website reads, "As a result of that tragic loss, Andrew re-dedicated his life to individual rights advocacy and common-sense public policy."
That redirection consisted of opposing the Iraq War, and advocating the creation of the 9/11 Commission, the site also reads, without elaboration.
Unfortunately, a scheduling conflict cut the interview short before I could ask for specifics, but his campaign consultant, Steve Patterson, responded.
"He appeared at rallies in Washington, conducted media interviews and met with numerous members of Congress during this period while the Commission deliberated and Congress weighed various responses to the attacks, including the Homeland Security Act," he said.
But even before the tragedy that took his brother and others, Rice had already begun to alter his course from becoming a theology professor.
After finishing college in 1996 and before attending Harvard, he spent a year in Sri Lanka and Thailand working on rural development projects in impoverished villages.
Also, by the time he was nearing completion of his graduate studies, his interests turned to documentary filmmaking. He and his sister Amy helped produce a documentary entitled "From Ashes" about an ex-con running a hospice in India for HIV-positive patients who had been shunned from society at large.
When asked why he switched from wanting to teach theology to making documentaries, Rice answered, "It was just sort of a storytelling thing."
He said it wasn't necessarily a departure from his religious studies, but an outgrowth.
"What I was intrigued by was exploring the role of religion in society, and social justice issues. Instead of writing about it in a book or an article, I was intrigued by using filmmaking and documentaries to tell people about it," he said.
After graduating Harvard, he moved to New York to produce documentaries for PBS, where he was during the 2001 terrorist attacks.
He moved to Texas after 9/11, where he worked for an organization called the Texas Faith Network (TFN), an arm of the Texas Freedom Network consisting of, according to the group's Web site, "more than 600 mainstream religious leaders" who share the Freedom Network's goals.
The group's Web site also states that the mission of the Texas Freedom Network is to "advance a mainstream agenda of religious freedom and individual liberties to counter the religious right."
"I worked with religious leaders--we organized ministers and rabbis and others around press conferences about legislative issues," Rice said of his own role within the organization.
When asked to elaborate, he said, "Out of 9/11, a lot of people were focused on Islamic terror and fundamentalism, so we wanted to make a distinction between them and real Islam."
One of the main issues undertaken by the organization, though, was to oppose the inclusion of creationism in public schools' science textbooks, as well as to oppose abstinence-only sex education.
After a couple of years with TFN, Rice moved back to his hometown, Oklahoma City. He married Dr. Apple Newman Rice, who is now a pathologist in Oklahoma City, and now the couple has two sons.
Soon after returning to Oklahoma, Rice founded the Progressive Alliance Foundation (PAF) in 2003, which, according to his own description, "works throughout the state of Oklahoma advancing progressive, fair-minded and constitutional solutions to public policy problems."
The aforementioned time constraints prevented questions about those public policy problems the PAF seeks or sought to address, and what constitutional solutions it has advanced or implemented, and Rice didn't respond to e-mailed inquiries.
Nor did he respond to e-mailed questions about the Oklahoma Republican Party's characterization of his foundation.
"Its goal is to convince Oklahomans that anti-war, pro-gay liberal values are actually our values," the state GOP declared on a web page dedicated to "Rice's Web" of liberal connections and influences he's ostensibly accumulated over his lifetime.
After a few years of apparently trying to steer Oklahoma to the left as a private citizen, Rice then decided to pursue the soon-to-be vacated seat of Sen. Cain.
He defeated two other Democrat contenders in 2006, and then handily vanquished his Republican opponent, Joshua Jantz.
And it was fitting, perhaps, that Jantz, of all people, would be his opponent, considering Rice's history of opposing what many regard as "religious extremism."
Jantz's campaign literature consisted primarily of fliers bearing prayer requests "For God to place a hedge of thorns around the district, and every voter within, that no evil influence prevails, and that voters will know and believe the truth."
The truth in Senate District 46 was that, among voters who historically preferred the unapologetically liberal and right wing-eschewing Bernest Cain (see http://www.batesline.com/archives/2003/05/the-remark-of-cain.html for an example), Jantz's display seemed like fundamentalist zealotry likely clinched the election for Rice, who won 70 percent of the vote.
Unlike Jantz, Rice isn't likely to catastrophically misjudge the political waters that have been Inhofe's habitat for decades.
"It's going to be a tough race. I've never been naïve about how hard it's going to be to beat Jim Inhofe," Rice concurred.
"He's won a lot of elections, and the voting patterns in presidential years definitely favor him more than me, but I believe there's enough disgruntlement that people may look for a different direction, so we'll see how it plays out," he added.
Rice downplayed the experience gap between himself and the incumbent, though.
"The experience thing.... You know, I've haven't ever really thought that's a big deal. I mean, I'll leave it up to the voters. They may. It may be that they decide they want someone who's had a long, long legislative experience, but I'm motivated, I think, for the right reasons," he said.
He added that, if experience were so important to the voting public, Hillary Clinton would be the Democrats' presidential nominee rather than Barack Obama.
Readers might recall, though, that Clinton won Oklahoma's primary election in February, if that's any indication of the importance Oklahomans place on experience.
Rice also downplayed Inhofe's red state advantage.
"Contrary to what I think people think--that, generally, Oklahoma is more of a Republican state--but actually, swing voters in Oklahoma really do like bipartisanship, and that explains why (Gov. Brad) Henry has been popular," he said.
"Swing voters tend to lean more conservative, sure, but they don't have party loyalty, as you know. There are a lot of conservative Democrats that vote Republican, not because they love the Republican Party so much, but they look at the person," he added.
And Rice said he's got the bipartisan chops to topple the right-leaning Inhofe.
He pointed to some of his accomplishments in the state Legislature as the basis for his conservative and bipartisan street cred.
"I voted for House Bill 1804," he cited as an immediate example.
HB 1804 is the monumentally controversial anti-illegal immigration bill authored by Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, and Sen. Jim Williamson, R-Tulsa. It's been the subject of a few lawsuits and much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments within the Hispanic community and in the editorial pages of the local daily paper, and the subject of much praise and acclaim among anti-illegal immigration groups across the state and nation.
"I thought we did need to do that to crack down, as far as enforcement. 1804 essentially gave local municipalities the ability to enforce what was already federal law. There was really no new law created," said Rice in explanation of his support for the measure.
But he's not nearly as much of a hard-liner on immigration as his opponent, he maintains.
"I'm not as far right as Jim Inhofe on immigration. I mean, I don't believe in rounding people up and sending them home, or building a fence. I mean, a fence isn't going to do anything," he said.
When has Inhofe said he wants to round up illegals for deportment, though?
"From what I can tell, a lot of his statements are essentially, you know... it's pretty hard-right, no-compromise. It's not the middle-of-the-road compromise that people from both parties in Washington brought up, where there's no amnesty, but there's a guest-worker program where you pay a penalty and go back to the back of the line, as far as citizenship. You've got to learn English...," he answered.
Rice explained that his is "not a liberal position. It's pretty centrist--it's a bit of conservative and a bit of the progressive compromise.... That's where I am."
Another issue on which he takes what he calls a "centrist position" is finding a solution to the nation's medical and insurance woes.
"On health care, for instance, the far left is not going to get universal health care but, for the far right--the free market is not just going to take care of it. The free market is not taking care of it. It's going to have to be something in between," Rice said.
He said he hopes to help implement for the nation something akin to the statewide health care plan in Massachusetts.
Which likely conjures up thoughts of New England liberals and Canadian-style socialism for some readers, but Rice said he was originally convinced of the Massachusetts plan's merits by a member of the uber-conservative Washington think tank, the Heritage Foundation.
"This might surprise Republicans, but he was actually at this conference selling the Massachusetts plan," Rice recalled.
"And, contrary to what a lot of people think, the Massachusetts plan was masterminded by a lot of people, including (former contender for the GOP presidential nomination and former Massachusetts Governor) Mitt Romney. It was a compromise between the left and the right," he added.
"I think it's a step in the right direction to getting the cost down. The thing driving the cost is all the uninsured people. We've got to find a way to pay for it on the front end, because taxpayers are paying for it anyway," Rice continued.
He didn't get too specific, but Rice also said the U.S.'s trade deficit with China, the economy and America's standing in the world stage are among some of the other issues he hopes to undertake if he's elected.
"There's a lot of tough decisions, and it would be easy for anyone on either side to wave their party flag and say, 'It's all the Republicans' fault' or 'It's all that Democrats' fault,' but I just think that, given that Inhofe is unwilling to change, and we have an election year where people seem willing to go a new direction, and I just thought I'd throw my hat in the ring, and no one else was," said Rice.
"I would have had to re-evaluate if someone like Brad Henry or Drew Edmondson ran, but I was willing to step up and give people a choice in another direction, if they want it, this election year," he added.
In apparent anticipation of Rice's presentation of himself as the mainstream, centrist alternative to Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican Party went to the trouble of creating a website, just for him: AndrewRicesWeb.com.
"State Senator Andrew Rice... has spent a lifetime weaving a tangled web of left-wing political connections," the site reads, also displaying a spider's web with a portrait of Rice in the center, looking very shady and liberal with dark sunglasses and an ear-to-ear grin, apparently concocting some nefarious left-wing scheme to unravel the moral and social fabric of Oklahoma.
One of the strands of web connects to a very sinister-looking portrait of Jeanine Garofalo atop the iconic "Hollywood" sign, with some remarks about Garofalo's financial support of his state Senate campaign, along with that of MoveOn.org founder Eli Parcer.
Along with various statewide Democratic and liberal organizations (or "progressive" might be their preferred self-description), such as the Cimarron Alliance, Democracy for America and the ACLU, the state GOP also includes the Italian Communist Party among Rice's objectionable connections.
"Rice proudly labels himself a 'Gramscian Organic Intellectual,' after Antonio Gramsci, the founder of the Italian Communist Party," the explanation reads.
When asked about his alleged self-identification as a devotee of Communist ideals, Rice had the look of someone who'd just been sucker-punched. Seeming more bemused than offended, though, he dismissively shook his head and explained, "I said something about 'organic intellectualism' in an interview a while back, and then the reporter went and did the research and dug up Gramsci's name."
He said he had neither Gramsci nor Communism in mind when he made the remark, though.
Regarding the rest of his purported left-wing network, Rice essentially laughed off the GOP's portrayal of him as a sinister figure at the center of a web of liberal extremists, simply for having associations typical of a Democrat, he said. He apparently took it as a sign that his political opponents see him as enough of a threat in the campaign arena to bother discrediting him.
Rice isn't the only colorful underdog to punctuate this year's election landscape, though.
A couple of local races also merit some attention, as much for the circumstances providing their dramatic backdrop as for their importance for public policy.
State Sen. Nancy Riley is running for her third and final term representing Tulsa County's Senate District 37.
If she wins she'll be the senior senator of the Tulsa County delegation, as the previous title-holder, Republican Sen. James Williamson, is prevented by term limits from continuing.
While that might sound like a pretty good recipe for reelection, quite a few commentators have her pegged as this year's underdog in the District 37 race.
The reason being that, when she ran for her first two terms, and for her unsuccessful race for the state's lieutenant governor seat in 2006, Riley was a Republican.
But, she switched her party affiliation to "Democrat" in 2006, about a month after losing the primary race to then-House Speaker Todd Hiett of Kellyville, coming in third-place behind fellow state Sen. Scott Pruitt of Broken Arrow.
Among other reasons, she cited Senate Republicans' lack of support for her candidacy for the lieutenant governor post.
Then-Senate President Pro Tempore Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, said she had approached him as early as June about the possibility of switching parties.
And, of course, the decision had profound ramifications for the Senate, the Legislature, and the state of Oklahoma.
Readers are likely aware that, following the November 2006 general election, the Senate wound up with an historic 24/24-split between Republicans and Democrats, creating a delicate balance of power in the state government with Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, on one side, the Republican-controlled House on the other, and the Senate in the fulcrum.
The even split also necessitated a complicated power-sharing agreement in the Senate, in which Morgan and Republican leader Glenn Coffee of Oklahoma City, would be equal in power and take turns bearing the "President Pro Tempore"-designation.
Had Riley retained the party affiliation she had when she was elected, and under which she ran for lieutenant governor, the GOP would have had the upper hand in the Oklahoma statehouse.
So, of course, the switch opened her up to a lot of criticism, and many of those critics have equated it to political suicide on Riley's part.
But, in a recent interview with UTW, Riley initially downplayed her vulnerability from the party switch.
"Only the Republican caucus" is equating the move to political suicide on her part, she said.
When it was pointed out that most of her constituents align themselves with the party she left, she corrected, "They're registered as Republicans."
"I wonder what the average person in my district thinks about it, though?" she added.
Of course, we'll find out what the average District 37 voter really thinks when Election Day comes in November, but Riley seemed to reveal expectations that belie her initial denial of the political cost of her party switch.
"If I had remained a Republican, I would have had an easy third term: no election, and I probably wouldn't have had a Democrat step up to the plate if I had remained a Republican. It would have been a sure bet. No problem," she later said.
According to at least one candidate, she's right.
Republican Dan Newberry announced about a year ago that he would challenge Riley this election season.
When asked how much Riley's party switch had to do with his decision to run, the 33-year-old mortgage company president answered, "Her decision may have been a catalyst to help me make a decision to go ahead and put my hat in the ring sooner rather than later, but it's not the only reason. Ultimately, I would have decided to do the same thing anyway."
And by "ultimately," Newberry meant he would have run in 2012 instead of 2008.
"I would have probably waited until she termed out," he said.
"Nancy made a poor decision to change parties, and I supported her the first two times she ran for office, and I felt betrayed when she traded parties, just like I'm sure many constituents in the district feel," he added.
But, Newberry said he doesn't plan to make Riley's party switch an issue in the campaign. And, based on his seeming reluctance to talk about it in his interview with UTW, he's apparently sincere.
"Our focus has been to get our message out about what we believe in and why we believe I'm the best candidate for the job. Having run a company, having been focused on having to meet payroll, knowing what it means to be able to employ people and what costs companies operate under, and what it means to help drive an economic engine is what qualifies me for the job," he said.
"Probably, there is going to be some conversation about what she did or didn't do in office, and probably the fact that she changed parties will be brought out by some member of the Senate who wants to get her out of office, but our focus has been primarily about getting our message out about why we're the best candidate," Newberry added.
To voters who might look to Riley's party switch as a deal-breaker, she said, "I want people to realize the fact that I put people first. Not party politics. And if anybody looks at the numbers in the district, they would know that I would not change party affiliation for political gain. But, because I changed, with the numbers in the district, I'm hoping that people will stop and ask why I had to make such a difficult and drastic change in order to serve the people."
When asked that very question, Riley answered, "I have a whole paragraph on my Web site, which pretty much gives the statement about why I switched parties."
Her Web site is SenatorRiley.com.
And, in the interest of equal opportunity plugging, check out DanNewberry.com.
While you're at it, there's also JanMegee.org.
Republican Jan Megee is pretty recent addition to the race for the Senate District 37, not having announced nearly as far in advance as Newberry. She's currently an administrative aide for the Tulsa City Council.
For the benefit of those who'd rather find out the reasons for Riley's switch right here in this article, though, she said, "Basically, it was because the Republican caucus would not let me represent Senate District 37 with the legislation that they needed."
The embattled lawmaker added, "It wasn't a change of values. It wasn't a change in ideas. It wasn't a change from being conservative versus liberal. It was the fact that Senate leadership refused to allow my legislation for my district to be heard, so I had to go to a place that would allow my people to have a voice."
Riley said one piece of legislation that was blocked by her fellow Republicans related to sex offenders and where they're allowed to live.
"The sex offender legislation was very, very imperative to a situation in Jenks: we had a registered sex offender living a certain distance from a CareerTech school," she said.
"Plus, we also had the legislation running for the sex offender group home in Red Fork, and they tried everything in the world to kill that legislation, to not allow it to be heard. I had to do some drastic maneuvering in the last week of session to get that heard on the Senate floor because of roadblocks that the Republican leadership put forward," Riley continued.
She said their opposition "had nothing to do with the bill whatsoever."
Riley said her uphill struggle to get that and other legislation passed was retaliation for her refusal to "toe the party line," particularly during a certain closed-door meeting of the Senate GOP.
"We were discussing the numbers in the Republican caucus, and a caucus member made the statement, 'I'd rather be in the majority than do what's right,' and I blocked that one very heavily," she said.
Riley explained that her zealous colleagues supported the advancement of certain wedge issues that year to polarize voters in the GOP's favor for the 2006 election, in the hope of winning a majority in the Senate.
She refused to disclose the name of the senator who made the statement, though.
"I'm not going to name names. The senator from Tulsa knows exactly when he said it," she said.
"That's not what I was sent to the Senate to do: to play party politics. And when party politics come ahead of good policy in Oklahoma, there's something drastically wrong," she added.
Riley also said that Republican resistance "was retaliation for me running for lieutenant governor when Scott Pruitt was the leadership's fair-haired, handpicked boy to run for that position."
She emphasized, though, that the switch in parties doesn't equate to a change in political philosophy.
"I'm still very conservative. But, I believe that government is set up to help people, which, in the general context, is a Democratic principle--that you should have government to serve the people. Which I agree with," she said.
"Having been a welfare mom, having been a government recipient, I agree that government should be there to do what it's set up to do, and that's to assist people--to do the things that they cannot do for themselves, and if you want to call that a Democratic principle, that's fine, but that's a principle I've always had, even as a Republican," Riley added.
Eye for an Eye
Another interesting race to watch this year will be that of Republican Sally Bell, who's running for the District 2 Tulsa County Commission seat.
Of course, as a first-time candidate with no political history or experience, she's at the same disadvantage as any challenger against an incumbent. But, Bell has a bit of baggage in this particular race that might help or hinder her.
Her name is likely familiar to most Tulsans, especially those who grew up going to Bell's Amusement Park.
The park was a fixture at the Tulsa County Fairgrounds since 1951, until the Tulsa County Commission decided not to renew its lease in 2006, forcing Sally and her family to dismantle their family business.
District 2 County Commissioner Randi Miller publicly stated that the reason for the decision was that Bell's Amusement Park "wasn't financially viable."
Of course, that didn't help Miller's popularity in Tulsa.
It didn't make her particularly popular with the Bell's family.
As for Sally Bell, now that her time is freed up from helping to run her 56-year-old family business, she's campaigning for Miller's spot in the county government.
When asked what qualifies her for Miller's job, she told UTW, "I really do think I'm qualified in a lot of ways. First of all, I've run a business, and I've run a difficult business. I'm part of a family-run business, but I played an integral part in it and I've handled a lot of money and I've had to face a lot of difficult challenges dealing with people."
As most Tulsans know, some of those challenges had to do with the County Commission.
"The other thing I think I bring to the table is that I've been on the receiving end of county government since they were our landlord, and I do know the fairgrounds. I know the issues out there, and I also know what it's like to deal with the county, and I don't think anybody else (running) really has that experience--being on that end of it," Bell added.
Of course, her history with the County might be a double-edged sword in this race, as Bell well knows.
She didn't say this, but it's obvious that she can probably count on at least a few sympathy votes.
On the other hand, though, some voters might view the contest as a personal one between her and Miller, and that, perhaps, she's running on a revenge platform.
Bell told UTW that she understands why someone might think that, but said that's not the case.
"Here's the problem I'm facing: everyone says to me, 'Don't make the park the central issue,' and I'd like to not do that, but every time I go to speak to someone or go for an interview, that's the first issue that comes up," said Bell.
Sorry, Sally. What can we say? It's newsworthy, and people out there are wondering.
In this reporter's defense, though, the issue actually came up second or third in our interview.
Bell continued, "So, let me just tell you what I really believe about it: our family was devastated by what happened. There's no question about it. It's beyond understanding. People cannot understand what happened when you lose a family business that's been there for 56 years."
But she said winning the election won't enable her to resurrect her family's business, and it's not about retaliation against Miller or the rest of the county government.
Rather, Bell said the demise of Bell's Amusement Park is a symptom of a broader injustice she hopes to rectify, should she be elected.
"There's a larger issue, and this is it: that decision was made by five people. They never had public discussion and there was never a public vote. They wouldn't even return people's phone calls when they called about it. So, of course, yes--it affected me personally. But the larger issue is, how were they able to do that without ever having one moment's public discussion?" she explained.
"Now, this is not a small part of the fairgrounds. We were there for 56 years. Since 1960, we paid $12.5 million in rent for 10 acres of land, so it was a very poor financial decision on the part of the county," Bell added.
"How in the world can a decision of this importance be made without any public discussion? It makes you wonder whether open meeting laws were violated? It makes you wonder: How did five people agree on this without ever discussing it publicly? There was absolutely no accountability," she continued.
"I wonder how many other decisions are being made without public input?" Bell also said.
Along with what she promises to be a more transparent county government, Bell said she'll also bring a business sense that is absent from the current Commission.
"I know one thing: in a business, when you have trouble, you look inward. You are not able to go to your customers and just pass off additional expenses, and I think that's part of what's wrong today. I think, the minute a need arises--or, what they perceive to be a problem--rather than looking inward, they just ask for another bond issue or another tax, and people are tired of it," Bell.
Should she defeat Miller in the primary election, she'll go on to face Democrat Karen Keith in the general election.
If that's the case, Bell was asked what she thinks the deciding issue will be between her and Keith.
"First of all, I think Karen Keith is a very nice person, and I think it will be a totally different kind of campaign," she answered.
"But I think it will probably be a philosophical difference. I believe in limited government. I don't think the government is the answer to every single problem. I don't believe in higher taxes. So, my approach would not be to have a bond issue and a tax every time some need arises," Bell added.
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