Few parts of the metropolitan area are considered as solidly Democratic as state House District 72, which extends across much of north-central Tulsa up to Turley -- so much so, in fact, it has been a challenge to find Republican candidates willing to mount a campaign for the seat.
Randall Reese said he was no more eager than most other Republicans to file for the seat, until he checked the voting record of the incumbent, Democrat Seneca Scott.
"Somebody had to do something to stop that kind of record," he said.
Reese, a 53-year-old telecommunications technician who is preparing to retire from the military after 28 years on active duty and in the reserves, didn't care for the way Scott voted on a number of issues during his term.
"He went totally against the grain for a Democrat or a Republican, totally against any kind of common sense," Reese said. "Somebody had to do something. The mantle fell on me, I guess. I don't have a choice."
Reese took issue with Scott's votes on a handful of measures that have proven to be divisive among Democrats and Republicans in the past -- Second Amendment rights and an attempt to establish English as the state's official language. He also claims Scott opposed legislation that would have allowed a member of a surgical team to opt out of participating in an abortion for reasons of conscience.
"When I looked at the record, he was always on the wrong side," Reese said.
But Scott believes his focus on public health issues and his efforts to promote healthy food availability and increase retail shopping opportunities are what voters of the district are most interested in. He said he was gratified that during a recent visit to Murdock Villa, a public housing community for the elderly and disabled run by the Tulsa Housing Authority, a resident told him, "I'm glad to see somebody is looking out for the least among us."
Scott said he has tried to keep the needs of the disadvantaged foremost in his mind during his short political career, which began with his election to the seat in 2008. Many of those citizens, he said, believe their problems have been overshadowed by the Wall Street bailout and similar issues.
"It's so big, all of this stuff," Scott said.
That's why Scott makes a concerted effort to be accessible to his constituents, holding town hall meetings that draw 40 to 50 citizens each month, he said.
The two candidates agree that District 72 is one of the most diverse in the state, featuring a population that includes African-Americans, Hispanics, American Indians and Asians, as well as whites. It includes urban, suburban and rural areas, giving rise to the oft-repeated description: "From TU to Turley."
Reese said he's lived in the district most of his life and has seen it decline from a middle-class area that once was home to a number of companies offering good blue-collar jobs to a place where many residents now struggle to make ends meet.
"I'd like to see it come back," he said. "One day, it will."
Reese served as a linguist in the military, speaking German and Russian, and said he's been comfortable living in a diverse community since he spent three years residing in a Hispanic enclave in East Los Angeles after high school. He said he understands the road to progress is paved with cooperation.
"I don't fight with anybody," he said.
"But I would like to work with people. I believe in working together. I don't believe in fighting with anybody. Politicians always say they'll fight for this or they'll fight for that. Well, I've been in the military, and I know what fighting is. With all this fighting, it's no wonder we're so polarized between Democrats and Republicans."
Reese, who is pursuing his degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix, said he learned from almost three decades in the military that the only way to get most things done is through the team approach.
"We're not going to get anywhere fighting with each other," he said. "Look at the City Council and the mayor right now."
Scott maintains that learning to cooperate is a skill he already has acquired, pointing to his success as a freshman Democratic lawmaker in a Republican-controlled Legislature.
"Learning to work with others is so important as resources become more narrow," he said. "When you get down there (to the Capitol), you want to be a spokesman for your district, but you learn there are a lot of other needs."
With that in mind, Scott said he focused on solving problems that were not unique to his district. He authored a measure that created a low-interest loan program for those interested in opening corner grocery stores that sell healthy and nutritious food, as well as a bill that requires landlords to inform potential tenants when a property has been used by a previous tenant to manufacture methamphetamine.
Both were passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Brad Henry.
"I think in the speaker's office and in various leadership points, overall, there's been a real opportunity for partnership and collaboration," Scott said, adding that he believed those leaders recognized that many of the measures he has proposed benefit people regardless of their party.
Scott has made the quest to increase the availability of healthy, nutritious food to District 72 residents one of the hallmarks of his career thus far. He was particularly pleased to get his bill establishing the loan program passed, though he realizes there is much left to do.
"It's not the end-all, it's just a start for us," he said. "Freeing up that capital for low-interest loans is a big deal because it brings the government into helping out the private sector and helps consumers gain decent access to healthy food."
If he is re-elected, Scott said, he plans to work hard to increase the number of places where citizens on federal food stamp assistance can use their Electronic Benefits Transfer cards to purchase food that isn't high in sodium, sugar or fat.
"We want to encourage more machines being placed in neighborhood markets and farmers markets," he said.
It's not an easy nut to crack, Scott noted, but having the machines available at farmers markets is a good start because it promotes interaction between those who produce fresh, healthy foodstuffs and those who have perhaps the greatest need for it.
"How do you make it so consumers of economic limitations get access to more expansive healthy food options, and get the producers and growers 100 percent value back on their investment?" he asked rhetorically, describing the challenge.
Scott said many Murdock Villa residents now take a bus each Saturday to the Cherry Street Farmers Market to do their shopping because a machine that accepts EBT cards was made available. He said the machines cost about $1,000 each, but he believes farmers markets can partner with federal programs and state agencies to help offset their cost.
Reese said if he is elected, his agenda will include a push to keep the budget in check. He fears the state's financial situation is perilous and destined to get worse in the next few years.
"My whole goal is to try to find things that don't impact safety or quality-of-life issues," he said. "If we can't afford it, we can't have it. I don't believe in raising taxes. But it's my understanding there are a lot of programs we can cut. There are some research programs we don't really need. You've got to do it at home, too. You've got to pay for your lights and pay your mortgage before you buy the Nintendo."
If that sounds simplistic, Reese said, so be it.
"I might seem pretty naïve about it, but to be perfectly honest, I probably am a naïve person," he said. "My heart's in the right place, and I want to do the right things. I'd like to win, and I'd like to make a difference. I'd like to do one term and pave the way for other people, show them, 'If he can do this, so can I.' "
Reese described himself as a big believer in the benefits of education and said he also would like to see a free two-year college program made available to everyone.
"I would push for K through 14," he said. "That's my personal agenda. I've always preached to my soldiers and my kids, you've got to go to school, you've got to get your education."
Scott also said he values education, pointing out that much of his time away from the Legislature is spent at the schools in his district, particularly McLain High School. Scott said he was an active supporter of the effort to provide school uniforms for McLain students this fall. He also spends a lot of time working on the school's commercial greenhouse project, where students grow produce that is sold at farmers markets.
"They learn that's a way you can make extra money," he said.
That greenhouse helps promote food security in an area that still has very limited grocery shopping options, he said.
"That area was very agricultural when the school was put in in 1959," Scott said. "We're just trying to make that connection again."
Scott said the specifics of the programs he participates in at McLain are less important than just making the effort to connect with the students there, many of whom face major challenges in their home lives, where poverty and crime are a fact of life. He pointed out that he regularly gets calls from constituents who live just six blocks from the high school who aren't even on city infrastructure.
"To know that there's support there for them is really important," he said.
For his part, Scott also has had his hand in efforts to improve things in the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood at the south end of the district. He was instrumental in efforts to get the area admitted to the state Commerce Department's Urban Main Street program this year, a development that supporters believe will reap major economic benefits.
Scott is among those who see good things ahead for the neighborhood.
"There are a lot of neat things ahead," he said of Kendall-Whittier. "It has its own challenges, but it's a good model for the rest of the district because of its involvement with the City Council and the police."
Reese said he understands he will have a difficult time defeating Scott, pointing to the almost total lack of success Republicans have had in District 72 in the past. But he said he'll forge ahead anyway.
"Winning or losing doesn't matter to me," he said. "That comes at the end of the campaign. I have nothing to fear at this point."
His approach involves meeting people on a one-to-one basis and seeking their support for his ideas. He said that's a strategy that may take a while to bear fruit.
"We may not get it this time, but there's a next time," he said.
Scott merely hopes his work on behalf of the district has been appreciated so far.
"You kind of hope the contact I've had with voters in the first two years has been good and that they'll see fit to reward me with another term," he said.
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