POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 22, 2010:
A cross-section campaign in which the candidates are getting their kicks
The campaign for the District 66 seat in the state House of Representatives promises to be one of the election season's most intriguing -- and not just because the popular incumbent, Democrat Lucky Lamons, decided not to see re-election, leaving the race wide open.
The district itself is interesting enough, stretching as it does from Sand Springs on the west to the Pearl District on the east, bordering the Arkansas River for much of its length. It encompasses neighborhoods at both ends of the socio-economic scale, as well as settings as dichotomous as a big-city, downtown atmosphere and a blue-collar, suburban feel.
Those characteristics will present the district's newly elected state lawmaker with some considerable challenges when it comes to representing all those interests.
But both candidates -- Republican Jadine Nollan and Democrat Eli Potts -- believe they're up to the challenge. The two have a common background as longtime Sand Springs residents, and they both preach the virtues of public service in their campaign messages.
"I'm very passionate about people and very passionate about what goes on in the world with everyday folks," said Nollan, the executive director of Sand Springs Community Services Inc., an organization that provides food, social services, education and referrals to the needy. She also is a longtime member of the Sand Springs school board. "I'm not afraid to roll up my sleeves and go to work."
Potts, a former legislative assistant to Lamons who now works at the International Bank of Commerce in Sand Springs, looks at Oklahoma's poor standing in a number of economic, education and health indicators and thinks the state can do better.
"I'm tired of us being at the top of the lists we want to be at the bottom of and at the bottom of lists we want to be on top of," he said. "I'm ready to offer some new solutions and new ideas."
Both were compelled to seek the seat when Lamons unexpectedly backed out of the race. Nollan said she had been approached many times over the years by friends who encouraged her to run for the Legislature. Not having to challenge an incumbent was the deciding factor for her.
"I thought, 'Maybe this is the time,'" she said. "I'm a big person on timing. I believe you grow into positions and grow through experience. Being on the school board, I see the struggles they are going through. We closed a school in 2002, and that was not a fun decision. Seeing that close up, as well as being in the community service field and seeing people come into our office day in and day out, and they're really struggling -- between those two things, I could see the economic climate, I could see the tough position businesses are in ... With that whole combination of perspectives, that's given me a pretty good opportunity to see where this district is as far as struggles. I thought the timing was right to throw my hat into the ring and see if people will vote for me."
In August, Nollan said she participated in the Tulsa Metro Chamber's annual summit to decide on the region's legislative priorities. She considered it an invaluable experience.
"Getting right to the grass roots of different issues is the most positive way to go forward and represent the different entities dealing with all these tough issues right now," she said.
Nollan said she would welcome the challenge of representing a district that includes citizens ranging from the very rich to the very poor.
"That's one thing I have enjoyed doing the most," she said. "I love being on the doorsteps of people's houses and visiting with them. You have some of the most affluent people in Tulsa and some of those who are struggling the most to meet their basic needs. That's been very interesting."
Potts said he always planned to run for the seat when Lamons was forced to vacate the office because of term limits in 2014. So when his boss decided to retire from the Legislature four years before that date, Potts was surprised, but he didn't have to give it much thought before jumping in with both feet, despite his youth -- he is 21 years old.
"I can't wait 12 years to run," he said. "We're going to make some crucial decisions in this session alone that are going to impact Oklahoma for years to come. And this is something I always wanted to do."
Potts said his time as Lamons' assistant gave him the perspective and experience he needed to succeed him.
"It's amazing the kinds of things you learn," he said. "Of course, you learn the process, but what was important to me was helping people. When one of Lucky's constituents called the office looking for help, I was the first person they talked to. That taught me the value of public service. Lucky was a great mentor. He always told me, 'You work for the people.' "
Potts acknowledged the wide variety of interests at play in the district, but he said there is much commonality, as well.
"People are strong," he said. "I know that from knocking on doors. It doesn't matter where you come from in the district, people have hopes for Oklahoma. I want to represent them and work for them and start guiding us toward the future."
While he recognizes the fact that many voters will be surprised to see someone so young seeking to represent them at the Capitol, he argued his youth in really not much of a concern.
"People always say they're ready for young people to get involved," he said. "Well, here we are. I want to make a life of serving people. I don't think my age is an issue. I have experience where it matters. While some people see my age as a problem, I see it as a way to dedicate myself to the district and serve people."
If elected, Potts said his legislative agenda would include supporting the completion of the Gilcrease Expressway, as well as protecting the quality of life of those Sand Springs residents whose homes lie adjacent to, or in, the roadway's projected path.
Nollan said she considers herself first and foremost an advocate for children and everyday, ordinary folks.
"What I hope to do, if elected, is look for the best scenarios in all these situations to help people across the board," she said. "I believe every person is important, every person counts, every person deserves to be represented."
The best leaders, she said, are the ones who actually serve the people they are elected to lead.
"In leadership, you've got to stay teachable," she said. "You've got to be willing to listen, and you've got to have a pretty thick skin. Because I have a lot of experience, I know what it's like to be the buck-stops-here person, to make the tough calls. I understand that and will definitely try to see the big picture before making a decision."
Nollan said she has a particular interest in economic issues and would love to explore how the state can take greater advantage of its strong background in the energy field while simultaneously diversifying its economy.
"If our economy is going well, everything else goes better, as well," she said.
Both candidates said they consider themselves strong proponents of education. Neither one took a definite position on State Question 744 -- a controversial proposal that, if approved by voters this fall, would require the state to fund common education at a per-pupil amount that is at least equal to the regional average -- but they addressed the subject at length.
"My heart goes out to our educators because of the struggles they face," Nollan said. "In our school district, we make every dollar stretch."
But she fears the impact SQ 744 would have on other, equally deserving components of state government, she said.
"It puts a lot of folks who are pro-education and pro-kids in a tough position," she said. "With the budget as fragile as it is, to go around and pass this proposal would create some severe handicaps for other programs in Oklahoma. Education needs to be a priority, but what I'm hearing from other leaders in Oklahoma is that, yes, Oklahoma needs more money for education, but it needs a lot of money for a lot of things. And I don't think education wants to be the bad guy and make other programs suffer. Let's get the business climate healthy and then do what we can to help our kids and protect their future."
Potts said he counts himself as an unabashed supporter of greater education funding and higher salaries for teachers.
"We have to make an investment in our students, and if we do, we'll see a return on that for years to come," he said. "Right now, we're not making that investment at the Capitol."
Potts supports the idea of funding common education at the per-pupil regional average, but he said doing so would represent a formidable challenge for the Legislature.
"A lot of people don't really trust the Legislature to make that investment in students," he said. "If it passes, it's a problem we'll deal with, and it would be a good problem to have."
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