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OU College Democrats host House District 44 candidates in forum to discuss platforms, policies

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The OU College Democrats logo.

The OU College Democrats held a House District 44 candidate forum Wednesday to discuss their platforms and an array of political issues including education funding and gerrymandering in Norman. 

Candidate Kate Bierman, a former Norman Ward 1 city council member, said she is running for HD 44 because she wants “to be creating better policies” and ultimately a government that works best for the community it serves. 

Candidate Jared Deck, an award-winning musician, business owner and father, according to his website, is advocating for improved health care and public education, food and shelter security, criminal justice reform, social justice, response to climate change, and worker’s rights.

“I realized that the problems that we talk about, whether it's healthcare, whether it's the economy, whether it's a lag in the immigration process, the attacks that we see on our queer communities and our communities of color — these problems are systemic, but to the people they affect they are intensely personal,” Deck said in the forum. “Everyone in this room probably has experienced those systemic problems at one point in your life and whether you experienced it personally or your family experienced it, it doesn't matter. They (were traumatizing and) that affects all of us very personally. And that activated me to get involved (so) I began knocking doors (to gather support to be) state house candidate.”  

Rebecca Yanez, president of the OU College Democrats, said this forum was meant to educate students on the policies and platforms of the candidates, because the HD 44 legislature will directly affect the OU-Norman area. 

“(The) College Democrats are trying to really focus on getting our members civically engaged. … The former state rep, Emily Virgin (D-Norman), she termed out, so this means that this is going to be a rather contentious and competitive election,” Yanez said. “So we really wanted to make sure our members were informed (on) who’s running and what their platforms were.”  

During the forum, College Democrats members asked candidates about political issues that directly affected college-aged individuals, including how they plan to better incentivize the development of arts and culture in Norman, address “lacking funding” for higher education from the state government, partisan gerrymandering and how to address state questions — initiatives that the Governor issued a proclamation for setting the date on which an election shall be held for a vote of the people — especially concerning Medicaid. 

Bierman said to incentivize arts and culture, the community must be willing to welcome any and all people who are moving to Oklahoma to make progress in the arts. 

“Bottom line at the state level, it's not going to matter what kind of incentives we pass if we're continuing to make Oklahoma look — especially to the creative communities — like a state that they don't want to do business in, regardless of how many incentives are there,” Bierman said. 

Deck said there are many incentives for arts and culture that look “good on paper” but there is still a need for better revenue, funding and support by members of the community. The effect of this, according to Deck, should be cheaper rent, cheaper taxes, but not cheaper labor. 

To address lack of funding for higher education, Deck said the problem with education funding lies in an attempt by state Republican party members and current legislation to privatize institutions so funding is cut, forcing people to find other means of education. 

“Honestly, they don't believe in the province,” Deck said. “Just to be real specific, you know, I've heard my entire life that Republicans think we should run government like a business, right. Government, number one, is not a business. Second of all, you wouldn't actually run a business like that. Would you hire someone who didn't believe in the product of what you were selling? Of what you were creating? No, you wouldn't, but unfortunately, in our state, we have too many people in positions of power. who don't believe in a product, so they don't believe in public ed, period.” 

Bierman also said she has seen how a lot of Republican candidates have not seen the backlash from cutting funding for higher education because “they have seated their own people to manage these universities,” a reason she said results in a “pushback” from smaller universities with students from lower-income brackets. 

“I think it's going to be a real battle to stop continued cuts to education and that is really where conversations are going to have to happen with other legislators — asking them if they know what the impact is going to be on their districts and for their constituents,” Bierman said.

To answer the question of how to get governments to respond effectively to state questions, especially over Medicaid, both Bierman and Deck said after seeing the suffering of local communities brought on by the pandemic, there is a need for openness between representatives and their constituents on when and how these state questions get addressed. 

“What the people want versus what our elected give us are just two different things,” Deck said. “It's one of the reasons I decided to run for this is because our citizens and our neighbors in need are not getting the government (they need). Unfortunately, we've had to get (these issues) through a ballot initiative, right, and Medicaid expansion is a primary example. But also criminal justice reforms.” 

Bierman said something she has done to reform how legislatures should directly affect their communities was writing a changing-table ordinance requiring changing tables in men’s restrooms so single fathers would have a place to care for their children. 

“I cannot tell you how many emails I got from dads after I passed that saying ‘Thank you, finally,’” Bierman said. “We need more (people) thinking ‘finally’ at the state level and not a whole lot of virtue signaling and partisan pandering.” 

Both candidates also addressed the issues in the state redistricting process and how the divides were made. Gerrymandering — a redrawing boundary lines of electoral districts that gives one political party or candidate an advantage over another — was one such issue the candidates highlighted during the forum.   

Deck said the process of redistricting has not been this much of an issue in Oklahoma for 30 years, but he has seen a large issue with how the conversations or lack thereof on redistricting have gone.

“I'll say, most of the maps that have been submitted — I'll say it out loud, they are drawing lines on racial neighborhood boundaries, and they know it,” Deck said. “It's not like they don't know these neighbors. They know it, we know it, the people who live there know it. They're dividing voices because they don't want to hear them. They're trying to silence people, and that's something we've got to fight.” 

Bierman said Norman has an independent redistricting commission, meaning the ward maps were drawn in a data driven process with the intention of keeping neighborhoods together, but she was not surprised when the maps came out looking the way they did, because the councilmembers themselves drew them out. According to Bierman, members of the community need to respond to this issue in order to make a change.  

“Having a really close look at how it's done at the local level and how it can withstand some of the charges of partisanship makes me even more in favor of (someone independent drawing district lines),” Bierman said. “But I do think it's gonna have to be by referendum (because) I don't think the legislature will ever voluntarily give up their own right (to) draw their districts.” 

This article was corrected at 10:35 a.m., Nov. 5 to correct the misspelling of Jared Deck's name. 

news reporter

Taylor Jones is a journalism sophomore and news reporter at The Daily.

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