Election next week: District 39 debate talks UCO and Walters

District 39 candidates lined up from left to right, R-Erick Harris, D-Regan Raff, L-Richard Prawdzienski (Michael Duncan/NonDoc Media)

Ahead of the February 13 special election, candidates discussed their hopes for the city of Edmond in a two-hour-long debate at Santa Fe High School. 

Democrat nominee Regan Raff, Republican nominee Erick Harris and Libertarian Richard Prawdzienski discussed subjects such as: an ideal night in Edmond, State Superintendent for Public Instruction Ryan Walters, the University of Central Oklahoma, housing and more. 

UCO lies just east of the District 39 border on Fretz Ave; it is technically in District 81. Representatives in District 39 still hold some power and responsibility in dealings with the university, which led to the next question of the debate: “With recent budget problems at UCO, what are some areas where the budget should grow?” 

When asked first, Harris responded, “there is always a way to trim the fat. I would check if particular programs are reaching their intended goals. Do we have the adequate number of staff, or too many in a certain department?” Afterwards, he said that publicly funded universities should not be encouraging students to take political stances. 

Raff responded next and disagreed with Harris’ point, “I think grown adults can make their own opinions. I think if anything, universities are encouraging students to be presented with facts and to form their own,” Raff said. Additionally, Raff admitted that she did not know enough about UCO to say where its budget should be allocated, but noted UCO is one of the largest employers in Edmond. 

“Why change it?” Prawdzienski asked in reference to UCO’s budget problems. “Maybe the industry should do a little PR and tell students they need to make a better life for themselves,” he said. Prawdzienski insisted that Edmond businesses need to work as a team; businesses that will come along and help students find jobs to support their families after graduation. 

Debate moderators asked the candidates a question about the controversial Ryan Walters: “What is the best thing Ryan Walters has done and what is the worst thing he has done?”

Raff answered first, acknowledging Walters for getting people to talk about Oklahoma nationally and then scrutinizing him for not having Oklahomans’ best interests at heart. Prawdzienski followed up saying that Walters fails to give real data and constantly provides rhetoric instead. “He definitely created a conflict and he is not bringing us together,” Prawdzienski said. 

Republican candidate Erick Harris recognized Walters for his job on holding schools and staff accountable. Then, Harris recited a quote from his grandmother towards Walters saying, “it’s easier to get more bees with honey than vinegar.” Harris repeated the quote, essentially believing that Walters could find better success if he was more encouraging. 

Erick Harris previously prosecuted elder abuse fraud with the Attorney General’s office after graduating from the University of Oklahoma. If elected, Harris would be the only African American Republican in the Oklahoma legislature, although he said, “The fact that I’m African American isn’t anything I’ve really considered as something that matters in this race. We should be looking at people on the basis of their merit, what they’re able to do and what they hope to accomplish.” 

Regan Raff, running as a Democrat, is a lifelong Oklahoman and orchestra mom who stressed the importance of finding common ground among one another. The longtime Edmond resident is a former Edmond Public Schools student before she and her husband graduated from Oklahoma State University in 2002. 

Richard Prawdzienski, the Libertarian candidate of Brooklyn, NY has run for office nearly half a dozen times in Oklahoma throughout the past decade to no avail. He is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of Polish-descent and has no official campaign website, but said, “This year I might be lucky because people are so frustrated with Republicans and Democrats.”

In the final round, moderators asked, ‘why are you running?’ Prawdzienski said, “everybody is afraid to speak. I want to talk to you, but let’s talk honestly. No BS.” Harris brought up his seven month old daughter and is running for office because he idealized “the best Oklahoma possible for her.” Finally, Raff believes Oklahoma is “not as red as you think” and that we need legislators who will represent the state better. 

The debate closed cordially among the candidates as each of them hope that they will win the vote and make an impression on Edmond and the state.

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