OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Hoping to avoid giving Democrats ammunition for the general election, all candidates for the Republican primary for governor and all but one of the 5th Congressional District GOP hopefuls have signed a pledge not to say bad things about each other.
The party's new chairman Tom Daxon, engineered the signing of pledges to adhere to what he calls former President Ronald Reagan's 11th Commandment prohibiting Republicans from criticizing each other.
Daxon's pledge urges GOP candidates to ``refrain from attacking fellow Republican candidates in ways that their Democrat opponents could use in the general election campaign.''
The party chairman said he wants Republicans to stay focused on their goals and ``not get swallowed up in name calling and petty matters.''
State Rep. Fred Morgan, R-Oklahoma City, is the only 5th District candidate not signing the pledge. He says the state needs conservatives in office and ``sometimes this will require pointing out that a particular Republican does not share those beliefs or is intentionally misleading the public.''
He said someone adopting the Republican label ``should not make them immune from the truth. Those who support pork-barrel spending, corporate welfare, abortions and higher taxes need to be labeled for who they are.
``For example, I don't believe we should refrain from attacking the Republicans in Washington, D.C. because they have an ``R'' after their name. Regardless of party, funding a ``Bridge to Nowhere'' is wrong.''
He says he is following the model established by Republican U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Muskogee, who has rankled members of his own party for their spending policies.
Coburn himself was involved in an acrimonious three-way race for GOP Senate nomination and surprised many by winning the 2004 primary without a runoff against former Oklahoma City Mayor Kirk Humphreys and current Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony. Humphreys was considered the early favorite in the race.
Coburn then defeated Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Carson in a bitter, expensive general election contest.
Daxon said he had talked to Morgan and hoped he would change his mind and sign the pledge, but ``each candidate has to make up their own mind as to what they are going to do.''
Signing the pledge in the governor's race were U.S. Rep. Ernest J. Istook of Warr Acres, Tulsa businessman Bob Sullivan, state Sen. James A. Williamson of Tulsa and political newcomer Jim Evanoff of Mustang.
The winner will likely be the underdog in the general election against Democratic incumbent Brad Henry. If the Legislature completes writing a budget at a special session this week under an agreement between Democrats and Republicans, Henry can take credit for signing the two largest tax cuts in state history.
Making the 11th Commandment agreement in the 5th District primary were Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma City, Rep. Kevin Calvey of Del City, Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and Corporation Commissioner Denise Bode of Oklahoma City. They are running for the post Istook is leaving.
Morgan is not the only candidate to evoke Coburn's name in the 5th District GOP primary. Calvey, when he announced his candidacy, he wanted to be the ``the new Tom Coburn'' in the U.S. House.
Coburn served three terms in the House and was known for fighting special projects, or so-called ``pork barrel'' spending.
All of the 5th District candidates have pledged to be tightfisted with taxpayer dollars.
Daxon said the pledge does not restrict candidates from responding to ``surrogate attacks'' from officials associated with another candidate or organizations supporting a particular candidate.
In his Senate race, Coburn largely refrained from attack ads, but benefited from ads of that nature that were paid for by the Club for Growth, a business-oriented national organization that supports conservative candidates.
A hotly contested race has been anticipated for the GOP nominations for governor and 5th District Congress.
Daxon said he still expected ``a spirited primary'' and felt it was good to have ``a healthy, vigorous debate on the issues and qualifications of the candidates. I don't think it will be a dull campaign at all.''
The effectiveness of the Daxon pledge also has been brought into question.
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Sullivan challenged the idea that Istook was the fiscal conservative he claims to be, saying the congressman had voted for ``some very strong and liberal spending issues.''
Morgan said candidates should not be hamstrung by a somewhat fuzzy pledge, while they can be attacked by surrogates in television commercials.
``The voters need information about the candidates and if all the information they get is from the candidates' commercials, then that's not in the interest of voters,'' he said.
He said if a candidate says he is a conservative and has voted for tax increases, or is for immigration reform while voting to give illegal immigrants in-state tuition, ``would it be negative for me to point out those inconsistencies?''
``I think the voters need that information,'' he said. ``Tom Daxon's job is to protect the party. My job is to convince the public that I'm the most qualified for the job.''