OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Two term-limited state lawmakers, a former congressional aide and a political unknown are seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in one of the most competitive races in the July 25 primary election.
Oklahoma's second highest executive position is wide open after three-term Republican Lt. Gov. Mary Fallin's decision to step down and run for Congress. Candidates to replace her are spending record amounts of money to win election to a job they say could be more important than at any time in state history.
The lieutenant governor's role as president of the Senate and a tiebreaker in the 48-member body means the officeholder can turn the Senate in his party's favor in case of a 24-24 tie. Candidates believe the Senate could be evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans after this fall's round of legislative elections. Democrats currently hold a 25-23 majority.
The Democratic candidates are House Minority Leader Jari Askins of Duncan, Sen. Cal Hobson of Lexington, Pete Regan of Afton and Jim Rogers of Midwest City. The winner of the Democratic primary will meet the winner of the Republican primary and an independent candidate in the Nov. 7 general election.
Askins, wrapping up a 12-year career in the Oklahoma House, said the job of lieutenant governor is more than serving on the Tourism Commission and casting tie-breaking votes as president of the Senate.
``I think the ability to be an advocate for the people of Oklahoma is unlimited,'' she said.
Askins, 53, said economic development in the Duncan area has been an important part of her work as a state representative. ``As lieutenant governor, I would be a voice for the other communities in the state,'' Askins said.
She said she wants to create a children's cabinet, made up of child welfare advocates throughout state government, to help protect Oklahoma children from abuse, neglect and poverty. Oklahoma is one of the leading states in the number of children who go to bed hungry, Askins said.
A former chairman of the Pardon and Parole Board and special district judge in Stephens County, Askins said she values public service more than political power.
Hobson, 61, is a former president pro tem of the Senate who has served 28 years in the Legislature, 16 of them in the Senate. His legislative record includes creation of the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program, which pays college tuition for high school students who have good grades and stay out of trouble, and the law that created the Oklahoma lottery.
``I'm not through doing those things,'' Hobson said. ``I don't want to miss out in what could be the best decade in the history of the state.''
Hobson, who retired from the Oklahoma Air National Guard in 1999, said he wants to help build a more diverse economy through initiatives like a state research endowment and proposed cancer and diabetes centers.
Hobson developed plans that led to construction of the National Sensor Center at Oklahoma State University and the National Weather Center at the University of Oklahoma.
He said the next governor will need a partner to help him get legislation passed in teh House and Senate. ``I think I've shown I know how that works,'' he said.
Regan, former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., also worked for Boren's father, OU President David Boren, at OU and while he served in the U.S. Senate. The lieutenant governor's race is Regan's first campaign for public office.
``A lot of people think it's a plus that I haven't been in the Legislature,'' said Regan, 36.
An attorney, Regan said the lieutenant governor's job is ``much more than a ceremonial position. I'd like to be an economic ambassador for the entire state.''
Raised in Tulsa with 10 brothers and sisters, Regan said he worked full-time and obtained scholarships and government grants to pay for his education.
``I understand the power education has to transform individual lives,'' Regan said.
He said he was inspired to get involved in public service while attending the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond and working with former Gov. George Nigh, former president of UCO and co-chair of Regan's campaign.
``Public service is about people and specifically about helping people,'' Regan said.
Rogers, who has run twice for the U.S. Senate in Oklahoma, described himself as a political outsider who accepts no campaign contributions.
``I would like to be elected to this office so that we could have more cooperation between the House and Senate and the lieutenant governor's office and the governor's office for a smoother running government,'' Rogers said.
Rogers, who declined to give his age, is a former physics, math and engineering teacher at colleges in Oklahoma and Wyoming. He said he wants to get rid of special interest groups and have more citizen participation in government.
``I think we need to elect people to political office who are interested in improving the lot of all of the people in the state,'' he said.