Richardson says his independent candidacy has advantages

Saturday, May 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ With $2 million of his own money to get his message out, independent Gary Richardson has attracted a lot of attention in the governor's race by calling for tax cuts, a lottery to raise money for education and elimination of turnpike tolls.

Richardson says he's gaining ground on other candidates because people are fed up with political infighting between Democrats and Republicans.

His proposals are contained in a 33-page booklet called the ``Richardson Plan,'' and he says that his candidacy has some built-in advantages because, as an independent, he could avoid partisan bickering.

He said in an interview with The Associated Press that if he could not get warring Republicans and Democrats to reason together, he would go to the people to try to get his programs enacted through initiative petitions.

``It wouldn't take the Legislature long to learn that I mean business _ that I'm a bottom-line person,'' the Tulsa attorney said.

``At my age, 61 years old, I'm not running for governor because I want a political career. I'm not looking for the next job.''

He said he did not even like politics and ``and I particularly don't like partisan politics. I think it is a waste.''

Those may seem to be strange words from a man who was heavily involved in politics early in his career, running twice for Congress as a Republican. He failed to get elected. He served as U.S. attorney after a political appointment, before starting a successful law practice.

As U.S. attorney in Muskogee, Richardson said he was criticized by members of his party for hiring Democrats to top positions. He said he still believes in the best person for the position, regardless of party.

Richardson wants to succeed Republican Gov. Frank Keating, who is winding up eight years in office. Others in the race are Republicans Steve Largent and Jim Denny and Democrats Vince Orza, Brad Henry, Kelly Haney and Jim Dunegan.

Richardson gives Keating and the Legislature no better than a C-plus grade for their work.

``I think Frank has been very partisan,'' he said. ``I've told him that. It won't be any shock if he reads it in the paper.''

Richardson and Keating are friends, going back to when they were both federal prosecutors.

In fact, Keating was able to run for governor in 1994 because Richardson gave him a job after Keating returned to Oklahoma from Washington, D.C., where he had served in Republican administrations for several years.

Richardson said he told Keating in February of 2001 that he was thinking about running for governor as an independent and Keating ``tried to convince me to run as a Republican.''

He said he told Keating he would not have his job as a partisan.

``The reason is I don't think Frank has been free; nor do I believe any governor from one of the two parties today would be free to lead the whole, to be a leader for the people.''

In other comments, Richardson said that if elected governor, he would probably support a study of the how the Oklahoma death penalty is applied and why Oklahoma executes more people than most other states.

He also said he would oppose a ban on smoking in restaurants, saying business owners should have the freedom to make their own smoking policies.

A lottery, in Richardson's mind, is not a moral issue. He called it a voluntary tax and ``a means to an end'' that makes sense because Oklahomans already are spending heavily on lotteries in nearby states.

``It can't be gambling,'' he said. ``No one has any right to believe they are going to win anything. As one bumper sticker said, ``It's a tax for people that are bad with math.''

He calls the turnpike system ``the biggest scam that has ever been placed on this state.''

Arguing the system exists largely to serve special interests, he said it is retarding state growth and costing the state millions in federal road dollars each year.

Regarding Oklahoma's spiraling prison population, Richardson said he was a strong supporter of community sentencing and other alternatives to incarceration.

``We need to quit locking up people we're mad at and lock those up we're afraid of,'' he said.

Richardson said he is a man of faith who prayed about running for governor.

``I had more peace to saying yes than saying no and people can interpret that any way they want to.''