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The end of the party

Drew Edmondson is running against the GOP, whether he likes it or not

Drew Edmondson


If Drew Edmondson, the Democratic nominee for Oklahoma governor, doesn’t beat Republican Kevin Stitt in November, his statement right here may be why.

“We’re trying very hard not to attack the Republican Party generically.”

We were sitting on the patio of the Coffee House on Cherry Street.

“Why not?” I asked.

“I stay away from it because I really don’t think I need to talk about it. I think it’s out there.”

Which is about the time I nearly hurled myself over the railing onto 15th Street.

Like postwar Germany and Japan, the Republican Party must be destroyed before it can be rebuilt.

That’s conservative columnist Max Boot.

Where is the [Supreme] Court that claimed it was at least striving to transcend partisan politics? That Court is gone forever. We will spend at least the rest of my lifetime fighting over its rotting corpse. No prating about civility can change that fact. The fight is upon us now and the party that shirks it will be destroyed.

That’s friend of the column, Garrett Epps—University of Baltimore professor of law, writer, and Supreme Court correspondent for the The Atlantic—reminding us there was one party responsible for this transformative decay: the Republicans, and it is with them the battle must be fought.

In American politics today, to not mention the GOP and its accompanying rot is like complaining about reality television without mentioning the Kardashians.

Nationally, this Republican Party has supported a president who has warehoused immigrant children after ripping them away from their parents, mocked the disabled and veterans, cozied up to Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un, increased government borrowing by almost 63 percent since 2017, questioned the loyalties of law enforcement officials, and—at the very moment Edmondson and I were talking—trashed a woman who said she was the victim of sexual abuse. Trump put a man with the temperament of seven-year-old refusing to take a bath on the Supreme Court —and Edmondson doesn’t think the GOP should be attacked generically?

I give up.

Republicans have controlled every statewide office in Oklahoma for almost a decade and, in the process, have gutted state education spending, passed unconscionably irresponsible tax cuts, perpetuated Oklahoma’s status as a national punchline, fulfilled every wish on every special corporate interest wish list, and rejected funds that would have brought medical insurance to thousands of Oklahomans without costing the state a dime.

In the 24 states [including Oklahoma] that have not expanded Medicaid, 6.7 million residents are projected to remain uninsured in 2016 as a result. These states are foregoing $423.6 billion in federal Medicaid funds from 2013 to 2022, which will lessen economic activity and job growth. Hospitals in these 24 states are also slated to lose a $167.8 billion (31 percent) boost in Medicaid funding that was originally intended to offset major cuts to their Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement.

This is today’s GOP.

What makes Edmondson’s decision particularly maddening is that the race is winnable. In early October, polls have Stitt up anywhere from 3-6 percentage points, which is within the margin of error, making it the closest gubernatorial race in Oklahoma since 2002, when—with the help of Gary Richardson’s ego and cockfighting—Democrat Brad Henry narrowly defeated Republican Steve Largent. This election will come down to enthusiasm, and by refusing to go after the GOP brand, by refusing to tether Stitt to it, especially considering the dark money aimed at Democratic candidates, Edmondson is bringing restraint to a gun fight.

Edmondson, who was the state’s attorney general from 1995-2011, ran for governor eight years ago, narrowly losing in the Democratic primary to Jari Askins, who then lost to Mary Fallin.

“It’s a much better time,” he tells me. “And a lot of it is about timing. You’re either running in a good year or a bad year—and this is a good year.”

It’s just not the race he expected.

“I was very surprised [Lieutenant Governor] Lamb wasn’t in the runoff. I didn’t know if he’d win the primary, but I assumed he’d be in it.”

The primary, as it turned out, was between Kevin Stitt, owner of Gateway Mortgage Group, and former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.

“It’s a much clearer path against Stitt than it would have been against Cornett,” he says. “That’s because, against Cornett, we’d be running against the positions he had to take in the primary—not his record as mayor.”

“One of the good things that would have happened in a Cornett/Edmondson race is—and I doubt either side would have admitted it—nobody would have lost sleep over the winner,” I say. “You’re both sane, accomplished guys, which is ultimately healthy and better for Oklahoma. For the GOP, now, it’s whether Stitt excites the base more than Cornett would have.”

“That was in my calculation,” Edmondson says. “Exactly as you described it.”

And it’s not that Edmondson backs down from a fight. In 2005, he filed what came to be known as the “poultry suit” against a host of companies, most notably Tyson, which were polluting Oklahoma’s waterways by literally dumping chicken shit in them. It is a fight he would like to see continue, especially since the judge during the case, Greg Frizzell, still hasn’t issued a ruling.

“There’s no reason for the delay,” Edmondson says. “Now, I’m not in the litigation anymore, so I am in no position to have any influence on the judge.”

“What about if you were governor?”

“I might have some influence on the appellate court that monitors what judges do.”

“Is that something you’d like to do?” I ask.

“It’s something I’d enjoy doing.”

Edmondson, who was for the teacher raise and for medical marijuana, also supports an extra 50 cent tax on cigarettes, an increase in the capital gains tax, and a return to a 7-percent gross production tax, says simply: “We need more revenue.”

“How do you run against a mortgage banker, half your age, with no political experience—and against a guy who hasn’t even bothered to vote since 1999?”

“Two ways: One, what I’m for and what I want to accomplish; and, two, he has given us some great gifts along the way by saying he would have voted against the teacher pay raise and the funding mechanism for it. And he’s also opposed to medicaid expansion.”

Stitt, who fawns over Donald Trump like a cooing teenager, was against the teacher raise, waffled on medical marijuana, and never met a tax he didn’t think would bring about Armageddon, also said this:

“I believe in choice [ . . .] And we’ve got six children and we don’t vaccinate, we don’t do vaccinations on all of our children. So we definitely pick and choose which ones we’re gonna do.

Read that again. He picks and chooses which of his children get vaccinated?

For his part, the president, who is also an anti-vaxxer, tweeted:

Kevin is a very successful businessman who will be a fantastic Governor. He is strong on Crime & Borders, the 2nd Amendment, & loves our Military & Vets. He has my complete and total Endorsement!

Speaking of the military, Stitt never served. Edmondson did.

“Why is it so tough for Democrats to talk of their service? If you were [Jim] Bridenstine, you’d be campaigning in your Navy whites.”

“I have no problem talking about my service or my patriotism,” Edmondson says. “But the issue itself doesn’t come up as much during the campaign, even though how we treat veterans is on the minds of many.”

“Remember, though, when John Kerry in the 2004 debate with George W. Bush—when his patriotism was being questioned in those Swift Boat Ads (funded in large measure by T. Boone Pickens)—Kerry let the moment go by.”

“I am totally puzzled by that to this day,” Edmondson tells me. “John Kerry should have attacked and should have counter-attacked immediately.”

It’s Oklahoma, so we talk about guns—of course we talk about guns. There was a time that Edmondson received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, but that was before the NRA lost its collective mind.

“You resigned, right?”

“The same time George Herbert Walker Bush did,” Edmondson says. “When the NRA referred to federal agents as ‘jack-booted thugs.’”

“So what happened to your rating?”

“Well, a prerequisite to getting a rating is filling out its questionnaire, and I didn’t fill it out.”

Before the conversation gets out of hand, he wants to make it clear that his fight is with the NRA and not gun owners or the Second Amendment.

“I’m a gun owner,” Edmondson says. “I have a concealed-carry permit. I carried an M16 in Vietnam. I carried a side-arm for ten years as a district attorney. I know about firearms.”

Stitt got rich re-selling mortgages—badly.

Business Insider,in an article entitled, The 15 Shadiest Mortgage Lenders Being Backed By The Government, included Stitt’s Gateway Mortgage Group.

There’s also this:

Gateway Mortgage, the company founded by Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate Kevin Stitt, is one of the defendants in a federal lawsuit that began today in the Southern District of New York … The lawsuit alleges Stitt’s company was among those that sold defective mortgages to consumers at the height of the mortgage crisis.

I can see Edmondson’s aide start to stir. The candidate has an appearance at the Tulsa State Fair, but I can’t let him go without asking him one more time about Stitt and today’s GOP.

“What is the most frustrating thing about this race?”

“It’s a good question,” he says after a while. “I guess the very idea that an outsider is automatically better.”

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