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Candidates address voters at Elgin forum

ELGIN  Candidates from three state political races gathered this week at the Elgin Public Schools Fine Arts Center to introduce themselves to potential voters and answer questions. 

Nine of the 10 candidates advertised to be in attendance showed up. The final candidate, Joan Gabelmann, a Democrat running for state House District 63, could not attend the forum. 

Each candidate was given a two-minute opening period, during which new faces introduced themselves to voters and repeat candidates and incumbents reminded voters why they needed their votes. The forum included three candidates from state Senate District 32: Democrats Jacobi Crowley and Deborah Farler and Republican John Michael Montgomery, current state House District 62 representative. State House District 63 was represented with five candidates: Democrat Dwight Cope and Republicans Trey Caldwell, Tammie Reynolds, Leigh Ann Todd and incumbent Jeff Coody. State House District 65 candidates in attendance included: Democrats Sonia England and Brandon Thompson and Republicans Toni Hasenbeck and Scooter Park, the district's current incumbent. 

Each candidate had a chance to answer four questions posed by the moderator over the course of the 90-minute forum. Among the most important topics discussed was business assistance and education. Crowley said Oklahoma needs to become more proactive in the business community in order to attract new businesses and keep the area's talent from fleeing to other areas. 

"We need to make sure we have community investment," he said. "We're seeing a lot of innovative things in our community from our young people. But we have to keep them here."

His Democratic opponent, Farler, said the business community needs help from the overall community. She suggested looking at older methods to push the business forward.

"The internship is a vital ability," she said. "We need to hire people that want to work the job and can work the job."

Montgomery, the sole Republican candidate in the race, suggested the business community needs stability  something it desperately lacks at the moment. Stability comes from development and tax relief.

"We need to work harder on our workforce development here," he said. "And let's talk about taxes. That tosses out the stability that has to be provided for success."

In the state House District 65 race, Thompson suggested taking a long, hard look at the industries that are currently in Oklahoma and seeing how those can be expanded upon.

"We already have many industries down here," he said. "We need to focus on what is possible. Let's see what we can attach to the wind industry and oil and gas industry and show them they can come here and partner."

England took it a step further and suggested offering some sort of incentives to businesses to entice them into moving to Oklahoma. But she said the community has to show its support.

"We need to give them incentives to come here," England said. "We also need to make sure we stop here and not go to Oklahoma City or Wichita Falls and stay here to help small businesses."

Hasenbeck agreed with the need to offer incentives to entice more businesses to Oklahoma  especially southwest Oklahoma. She said having a new manufacturer will work wonders for the economy.

"I would like to put some big manufacturing business in Temple," she said. 

Park spoke about his farming operation and how he managed it from a small endeavor into a large enterprise. He said the state needs to make those hard decisions for success.

Cope, who formerly served as mayor of Medicine Park, spoke of the small business loan service that the town's economic development authority operated and how that's an idea that state leaders should look into.

"It makes sure that these small businesses are successful," he said. "It can be great for small towns that we're serving."

Coody said state government needs to take a step back and allow the private sector to do what it needs to do. To do that, he said, taxes need to be reduced.

"I don't think we should unnecessarily burden businesses and small family operations with taxes," he said. 

Caldwell echoed similar sentiments as Coody. He said education funding needs to be addressed, but there must be stability in the job market. He also went a step further, suggesting a withdrawal of certain edicts.

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