Rep. Sally Kern faces Novotny's challenge in Oklahoma House District 84
Patrick B. McGuigan
By Patrick B. McGuigan
State Rep. Sally Kern, the Republican incumbent in Oklahoma House District 84, is running for another term because, she says, “I believe our state and especially our nation are facing some perilous times, and I believe our national and state situation requires people of strong conservative beliefs to step forward.”
Kern contends, “We need people who have a concept of limited government and fiscal responsibility making the state’s financial decisions. I am accountable to the people of my district. Beyond that I am ultimately accountable to God. I will answer to Him for my actions.”
She continues, “Individuals working in government need to know that they will be held accountable. Government must operate in a fiscally sound manner in order to preserve the conservative lifestyle in our state.”
Asked to talk about the nature of legislative work, Kern explained, “This is a very challenging job, one that keeps you busy year-round. You realize before long that constituents are your constituents 365 days a year, and 24 hours a day and seven days a week. We represent them all the time.”
Specifically, “We have interim hearings, like the one in recent days on possible mandates to require purchase of generator for all the senior assisted living centers, and the hearing on the special needs scholarships. We hold regular meetings with constituents, and among legislators. We go out to meeting neighborhood groups. It’s just a constant flow of important work.
“Certainly, while we’re actually in session for four months it is highly concentrated work. But a legislator gets emails and letters all the time requiring response or service. In session, I’m up here almost constantly.
Out of session, I work on legislative projects all the time. I’m in the office at least once a week to perform duties that simply cannot be done from home.”
She observed, “I’ve found it interesting that the interim period between legislative sessions is actually a good time to do substantive legislative work. … It’s busy all year round when you’re a legislator.” A former coach in the city public schools, Kern comments: “Being a legislator is not good for your golf game.”
Kern says her approach in examining an interim proposal from state Rep. Joe Dorman -- possible legislation on power generators for assisted living centers – is illustrative of her approach to governing.
Kern said working through the issue is an example of her approach to governance: “It would certainly be nice if every single living center had generators. I remember when my Dad was in the Vets Center in Ardmore, I would have they had every capability, including that one, when he was there. Families should take care to assure the basic capability to care for loved ones is part of the planning for every such facility. All of that is worth discussion and consideration.
“Yet, the question I ask in a time of study like this is: ‘What’s the purpose of government?’ Is it the role of government to address every need that we have, or to create an arena that allows businesses and individuals and families to address their needs? It seems to me we should encourage private groups, individuals and businesses to join together to do things through the free market, through voluntary association, to address human needs. There is only so much government money to go around. It’s hard to set priorities and to limit the role of government, but we have to set priorities and limit government power, and limit spending.
“Government cannot do everything that everybody wants and needs done. If the Legislature mandates that all assisted living centers have generators, government will need the money, in the form of taxes, to pay for that – or, government will mandate higher costs on these businesses to pay for that desired service and the assisted living centers will just pass that cost on to the residents. This means some of them could no longer afford to stay there.
“There are no easy answers, or, there are rarely easy answers, but I incline toward the side of freedom and limits on government.”
Asked to sketch her priorities at the Capitol, Kern replied, “I try hard to think through, number one, how a proposal fits into the framework of the U.S. and Oklahoma constitutions. If there is some element of government action, then I’m processing how a proposal will promote the general welfare, or hurt it. I want individuals to have as much freedom from government intervention in their lives as possible.
“Personal property, and the fruits of one’s wages, must be protected. Property and protection of an individual’s earnings, that seems fundamental to me. You don’t really have freedom unless you have those things.
“As I say, I’m asking how policies can be designed to let Oklahomans keep as much of their money and their own resources as possible. When you look at a bill, a legislator should be asking whether the policy advanced in the bill will help Oklahoma prosper. Free enterprise and entrepreneurship are fundamental to growing the economy.”
Kern continued, “I have a certain focus as a minister’s wife. Our focus is and has been more than preaching the Gospel. That is central; we also look at meeting needs that are physical, financial, spiritual. We all have needs. Those in poverty or facing challenges have greater needs, but everyone has needs. I seek to advance policies in which everybody is given the opportunity to prosper and benefit.”
An issue she identifies as a top priority includes her pre-legislative work experience: “I was a teacher for nearly 20 years. I consider education a way to leverage potential. Good jobs, benefits, the ability to take care of your self and your family, those things flow from education. Education is essential to this process. In addition to teaching, I have had a lot of involvement in youth ministry.
“Young people are looking for meaning in life, an environment in which they can advance their interests and their life prospects. The legal and economic environment should be one where people advance to everything, as mush as possible, of what they were created to be.”
In considering hundreds of legislative proposals every year, Kern says she understands the scrutiny that comes with decision making: “Every time I cast a vote I know I am pleasing some, and displeasing others. I have always remembered that Abraham Lincoln quote: ‘You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. A revision of that might be that you can represent some of the people some of the time, but you can’t represent all the people all the time.
“I can’t flip flop depending on who I am with. I know some of my constituents will dislike some of my votes some of the time, but very few will dislike every vote. The disagreements can’t be helped.”
Kern faces the challenge of Brittany Novotny, who was unopposed for the Democratic nomination. The race has already attracted great interest from state and even national news organizations, and Novotny has criticized Kern’s views on “gay marriage” and other social issues.
Kern reflects, “It’s asserted that I am bad for business. This rhetoric is based upon someone’s personal opinion but the facts prove otherwise. I have a 100% rating from the national Federation of Independent Business, their top rating. CNNMoney.com found that in 2008 Oklahoma City was the best city in which to start a business. Forbes.com found that in 2009 Oklahoma City was the 12th best city for small business.
“Inc. Magazine identified 34 of our Oklahoma City companies as among the fast growing in the country. Last fall, Fortune Small Business and the Kauffman Foundation named Oklahoma City as the country’s No. 1 best large city to launch a business. According to the State Chamber of Commerce, over 15,000 new businesses have been established in Oklahoma thus far this year.
“Virtually every assessment points out that right now Oklahoma City is a great place to be in business. I have been part of the Republican legislative majority that has, for all our economic challenges, made Oklahoma City and our great state a place that is much stronger than the national economy, and a full 3 percent better than the national average in terms of unemployment. I’m part of a pro-business majority, and proud to be so.”
On business and the economy, she relates, “Early in my time at the capitol, I passed important workers compensation exemptions for small businesses, family-based businesses. We have carved out a pro-business climate and need to sustain it and improve it. We have many people who are hurting. We must help them as best as government can, and the economic policies of the Republicans are a good way to advance that. For all Oklahoma’s problems, we are better than most and should continue to improve on pro-business and pro-taxpayer policies.”
As vice chairman of the House Education Committee, Rep. Kern has advanced Republican measures allowing some deregulation of school districts, and has been an advocate of school choice proposals.
She returned to education policy themes, telling CapitolBeatOK, “Some inaccurate things have been said about my record in education policy. I’ve worked for education improvements as vice chairman that last six years. I’ve promoted reading education improvements with the Reading Sufficiency Act, and backed every teacher pay raise that’s gone through the Legislature.
“I’ve pressed for payments into the Teacher Retirement System to improve its solvency, to fund the district employer contributions to keep promises to our teachers. I’ve been a force for fiscal restraint in appropriations and budget work. I am an advocate of the Great Expectations program. I have also voted for reforms that some don’t want, to give greater choice to parents and to students.
“I’ve voted for bills that have set up math labs in middle school and voted to establish more math and science professional development for our teachers. I’m co-author of bills that are paving the way for virtual online classes so there are more options for our students since we live in such a technological age. I’m a trustee for the Oklahoma Education Technology Trust where I get to play an important role in advancing the use of computers, smart boards, and other technological tools so Oklahoma students can have the latest technology and the greatest opportunity to excel. I’ve invested a third of my life in education and know firsthand the importance it plays not only in the lives of our students but in our society.”
Kern says “there is not a factual basis” for criticism of her record on transportation issues. She says, “We have put billions more, with careful planning and change in law, into transportation. I voted for and advocated that improvement.”
She observes, “Now, there are some who press for a light rail system, but the economics of that is not yet certain. It would be great to have better busses for the commuter system to be improved, and rail systems to get from the suburbs. This would not only save on the use of oil but would be cost savings for our citizens as well as limit traffic jams. Fortunately, we don’t have major traffic problems like many very large cities.
“I am open to exploring all these possibilities yet I understand, even if some others do not, that anything like this must be paid for, and I’m not certain a permanent subsidy to have a fixed rail trolley is a good idea.
We asked Kern to list the key differences between the two candidates. She responded, “I have lived in this District since March 1996. My opponent moved into the district in August 2009 or at least changed registration then to HD 84. I am a Ronald Reagan conservative, my opponent is an Obama Democrat. I am pro-life, my opponent is pro-abortion. I oppose Obamacare, my opponent supports it. I want government to limit its spending. My opponent is promoting ideas that will increase spending. I support traditional marriage, my opponent supports same-sex marriage.
“On this latter point, in 2004 voters in my district supported marriage as being between man and woman at a level of 76%, the exact same percentage as the state as a whole.”
Despite what she characterizes as a conservative-leaning district, Kern asserts, “I’m not taking anything for granted. I am working hard to come back here and keep representing my constituents.”
Asked to name a favorite book, Kern said, “I read the Bible more than any other book. I really liked the book called “The 5,000 Year Leap,” by Cleon Skousen that examines 28 principles the founding fathers established the Constitution upon, and our system of government. I still like to page through ‘The American Pageant,’ a very basic text book that is in contrast with what is being taught in many schools today. I’m an avid reader so it’s hard to name just one or two favorites. Francis Shaffer’s “A Christian Manifesto” is very high on my list.
As for a favorite film, she replies, “Madame X, with Lana Turner. I still cry a ton of tears every time I see it. I love the old film version of The Time Machine. I still ponder, wonder, and speculate as to which two books the time traveler took with him when he went onto the machine the last time at the end of the movie.”
And what about TV shows? Kern says, “Without a doubt, it was ’24.’ That was my favorite but it ended last season. I’m still suffering withdrawal symptoms. Television I don’t really watch that much.”