For Labor hopeful Jason Reese, campaign surges in wake of Fields’ ‘brazen behavior’
By Patrick B. McGuigan
What the leader of a state employee group called the “brazen behavior” of Labor Commissioner Lloyd Fields has propelled Republican candidate Jason Reese onto the front pages of Oklahoma newspapers, and garnered both radio and television broadcast coverage.
Angered after the Oklahoma Public Employees Association (OPEA) made a significant contribution to Reese’ primary campaign for Commissioner of Labor, the incumbent Democrat went to OPEA’s office, searched for and found a copy of a candidate questionnaire turned in previously. Fields then destroyed the document.
OPEA says Fields did not have permission for what he did. The Commissioner told The Associated Press and The Oklahoman he was given permission to look for the survey on the desk of OPEA director Sterling Zearley. In an OPEA web posting, Zearley said the group may press charges against Fields.
In an interview with CapitolBeatOK Wednesday night (July 21), Reese said the incident “represents the old-style machine politics that Mr. Fields has represented for years. The support from any group of voters cannot be gained by intimidation and threats but rather by respectfully proposing policies that benefit all. That is the new politics that I hope my campaign represents.”
Reese faces businessman Mark Costello in the Republican primary. Reese said, “In an office that has never seen large fundraising numbers, I have out-raised my opponent at least 4 to 1. He has outspent me roughly 8 to 1, by using his personal funds.”
He continued, “Undoubtedly I am the underdog, but I believe that my hard work and aggressive pursuit of earned media will make up the difference. In many Oklahoma Republican primaries this year, we are seeing a showdown between a traditional conservative such as myself and a candidate backed by the more Libertarian wing.”
Asked to distill key differences in his policy proposals and those of his primary foe — and asked to keep it brief – Reese reflected, “I have proposed new state protections from employment discrimination for Reserve and National Guard members. Mr. Costello has opposed this. I have proposed merging the Human Rights Commission into the Department of Labor. Mr. Costello believes the Human Rights Commission shouldn’t exist at all. I have proposed a comprehensive regulation sunset plan. Mr. Costello has refused to comment.”
OPEA’s support in a primary does not imply general election backing or an endorsement. Costello did not answer the OPEA candidate survey, and Fields yesterday told reporters he would no longer be seeking the group’s support.
Former Commissioner Brenda Reneau was a member of OPEA. The group stayed neutral in the 2006 campaign, when Fields defeated her in the closest statewide election of the year.