Incumbent Rep. Al McAffrey confident in House District 88 race

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 07-Sep-2010

State Rep. Al McAffrey of Oklahoma City, incumbent Democrat in House District 88, is confident about reelection.  He faces a political newcomer, Dominique Block, the Republican nominee.  

McAffrey says, “I am running again because I believe, sincerely, I have represented my district quite well.” His early “walking cards” for door-to-door literature drops stress his support for small business tax incentives, advocacy for veterans, and spending on education and health care policies benefiting children.

In an interview last week with CapitolBeatOK, McAffrey said, “The big issue in Oklahoma is the economy, even though we are doing better than most other places. It’s on people’s mind because things are tight and tough, and due to unemployment remaining a problem.”

Speaking of the inner city area he represents, which includes some prosperous historic preservation neighborhoods, McAffrey reflected,  “We really are in much better shape than some places. I am thankful for the building activity centered about Devon and Sand Ridge in the downtown area.”

While many politicians are critics of the new national health care plan, McAffrey is not: “Another issue is the national health care plan, which is still controversial but I believe is going to turn around. I believe the plan is helping already, and I believe it will work in the long run.” McAffrey said some prominent local companies were converting retired employees to the new plan.

In the Legislature, McAffrey has carved out a niche as a health care advocate able to work with key Republicans on common objectives.  However, he has also clashed with GOP leaders.

He told CapitolBeatOK, “If we can get control of health care costs, health insurance costs, it will help the whole economy. I had one friend, who had the misfortune of having a minor situation that took him to the emergency room. They just looked at him, didn’t really do anything, yet they charged him $1,800. That seems crazy to me. Last year, I pushed a bill to hold down premium costs but that didn’t get a hearing. I will reintroduce that.”

McAffrey continued, “Another bill I intend to work on … after the election, is a follow-up on something that actually began as a call from a constituent. I’m going to push to add the Alzheimer’s Association to the personalized tags program. That would get that good group a little bit of money, more resources to do their good work. I promised my constituent I’m going to help on that.”

He said, “I am still concerned about the Medical Examiner’s office relocation. I have said all along I think that office should stay in Oklahoma City. I understand the hopes they have to tie the M.E.’s work to the new forensic science program at the University of Central Oklahoma. I’ve had friendly discussions with UCO President Roger Webb about what he hopes to achieve. But I’ve continued to communicate with people in the M.E.’s office. The training of the forensic science students at UCO is not necessarily a good fit with the M.E.’s office.”

McAffrey elaborated, “The ‘action’ for the M.E.’s office is here in the city, where most of their work begins. You’ve going to have problems for the police, the city police, traveling to/from Edmond. Basically, I’m going to request the speaker to take a whole new look at the relocation question. Problems were associated with the bill because of certain allegations, but those are not as important as the issue of the location of the office itself. I think that needs further thought and consideration before we lock in on it.”

McAffrey is a promoter of MidCity entrepreneurs, and an idea he believes will help local grocery stores: “I plan to reintroduce the bill to allow wine in grocery stories. As is being widely discussed, we have Whole Foods coming to town, and that certainly will drive interest in allowing what so many other states do, to let liquor into the groceries. It is opposed by some in the liquor industry, and some concerns about the effect of any change on the ‘mom and pop’ liquor stores. Some in the industry are just more comfortable with the status quo. I believe in the long run this is going to happen as the state becomes more urban. I’ve had good, civil discussions on this with Republican colleagues. “

Concerning this year’s session, McAffrey had both good and bad things to say about the Republican majority: “It is very partisan in the House right now. We simply must learn to work together better than we have in the last couple of years. Each side has good and bad ideas; each side has strengths and faults. I just think we have to work together for the people of Oklahoma.”

Known as an advocate for the gay community of which he is part, McAffrey said, “I am encouraged by things like a recent call from one of my constituents. He told me he disagreed with me on some issues. But he appreciated that I stand up for what I believe. People want leadership and honesty. They want someone who is going to think about issues, then make a decision on what he or she believes is best.”

McAffrey was among among leaders invited to a White House reception early in the presidency of Barack Obama. Commenting on Republican leaders at the state Capitol, he said, “I have found that the chairmen I work with show some willingness to treat me as a fellow member, but I’m pushing to get more of my ideas heard. The work on transportation and human services, my committees, is certainly important.”

On the hand, he said, “I have all the respect in the world for Rep. Ron Peters, who runs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Human Services. While he is on the other side on some things, we also sometimes agree.  Pam Peterson is the chair of the Human Services Committee. She and I have disagreed on some women’s issues. Still, we work together well on other matters. On Transportation, I have built respect and good relations with Rep. T.W. Shannon and we’ve joined together on some legislation.”

On the other hand, McAffrey continued, “There are some things where the outgoing leadership pretty much railroaded things. That was the case with the M.E.’s office. I believe we must work together better. I have knowledge that can be of benefit to all of the lawmaking process, in the area of police and small business, for example.”

Concerning the Speaker-designate, he commented, “I think Kris Steele will be a good speaker. We have actually had rare disagreements. I believe he is working to have a better atmosphere for next year. As a more liberal or in some ways to the left person, I’m trying to work with the ones in charge.”

Hinting at possible conflicts, McAffrey said, “An area of possible or likely further problems is in education. I’m concerned about the push for a voucher system. The public schools are the foundation of our democracy. I’m concerned a great deal about the superintendent’s race and the implications that might have for these issues. If you take away money from the public schools, the children will suffer.”

He continued, “I have a grandson at Wilson Elementary and I so enjoy hearing, when I get him from school, about his day and the things he has learned. We have to maintain and we have to fund good public schools. That is fundamental.”

On another challenging topic for 2011, Rep. McAffrey said, “There are some very practical issues concerning the Department of Corrections. We have a habit, in crime and sentencing, of sending too many people to the harder levels of incarceration.  … I was a police officer, so I understand the tough on crime ideas; I’m all for that when it comes to hard, violent crimes. But [former Governor Frank] Keating was so hard on crime that we got this absolute population explosion in corrections and we have to work our way out of it. I hope we can a lot more with our drug courts, and with house arrest ideas.”

In an exchange with CapitolBeatOK on corrections’ options, McAffrey said, “Those halfway houses and other lower security options are healthy for us to use, and less expensive. Of course women in prison are just a huge problem for us. I respect Kris Steele for what he has already done in this area. We just keep incarcerating more women, and some of us, including him, understand we have to work our way out of that. If we just keep putting more women inside, we’ll continue putting more people on the welfare rolls. We have to find a better way.

“I am encouraged as well by boot camp tactics. I relate to the story of a friend’s son who got ‘scared straight’ in one of those settings. It allows people to have a life, have a shot, get a fresh start after they’ve been in and done their time. We have to be smart about who we imprison. We somehow must find ways to get the ones who can be helped over the stigma of having been in jail. I love Oklahoma, but I believe that we have to think differently about some things. We have to take positive fresh steps.”

McAffrey contends energy policy is another area where the House minority party might find common ground with the majority: “We need to look at natural gas conversion, which we’ve discussed for years, for state vehicles. My goodness, we are the biggest natural gas producing state in the United States. We should buy our own gas and put it back into the Oklahoma economy. That is one of the most positive things we can d for our state.”

McAffrey said, “I hope to encourage the expansion of the number of those natural gas stations all across the state to prove what can be done to make the economy and the energy structure better.”