Jari’s way: Resume, good nature and support from ‘the coach’

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 25-Jul-2010

In a deft and contextually perfect quip, Lieutenant Governor Jari Askins brought down the house (not the state House, but an auditorium full of voters) at Oklahoma City University’s Meiders School of Business last month.
In the midst of a cordial exchange with Attorney General Drew Edmondson during a candidate forum, the lights went out as Askins was speaking. She immediately raised her voice and declared, “As governor, I will keep the lights on.” The audience loved it.
Moments later, as the lights went back on, and Edmondson declared, “Let there be light.” The moment was typical of the (thus far) cordial tone of the Democratic primary.
As the lieutenant governor nears an electoral verdict on Tuesday, most analysts have given the political advantage to the attorney general. While many believe the race is much closer, a Sooner Survey (Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates) released last week gave Edmondson with a 38 percent to 27% advantage over Askins. The poll was conducted July 18 to 20.
That was before anyone could measure the full impact of former University of Oklahoma head football coach Barry Switzer’s endorsement for Askins. Switzer interjected himself in the race with a passionate statement coinciding with her “Make History” rallies that began on July 22.
Through radio advertisements, social media, some strong endorsements and other platforms, Switzer’s message began criss-crossing the state last week: “I’ve known Jari Askins for 30 years. She’s a great friend, a great sports fan and she’ll be a great governor.” The coach called her “honest and smart, not to mention that she’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet.”
Switzer closes the radio spots by saying, “She’s experienced as a judge, a leading lawmaker, and Lt. Governor. Jari has what it takes to lead Oklahoma. Let’s make Jari Askins our next governor.”
Askins has financed a significant television advertising “buy,” but also has spent substantially to get her message out in state newspapers large and small, with the ads running through this final campaign weekend and onto Tuesday. Her newspaper ad campaign is the most substantial in any gubernatorial campaign in recent history.
In the newspaper advertisements, the emphasis is on Askins’ unique record in all three branches of Oklahoma government: as an executive (lieutenant governor), a legislator (she was the leader of House Democrats) and a local judge. 
In addition to generally pro-business policy views, Askins has stressed moderate views on certain contentious issues, including support for Second Amendment gun rights. Askins is also known for her pro-life views (supporting abortion access only in “hard cases”). On the latter issue, she takes the same stance as roughly half of the Democrats in the state Legislature, in a state that pollster Richard Wirthlin once described as the most pro-life state in America.
Askins has also promised to press for equal pay for equal work for Oklahoma women. That theme resonates as part of a tender brand of feminism she has projected, including “Power of the Purse” fund raising events aimed at professional women.
Askins has kept her tone positive, but makes her case as the party nominee against the likely Republican candidate, Mary Fallin. The Democratic lieutenant governor told Scott Cooper of The Oklahoma Gazette (July 21), “If my opponent happens to be a woman, then it’s not about gender. It’s about qualifications. It’s a whole lot easier to focus on those kinds of issues when you are the same gender.”
When she filed for the contest in June, Askins told CapitolBeatOK, “I am running for governor because I am confident about my ability, and about my experiences having prepared me to do the job.”
Edmondson entered the final sprint with a fund raising advantage driven by support from lawyers and some key Democratic constituencies. Askins has raised a fair share herself – and has shown repeatedly she is willing to spend a chunk of her personal wealth to sustain her career in public service.
With the undecided vote shrinking and Askins counting on late momentum, Monday’s walk-in absentees and Tuesday’s traditional voters will determine the outcome.