Jim Priest’s closing argument focuses on his credentials, Pruitt’s donors

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 28-Oct-2010

Jim Priest, Democratic candidate for Attorney General of Oklahoma, came to the state Capitol pressroom today (Thursday, October 28) to preview for reporters what he called his “closing argument” in the race against former state Sen. Scott Pruitt, the Republican nominee.

Priest said his final presentation was similar to “what I have done in almost 100 jury trials.”

Speaking of Pruitt in a critical vein, Priest said he had learned a long time ago it is instructive to “follow the money.” Concerning his own campaign finances – amounting now to some $516,825 in contributions – Priest said those backing his candidacy have come from these professions, according to his own analysis: Legal 53% of the total, Finance 6%, Energy/Gas 3%, Health 3%, Political Action Committees (PACs) 3% and Miscellaneous 32%.

Priest provided a breakdown of contributions supporting Pruitt. The analysis included an estimated $150,000 in “D.C. independent expenditures” that are not part of the Pruitt campaign’s official spending figures. With that data included, Priest said supporters of Pruitt have contributed $947,308. The independent expenditure totaled an estimated $150,000 from the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), amounting to 16% of the total.

The remainder of the Pruitt contributions broke this way, in Priest’s analysis: Finance 16%, PACs 12%, Legal 9%, Energy 9%, Poultry 7%, Car Dealers 6%, Construction 6%, Health 5%, Cigarettes/Alcohol 2%, Car Dealers 6% (Pruitt’s father was a car dealer) and Miscellaneous 12%.

Priest pressed home his assertion that $62,000 of Pruitt’s money has come from individuals associated with the chicken (poultry) industry. He said he was not taking such contributions because to do so could give “the appearance of improper conduct.” He asserted taking such money “conflicts with the duty to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.”

Priest said he intends to continue litigation against poultry interests that originated with the current attorney general, fellow Democrat Drew Edmondson. Priest said he is not opposed to a settlement in the case, but also shares Edmondson’s support for “clean water” and environmental protections.

The Oklahoma City attorney pressed his case as the better prepared and more experienced of the two candidates. Priest said he has been “square with the voters, straight with them, and not willing to gild the lily or exaggerate the truth” about his experience. He has stressed his courtroom experience as standing in contrast to Pruitt’s work “of counsel” in fewer cases over the past two decades.

Priest also challenged Pruitt’s characterization of a religious freedom case being featured in the Republican’s television advertisements. He said the state job of a woman Pruitt represented was “never at risk,” and that she had been instructed to avoid proselytizing agency clients, whereas, Priest said, his foe’s ads asserted the woman had been forbidden to hosts Bible study sessions.

While Pruitt has said he is willing to “push back against the federal government” if Washington agencies exceed value authority, Priest warned the language the Republican has employed might provoke an outcome opposite of the stated purpose: “It might sound good in a sound bite, but is not necessarily the best legal strategy.”

In response to a question from CapitolBeatOK about challenges facing a Democrat in the difficult political environment of 2010, Priest replied, “This all started about 11 months ago, but it builds on my past experience. I have friends and clients from Guymon to Idabel. People know my professional and personal reputation.”

As a practical matter, he reflected, “A candidate can only directly reach about 3% of the population. My message in media advertisements is straight-forward. I don’t slant my views depending on my audience.”

Priest concluded, “I live my life by a compass, not a weather vane. The office I’m seeking, in particular, is not a Republican or a Democratic office. I believe voters are seeking the best person, and the best lawyer, for the job.”

Priest spoke with some fondness of the campaign process, saying he has sampled “every variety of chili” the state has to offer, and enjoyed meeting people from “every walk of life, in the longest job interview of my life.”