‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ and ‘debt, debt, debt’ – Can Billy Coyle win?
By Patrick B. McGuigan
If the campaign of Republican James Lankford is about tackling federal “debt, debt, debt,” then the campaign of Billy Coyle, the Democratic nominee in Oklahoma’s Fifth Congressional District, is about “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
To be sure, there is more to both campaigns, than that sketch. Still, it is a useful place to start.
On Wednesday (September 29), as Coyle sat in his campaign office for an interview with CapitolBeatOK, he was looking ahead to a parade in Tecumseh, the annual Czech festival and other things politicians in central Oklahoma, even newly minted, should do to attract support. He was also focused on the challenge of facing an ardent conservative Republican in a year when Lankford’s party has momentum.
Coyle told CapitolBeatOK, “I like James Lankford personally, but we don’t need another Ernest Istook here in Oklahoma City. He sent enough money to Utah when he was in there.
“Seriously, James and I disagree on some issues. Our exchanges have been cordial and positive so far. I’m sure if I can get within five percentage points and then things start to get close, they’ll go negative.”
So, the question is, can Coyle win? He replies, “There’s no doubt about it. If you look at the voter registration numbers in the Fifth District and the overall numbers for both of us, it is within reach. One thing to note is that ‘nobody’ knows us. People are still learning who he is, and who I am. The winner will be the man whose message resonates the most by the end of this election.
“Something that is driving me, and encouraging me, is that people are simply fed up with partisan politics. I’m tired of it and I know the voters are too. They are as tired of the far left as they are of the far right. Sensible people have to work together.
“That’s why our message of job growth, development of Oklahoma energy resources and taking care of our military veterans is resonating so well.”
Coyle continued, “In energy, I truly believe we can create a whole new economy around the natural gas conversion issues, our oil and wind power. To get there will require working with both sides.
“We are appealing to the people who pay the bills. In the last decade or so, all you have to do is look at the data to know that the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer, and the middle class is paying for everything.”
CapitolBeatOK asked Lankford to address Coyle’s top issues, so the inverse was posed concerning Lankford’s “debt, debt, debt” focus. The Democrat replied, “There’s no doubt that ‘debt, debt, debt’ has to drive a lot of our concerns on the economy and growth. We’ve got this massive debt burden, pegged at around $12 trillion.
“You can assign to this administration some of that. Some $2 1/2 trillion goes back to the last administration’s spending. But $8 trillion of that comes from the [Bush-era] tax breaks. In the long run, we’ve got to address that.
“I’m in favor of extending the tax cuts for another two years, and perhaps another five. Down the line we will have to figure out how to balance the budget and get some of that revenue back, but right now we need to stimulate the economy – with the resources of the private sector, not government.”
Coyle is touting a “Blue Dog Democrat” brand of fiscal conservatism intended, among other things, to restore “pay-as-you-go” budgeting, a spending “lid,” a balanced budget mandate and an attack on duplication and inefficiency.
He comments, “One of the things about the Republicans that bothers me is you don’t hear many details about how to trim that debt and what programs actually to cut in the federal government. Do they really want to end social security? Do they really want to shut down the federal department of education? Do they really want to cut veterans’ benefits by 50%?
“I’d love to run a on a ‘no new taxes’ pledge, but we have a great military and we have a transportation infrastructure that needs to be repaired and improved. One thing for certain is that the Republicans do a bad job on saying what programs they will actually cut.
“What to cut? That’s the critical question. I don’t think the Bush tax cuts can be permanent, but we can try to leverage them to get the economy going. How to get past the legacy of this recession, that’s a challenge.
“I plan to press hard to get reality into the idea that we heard a lot about from Washington but never really got implemented. That’s zero-based or bottom-line review of every single federal agency and program, to see where there really is room for cuts or consolidation.”
Like many other Oklahoma Democrats, Coyle says there’s at least one Oklahoma Republican he agrees with frequently: “Tom Coburn thinks there’s a lot of fraud in some of the federal programs, and he’s probably right. Somebody needs to stare down both sides of the aisle in Congress. We were at an annual budget surplus just 10 years ago, and we’ve got to get back to that.”
Asked to name policy areas in which he would seek to specialize if he wins in November, Coyle responded: “Definitely Veterans and Energy/Commerce. I’d like committee assignments where I could work on those issues because I know how important they are to our people, our Oklahoma economy.”
He is getting no help from national Democratic sources, and doesn’t anticipate any: “They don’t think the race is winnable. If I am such a ‘national Democrat’ as the Lankford campaign says, why can’t I get support from my national party? I am independent of the national Democrats.
“My view is that the national Democrats had a chance, after taking Congress in January 2007, to do something positive. Then, after President Obama came into office in January 2009, he had a great opportunity to focus on jobs, jobs, jobs. But instead he focused on other issues and the practical effect of that has divided a lot of Americans.
“Looking ahead, Americans always step up in tough times. There is at least $3-4 trillion in pent up investment out there, but it’s sitting on the economic sidelines. The banks won’t loan because they aren’t sure where things are going. We’ve got to stimulate this economy, but with and through the private sector. We can not simply count on present incentives or development to grow up out of this, but there are things we can do to move forward.”
He continued, “I would love to see our country get off the dependency on foreign oil. We’re spending almost our annual federal budget overseas ever year. America can be energy independent, but we have to act to make that happen.
“Massive conversion to natural gas fleet vehicles is within reach, if we’re smart enough to encourage it and facilitate it. Of course in Oklahoma we also have the ability to drill for more oil and to develop wind power. Government needs to help all of that, not hurt it. Here in Oklahoma the untapped potential is around the natural gas development. We just have to be smart enough to use America’s natural resources more and more.
Asked to make closing observations, Coyle responded, “I’m proud of serving my country in the Marine Corps. I did boot camp and then went into the infantry reserves. I spent most of time in Florida. I really enjoyed it and I was proud to wear the uniform. At 18, I wasn’t completely sure what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I wanted to serve my country and then I did so.
“Something that has bothered me is that when Dave White, the independent, withdrew from this race a couple of weeks back, he referred to the need to do so in order to unite to fight ‘the enemy.’ I truly never thought that in my own country I’d be called the enemy.”
Coyle continued, pointing to a story about “Chesty” Puller, a legendary Marine who served in World War II and in Korea: “He was once in a terribly tough fight in the Korean War. His units were outnumbered about 12-1. When his staff gave him that estimate, Puller simply said, ‘They can’t get away from us now.’
“I believe I can win. I love the Fifth District of Oklahoma. My people have been here for six generations. Among my ancestors are the founder of Nichols Hills and the founder of Coyle. This is my home and these are my roots.
“My opponent says he’ll fly in and out of Washington every week so he can live here and keep his family here. Oklahoma will always be my home, but I’ll move my family to Washington D.C. so that I can have time with them and be a good husband and father. I want to bring my family with me to show the people in Washington what an Oklahoma family looks like. That’s an important way to represent our people in Congress.”
Turning from personal reflections and back to policy, Coyle concluded: “I’ve said my campaign is about jobs, jobs, jobs. We have to find a way to start building real American jobs, to get job creation going again. I have dreams about a natural gas conversion plan in Oklahoma City. Government can’t do that, but it can help make it happen through the private sector.
“I want to bring back the kind of dynamic that brought us plants like Dayton, General Motors, Lucent, Xerox and all the others that are gone or are now overseas. New jobs and better jobs are the way forward for this economy.”