U.S. CD 2 candidates talk issues in McAlester

·5 min read

Jun. 14—Candidates running for the U.S. Congressional District 2 seat made their pitches in McAlester on Monday.

McAlester Defense Support Association and the city of McAlester hosted a forum Monday for voters to hear from a dozen District 2 congressional candidates, asking them what they would do to represent southeast Oklahoma.

Organizers said southeast Oklahoma will need representation on House and Senate Armed Services committees and to ensure the future of the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant.

Candidates at the forum are running for the CD 2 seat left vacant by U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, who is running for the seat to be vacated by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe after his retirement effective Jan. 3, 2023. The CD 2 race features 16 candidates, with 14 Republicans in the field ahead of the June 28 primary.

Organizers asked candidates Monday how they would address a Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, which is a congressionally authorized process the Department of Defense uses to reorganizes its base structure.

MCAAP is America's premier warhead-producing facility that accounts for roughly one-third of the DoD's munitions — including thousands of Mark 84 2,000-pound bombs, M11 artillery rounds, 105mm artillery rounds, and more.

The base was originally commissioned as McAlester Naval Ammunition Depot on May 20, 1943, and transferred to the Army in 1977.

A BRAC Commission decision in 1995 to close a facility in Savanna, Illinois, led to the U.S. Army Defense Ammunition Center's relocation to McAlester in 1998.

Candidates said they wanted to help keep the base in the region, but without offering many solutions.

John Bennett, 47, of Vian, said he worked as a state representative with military leadership in previous BRAC proceedings.

Wes Nofire, 35, of Park Hill, said he would look to fill committee seats and responsibilities Mullin will vacate, and look at defense contracts. Mullin serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, plus several subcommittees.

Sen. Marty Quinn, 62, of Claremore, said any action would depend on the circumstances at the time of a BRAC, but he would aim to keep the base in McAlester. The insurance professional has served as an Oklahoma senator since 2014, having previously served four years in the House.

Pamela Gordon, 62, of McAlester, is the former director of McAlester Defense Support Services and said she would just walk away from a deal she didn't like.

MDSA Executive Director Jessica Gregg said organizers wanted to give community members the opportunity to learn each candidate's priorities.

Nofire is a Cherokee Nation Tribal Council member who has said the McGirt decision is the greatest threat to Oklahoma, which a fellow council member recently called "clearly treasonous, clearly traitorous," according to the Cherokee Phoenix tribal newspaper. Nofire said Monday he's fought against a "liberal agenda" while serving the past three years on the tribal council.

Bennett is the Oklahoma Republican Party chairman who received criticism last year for his comparison of COVID-19 vaccinations to the genocide of Jews during the Holocaust. He told attendees Monday he believes "we're at war for the very soul of this nation."

Guy Barker, 32, of Monkey Island, worked at the Oklahoma Supreme Court, through Oklahoma's energy and agriculture communities, and is secretary-treasurer of the Quapaw Nation. He said he wants to prioritize reliance on natural gas, focus on the economy, and more.

Clint Johnson, 49, of Tahlequah, is a Marine Corps veteran and former Cherokee County sheriff's deputy who was terminated a district attorney's investigator in 2006. He said he wants to implement stricter term limits and focus on returning to visit with constituents if elected.

Rep. Avery Frix, 28, of Muskogee, said he is pro-life, a Second Amendment advocate, and wants to fight the left. Frix has served in the Oklahoma House since 2016 and is a Choctaw Nation citizen. He works for the business his great-grandfather started in 1940 and owns Oxford Productions, a tourism and facility management company.

Rep. Dustin Roberts, 38, of Durant, is Oklahoma House deputy floor leader and completing his final term in HD 21. The Navy veteran is a citizen of the Choctaw Nation and said he wants to focus on the federal budget and allow states to create their own programs.

Gordon is a former school superintendent and military representative who said she wants to make alliances with "like-minded people" in referring to several conservative lawmakers.

Chris Schiller, 45, of Muskogee, is the owner of Economy Pharmacy and said he would focus on health care access, mental health issues, and more.

Josh Brecheen, 42, of Coalgate, served as the Oklahoma SD 6 senator from 2010-2018 and worked for former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn. He said his priorities would include military defense and following the Constitution.

Johnny Teehee, 57, of Vian, is the Muskogee Police chief who has worked 35 years in law enforcement. The Cherokee Nation citizen told organizers he would attend the event.

Erick P. Wyatt, 43, of Kingston, served in the Army and U.S. Coast Guard, and Rhonda Hopkins, 46, of Rose, is a certified nursing assistant. Neither attended the forum.

Naomi Andrews, 39, of Tulsa, is the lone Democrat to file in the race. Ben Robinson, 88, of Muskogee, is the only independent to register in the race. Neither attended.

Contact Adrian O'Hanlon III at aohanlon@mcalesternews.com.