U.S. Congressional candidates set for forum in McAlester

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Jun. 10—A forum next week will bring at least a dozen congressional candidates to McAlester.

McAlester Defense Support Services and the city of McAlester will host a forum for voters to hear from candidates running for the U.s. Congressional District 2 seat in the upcoming election cycle.

"The main goal is to give our community members the opportunity to learn what each candidate's priorities are and if they align with ours," MDSS Executive Director Jessica Gregg said.

Gregg said military defense is vital for the nation and southeast Oklahoma — but the event will span several important issues for McAlester and the region.

She said candidates were offered an introductory speech and were asked to give attendees their top three priorities during the forum.

"We don't want them to just come and talk about defense — we want them to talk about what they're going to do to support southeast Oklahoma," Gregg said.

McAlester Mayor John Browne will emcee the event and said candidates will be asked which committees they hope to serve if elected.

He said southeast Oklahoma will need representation on House and Senate armed services committees after recent development.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe announced his retirement and vacated his seat effective Jan. 3, 2023 after serving since 1994. He serves as the top Republican, or the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin vacated the CD 2 seat to pursue Inhofe's spot.

"It's pretty important for us to have someone on the House Armed Services Committee, especially since we're losing Sen. Inhofe from the Senate Armed Forces Committee," Browne said.

CD 2 spans most of eastern Oklahoma and many areas affirmed as Native American reservations in the U.S. Supreme Court's McGirt v. Oklahoma decision and subsequent court rulings.

Organizers said most of the Republican candidates in the race confirmed they would attend and the event would cover more than military defense.

John Bennett, 47, of Vian, told organizers he will send a proctor to the event. 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 and previously called Islam "a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out."

Guy Barker, 32, of Monkey Island, confirmed he will attend the event. He has worked at the Oklahoma Supreme Court, through Oklahoma's energy and agriculture communities, and is the secretary-treasurer of the Quapaw Nation.

Sen. Marty Quinn, 62, of Claremore, has served as an Oklahoma senator since 2014, having previously served four years in the House. The insurance professional confirmed to organizers he will attend the forum.

Clint Johnson, 49, of Tahlequah, is a Marine Corps veteran and Cherokee County Sheriff's deputy. He told organizers he would attend the event.

Rep. Avery Frix, 28, of Muskogee, told organizers he would attend, 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 told organizers he would attend.

Chris Schiller, 45, of Muskogee, is the owner of Economy Pharmacy and told organizers he would attend.

Pamela Gordon, 62, of McAlester, is the former director of McAlester Defense Support Services. She is a former school superintendent and crime scene investigator who indicated she will attend the event.

Josh Brecheen, 42, of Coalgate, served as the Oklahoma SD 6 Senator from 2010-2018 and worked for former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn. Organizer said he would attend the forum.

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.

Rhonda Hopkins, 46, of Rose, is a certified nursing assistant and told organizer she would attend. She ran for CD 2 in 2020, and unsuccessfully ran for the Oklahoma House in 2016 and 2018.

Wes Nofire, 35, of Park Hill, is a member of the Cherokee Nation Tribal Council and told organizers he would attend.

Erick P. Wyatt, 43, of Kingston, served in the Army and U.S. Coast Guard and is running on the Republican ticket. He had not accepted an invite to attend the forum as of Friday.

Naomi Andrews, 39, of Tulsa, was the lone Democrat to file in the race. The Kingsley-Kleimann Group marketing director and executive director for the Center for Plain Language is also the state's Democratic Party vice-char for CD1.

Ben Robinson, 88, of Muskogee, is the only independent to register in the race. Robinson was a Democratic Oklahoma senator from 1989-2004, when he retired due to term-limit restrictions.

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