Sun, wind and cannabis: Gov. Candidate Johnson encourages Oklahomans to utilize natural resources
Jessica Lane/ Chickasha Express Star
Sep 29 Chickasha – Connie Johnson, a 2018 Oklahoma Governor candidate, is encouraging Oklahoma to think differently to overcome the state’s setbacks in regards to the budget crisis, healthcare, education and the economy. Johnson, a Democrat, spoke at the Meet the Oklahoma Governor Candidate forum at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma on Sept. 28.
Johnson encourages the momentum of wind and solar energy instead of keeping Oklahoma on the boom and bust cycle of the oil industry. Johnson also endorses State Question 788, which would legalize medicinal marijuana in Oklahoma. “We are not honoring those God-given resources,” Johnson said. “We need to quit putting our eggs in the same basket.” Oklahoma has sun most days out of the year and is known for its winds “sweeping down the plain,” she said. However, Oklahoma may be ignoring an untapped resource—cannabis.
“It’s a plant that God created,” she said. Cannabis has the potential to help epileptics, veterans with post traumatic stress disorder, and a variety of other ailments. She said cannabis may also revitalize agriculture, thus helping farmers whose land could be re-purposed. Johnson said one acre of cannabis could raise $450,000 over a four year period. Also, Oklahoma has the potential to harvest cannabis four times a year, compared to Colorado which can harvest once a year, she said. Johnson said she has never heard of anyone killing another person or overdosing because of marijuana. She added the same could not be said for opioids and alcohol.
Johnson admits to being a little different from the other 2018 Oklahoma Governor candidates. She’s the only African American female governor candidate this year for Oklahoma—and one of two in the country—the other being Georgia’s governor candidate Stacey Abrams. “I’m not the establishment,” Johnson said. However, Johnson is not putting all her budget strategies in one pot—so to speak. Johnson said she will address the budget crisis by reviewing and revising spending priorities and turn the focus to the most vulnerable in Oklahoma including the poor, the mentally ill, senior citizens and children. Moreover, Johnson said she will evaluate the tax credits given to larger cooperations, such as oil companies, who have enjoyed a low tax rate at the expense of Oklahoma residents, she said. Johnson said she will also seek to combat nonproductive privatizations—which can affect everything from prisons to student loans.
Johnson said she believes the purpose of the state government is to address the issues that keep Oklahomans up at night. Johnson said it is the answers to these questions that need to be addressed at the state capitol. She said Oklahoma residents don’t care about colorful campaigns or candidates, but rather struggling families. Johnson said she believes healthcare is a right. She noted that it can take just one injury or disease to bankrupt a family under heavy healthcare costs.
As a daughter of two educators, Johnson said that reforming education is close to her heart. Overworked and underpaid teachers affect the quality of education that students receive, she said. “Children are suffering from low morale in our education system,” Johnson said. She pointed out that Oklahoma is losing its good teachers, such as the recent Oklahoma Teacher of the Year who moved to Texas.
Johnson is also seeking to reform the criminal justice system. Johnson led a statewide campaign against State Question 776, which put the death penalty in the Oklahoma Constitution. Johnson shared a statistic she said many people are unaware of: it costs three times as much to kill an inmate than to keep them in prison for life, she said. “It’s costing us a lot of money to act like God,” Johnson said. Johnson’s brother was a murder victim. She said that she never wanted the death penalty for her brother’s murderer, because that wouldn’t bring her brother back.
Johnson has also been a proponent of lowering nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors. She said there are teens being thrown in jail and having their lives ruined because they were walking around with a joint in their pocket. Johnson said it is a major problem in Oklahoma for people to be so saddled in fees, fines and restitutions that when they get out of jail, they often end up back in jail. “[We need to] stop locking up people we are mad at and lock up those who are actually dangerous,” she said.
Johnson also drew attention to the statistic that there are more women behind bars in Oklahoma than many other states, and these women have an average of two children. She said minorities and the poor are also at a disadvantage in the criminal justice system. “We need to reduce our taste for mass incarceration,” she said. However, Johnson is not looking to release prisoners en masse. She said right now there are not enough jobs, homes or mental health services to handle a mass release as has been proposed recently.
Johnson calls herself a student and teacher of the legislative process. “Government handles collectively what we cannot do individually,” she said throughout the evening. Johnson said that a lot of people were surprised by the presidential election last November, but that it has had a positive outcome. “The 2016 election kinda caused us to wake up a little bit,” she said. “It did cause a lot of people to wake up and get involved.”
Johnson said it is a strange time in Oklahoma and the world and that the power rests in the hands of voters. “You are responsible for civic engagement,” Johnson said. Educating voters is a big part of Johnson’s vision. Johnson is a a big supporter of voting by mail—also known as absentee ballot—in order to turn around the state’s low voter turnout. This allows voters three weeks to research the ballot and make an informed decision. Also, voting by mail is good strategy for those who find themselves too busy to get to the polls or those who worry they may be turned away for some reason. Johnson encouraged registered voters to visit the Oklahoma State Election Board website in order to sign up.