The commission deals with the regulation of oil, natural gas, electricity and telecommunications. There has yet to come before the commission a case of gay electricity. But concerning this race, a lifestyle issue could garner enough energy to pick all of Harmon County’s cotton in one swoop.
‘SHAME ON ME’
The night before Murphy’s three-hour trek, Roth was entertaining a crowd at the Enid Public Library. It’s a much shorter drive from Roth’s headquarters in Oklahoma City, but it could prove to be just as vital in this election.
The Garfield County Democrat Women’s Club invited Roth for a potluck dinner and some stumping. The dinner turned out to be a selection of cookies. Roth had to settle for a burger at Braum’s on the way out of town.
But the evening went well as 37 Enid residents showed up to listen to this city slicker in his dress shirt and fancy tie. The commish talked about his background, his knowledge of the issues and what he hopes to accomplish.
He also had to deal with that stealth issue. Some of the Enid residents came with a postcard they had received in the mail from an Edmond-based organization called M.O.M.S. The card wanted to inform voters that Roth is supported by the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) movement, sponsored a gay pride parade and supported “pro-homosexual” books accessible to small children in libraries ” not exactly issues the corporation commission takes up.
“I photocopied it and sent it back with a copy of my check I wrote to Jim for his campaign,” said activist Sandra Stuart, who attended the meeting.
It is unclear who or what the organization is, but the mailing address is the same as the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee. The group, which is chaired by Charlie Meadows, has endorsed Murphy.
Roth knew this moment in the campaign would arrive, but believes the contest will focus on issues relating to the job.
“If the test becomes something else, then shame on me because I’ve allowed it to become something that is not relevant to our democracy,” Roth said on the drive back from Enid. “It ultimately is about a level of government representing all the people regardless of our differences and moving this state forward. That’s the oath I took. It didn’t say anything about the attacks that are likely to come against me. It’s a much higher calling and that’s my focus.”
Roth’s opponent also doesn’t want to go down that path.
“You can’t control what some of your zealous supporters are going to do,” said Murphy, finishing her lunch at JC’s Grille in Hollis. “I’m not affiliated with any of these outside groups. I think a lot of people look at it like it’s free speech. The only time his lifestyle has come up is when some reporter asked me about it. It shouldn’t matter.”
JAB, JAB, UPPERCUT
The attacks on Roth’s lifestyle were an element political observers waited to see emerge in the campaign. But when it comes to the face-off between Roth and Murphy, it has been the incumbent taking the aggressive approach.
Just two weeks before election day, Roth launched a television attack ad challenging Murphy’s ethics. Much of the information for the ad came from Murphy’s 1992 divorce papers.
The morning after the ad was unveiled, one of Murphy’s supporters brought up the attack at the Hollis town hall meeting.
“People can say anything in ads,” Murphy responded. “My point is, prove it. These are things that came up (15) years ago. Are you kidding me?”
Murphy told the group Roth’s money to pay for the ads comes from out-of-state special interest groups. And she informed her audience to stay tuned.
“Do I have a response? You bet I do.”
A month ago, Roth trailed Murphy by double digits in a TVpoll.com survey. The day the ad hit the airwaves, a new poll showed Roth with a slight lead.
Keith Gaddie, vice president of research with TVpoll.com, said he was not surprised Roth went negative in a tight race. But the ad poses a danger for Roth.
“It opened the door to bring up personal character,” said Gaddie, an Oklahoma Gazette commentary writer and University of Oklahoma political science professor. “He brought up (Murphy’s) divorce. Now they could attack him for being gay because he threw the first punch.”
Roth’s aggressive style initially appeared in the candidates’ first debate at OU. The strategy involved subtle body blows throughout the debate, then ended with an uppercut. Roth jabbed at Murphy after she commented that she is the only candidate in the race with the judicial experience on cases of oil and mineral rights, and reminded the audience about her geology degree.
“I’m the only candidate in the race actually doing the job,” Roth shot out. “It’s not just about rocks.”
The serious punch came at the end of the debate when answering the question about whether corporation commission candidates should accept campaign contributions from people and organizations the commission regulates. Roth immediately went on the attack, bringing up past accusations against Murphy raised in her last race for the commission six years ago. The allegation included her 2002 campaign treasurer exceeding the campaign contribution limit of $5,000. No charges were ever brought against the campaign. In her response to Roth, Murphy didn’t hold back.
“This is politics as usual,” Murphy said. “What is Mr. Roth all about? He has four billionaires chairing his campaign.”
Oklahoma City Thunder majority owner Clay Bennett, Chesapeake president Aubrey McClendon and oilmen George Kaiser of Tulsa and Harold Hamm of Enid serve as Roth’s honorary co-chairmen.
During the next debate at Oklahoma City University, Roth continued with his strategy, using his closing comments to blister Murphy’s professional principles. Murphy did not get a chance to respond to the attack, which clearly angered the candidate. A few moments later, Roth went over to shake Murphy’s hand