Legislators meet and greet Jan. 10 at Stillwater Public Library

(STILLWATER, OKLAHOMA / Dec. 28, 2018) —The 2019 Legislators’ Reception will be held at Stillwater Public Library on Thursday, Jan. 10, from 5-7 p.m. The annual event is sponsored by the library, League of Women Voters and Friends of the Stillwater Public Library.

Senator Tom Dugger, Representatives Trish Ranson, Ty Burns and John Talley and city and county officials have been invited to the event.

“The library, like the League of Women Voters, is always eager to provide opportunities for community members to engage in the democratic process,” said Melody Kellogg, library director. “The best way to help your officials and legislators in their roles is to communicate your needs, and this is a great opportunity to do that.”

According to Dugger, Stillwater’s lone returning legislator, two topics he anticipates communicating about with the community are the economy and education. The senator cited “continued education progress, not only in pay but also in the performance of students” and “economic growth of business and industry in Oklahoma” as two issues of concern he has for the upcoming year.

Despite those concerns, Dugger counts the work done by the Senate on stabilizing the economy as a bright spot for the state. He considers “working together to improve the economy of Oklahoma and to improve the economic conditions for educators and state personnel” as the Senate’s top achievements this year.

Dugger has served as the Stillwater area’s state senator since 2016.

On the opposite side of the Capitol, three brand new legislators will be representing Stillwater in the House of Represenatives. Burns, Ranson and Talley, who were elected in November, have already started preparing for their new positions. All three agree there are both adjustments and benefits to having an entirely new slate of representatives.

“Newness can cut both ways,” Ranson said. “Challenges may come in the form of rules and procedures that we will need to learn to be effective, yet new circumstances can also bring new opportunities as well as fresh ideas and thinking.

“While Stillwater has lost some continuity by electing all new representatives, I see this as an opportunity to develop new friendships and productive partnerships across party lines. I'm optimistic that Stillwater's three representatives can forge a new cooperative for positive change.

Burns agrees the three newcomers will be working together to serve the whole community.

“The major benefit (of having three new representatives) would be collaboration,” Burns said. “All three of us can utilize each other for the benefit of all communities and citizens. The good thing is that the freshman class is large and some of us will be fortunate enough to play a leadership role sooner than expected.”

Challenges aside, the representatives share a common strength – commitment to the community.

“All of the new representatives have long time investments in their districts,” Talley said. “The challenges are on our shoulders to learn as much as we can, as quickly as we can and come ready to work with an open mind to collaborate and represent our voters as best as we can.”

Burns, Ranson and Talley have already been busy talking with constituents and finding out what is on their minds. For Ranson, the message underlying most citizens’ concerns is clear.

“I've not heard one common concern from citizens, but I have heard one underlying emotion: that of fear,” Ranson said. “How will our budget surplus be handled this session? With gas prices dropping, will we be able to guard against an oil market downturn? What is the future of health insurance in this state? How will medical marijuana be handled legislatively? Will our new governor be a good leader? How can we increase education funding not just for common ed but also for Career Tech and higher ed? Will our taxes increase? How do we address the divide between rural and urban economies and communities?

“These fears are voiced in multiple ways and I believe they are tied to citizens’ uncertainty about their near term and long term future, a love for and desire to see our community and this state succeed and heightened interest in how state policies impact them.”

Talley’s constituents have shared concerns about Oklahoma’s extreme rankings on a variety of issues.

“What I hear most often is the concern we are ranked last in the nation for everything positive and ranked top in everything that is negative,” Talley said. “Last in teacher pay and per pupil spending. We rank at the top in health issues like teen suicide, adverse childhood experiences and food insecurity.  We incarcerate more per capita than any place in the world.  That either means we need prison reform or we have the worst people who live in our state.  I refuse to believe we have the worst people in the world.  We have a lot of work to do!”

In Burns’ interactions with citizens, three specific issues stand out.

“Education remains the top concern, and it is not just funding,” Burns said. “It is accountability and discipline in the classroom. Hospitals closing in small towns creates major concerns and limits available services. The past year’s county commissioners have had to maintain the county with limited funds. We must improve the roads and bridges in rural communities.”

Despite these concerns, all three representatives believe community members have every reason to be optimistic about the year ahead.

“I believe that in spite of the legitimate fears I’ve heard expressed, and that seem to be promoted each day in the national and state news, the increased awareness and interest can provide the courage to try new things, the willingness to take a fresh look at the policies and approaches and the will to overcome our differences,” Ranson said.

“I also believe that fear comes from focusing on the unknowns. Instead, we should focus on what we know. And what we know is that we have a state government filled with new voices. These voices come from all walks of life and are not hindered by old alliances and perceptions. I am optimistic that the influx of new perspectives will lead to new solutions.”

Burns believes those new voices across the state, as well as the experience of state leaders, provide a bright outlook for Oklahomans.

“The district and Oklahoma should be very optimistic for the upcoming year because we have a great leader in the executive branch and we have tremendous leadership in the House of Representatives,” said Burns. “We also have a large competent freshman class that is motivated and excited to make an impact not only for our districts but also for the state of Oklahoma.”

For Talley, it’s a matter of perspective.

“The message I have been sharing for over 40 years in my ministry is to focus on the positive to overcome the negative,” Talley said. “I am dedicated to improving the lives of people in District 33 and our great state that has been my home for over five decades.”

The Legislators’ Reception is a free, come and go event open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

For more information, please visit the library’s website at http://library.stillwater.org, or email askalibrarian@stillwater.org or call the Help Desk at (405) 372-3633 x8106.

The Stillwater Public Library is located at 1107 S. Duck St. (the corner of Duck and 12th Ave.). Library hours are Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.