February 1, 2023

William W. Savage III (Tres), Gentner Drummond, John M. O’Connor, Storme Jones (from left to right). Photo by Christian Brown

While the divide between political parties has always been apparent, a divide among a singular political party is not usually so apparent.

On June 16th, 2022, a republican debate for attorney general between John O’Connor and Gentner Drummond was held in the VPAC Theater. The debate was intense, and the crowd sat ready to support their candidates.

Moderator Storme Jones asked, “…Where did you go to law school, and was the most important lesson learned?” Drummond was given 90 seconds to respond to this question, to which he replied, “I studied out at Georgetown Law… I will tell you the most important thing I learned working in Washington DC was that the democratic party does not represent Oklahoma’s interests. It was at that point in my life that I realized that I am a republican.”

The same question was directed at O’Connor, and he pulled a paper off the black table next to him. O’Connor said, “Well, that notice that you had that republican values prevail must have been very recent because in 2017 you wrote an email that said that uhm, ‘Kevin Hearns affinity for President Trump is a non-starter for me.'”.

Drummond immediately turned on his mic and said, “John, you know that’s a lie.”

O’Connor continued, “This is you from your own email. ‘Any meeting is a waste of time.'”

Although the crowd had been instructed that this debate was an event where disruptions of any kind, including cheering, were not welcome, the crowd erupted in applause and whistles.

Timekeepers were set up in the front row. Their only job was to hold up a series of signs to O’Connor and Drummond that their time to talk had ended. If the candidate couldn’t see the sign, the timekeeper used a flashlight to let the two gentlemen know it was time to stop talking. There is a 30-second warning, a 15-second warning, and a red octagon sign that says, “Stop.”

O’Connor ran 15 seconds over time, which means he had to ignore a series of 3 separate lines of communication telling him his time was over. “We’ve got a time’s up sign,” Tres Savage, one of the moderators, says. “I’m going to be like a judge tonight and make everybody answer the questions and follow the rules. So really if you guys are shouting into here, there’s 70 people in here and that’s great but it means that the people listening at home cannot hear your own candidate talking, so I’m just trying to explain why that’s not what we’re looking for.”

The moderators gave Drummond 30 seconds to reply to the email that O’Connor brought up. Before Drummond can say anything, O’Connor hands him a piece of paper and speaks into the mic, “Here it is if you want see it.”

Drummond says, “It’s so easy to take an email and falsify it this candidate has given thousands of dollars to republican elect people running for office to include thousands of dollars to President Trump…One of us has only given to pay-to-play, and that’s the appointee.”

Attorney generals are the highest-ranking legal officers in their domain. Their job carries with it a lot of weight because they can end up wearing so many hats. Their main job is to ensure that laws formed by the government of their domain are enforced.

John O’Connor said, “…We defend the appeals, but as you know, I disagreed with the governor when he commuted the Julius Jones death penalty to life, and I sent a statement out saying that I stood by law enforcement and in our court system but uh there are challenges…”

(https://innocenceproject.org/julius-jones-death-row-oklahoma-what-to-know/)

Julius Jones was convicted in 1999 of murder and sentenced to death. Governor Stitt commuted his sentence in 2021 due to new evidence proving he wasn’t even present when the murder occurred.

Julius Jones’s mother, Madeline Davis Jones, was sitting in the crowd. “Whether I’m democrat or republican independent or a nobody everybody should be treated equally, and we have people losing their lives overseas to be free when we’re in a free country, and we’re bickering amongst each other,” Jones said.

The “bickering” Madeline refers to comes from the crowd’s abnormal behavior during the debate. Audience members occasionally turned around to shout at their opponents in the crowd to “shut up” or “you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Directed both at the candidates and each other.

While the divide between political parties has always been apparent, a divide among a singular political party is not usually so apparent. A particular group of republicans has started using the word “RINO” to describe their political opponents. RINO is an acronym that means “republican in name only.” 

John O’Connor uses similar rhetoric when he says, “…You have a very clear choice in this race, my opponent is a democrat in republican clothing…”. Much like this “Hunting RINO’s” campaign video from Eric Greitens.

There is nothing morally or ethically wrong with aligning with either party. Both philosophies have their pros and cons that are constantly debated among Americans. Big government or small government? We vote, debate, and decide in an ongoing cycle on these issues to find the best course of action for our people.

Storme Jones said in an interview, “Public debates matter … whether there’s a predominant front runner or its neck and neck, we think the public wins when there’s debates out in the open about topics important to voters across the state.” These debates are important because regardless of which candidate wins that singular debate, it’s even more important that Americans win every debate by voting for the best candidate.

The previous Attorney general for Oklahoma was Mike Hunter, who had served since 2017, ending his time as attorney general by resignation, citing the resignation as a personal matter.

The attorney general is an elected office, but due to the abrupt resignation, Governor Kevin Stitt appointed John O’Connor to serve until the election on November 8th, 2022.

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