Educator, former councilman square off in Senate race (The Ada News)

By Eric Swanson 

A newcomer to the political scene and a former Ada City Councilman are competing for the right to represent District 13 in the Oklahoma Senate.

Democratic candidate Eric Hall and his Republican challenger, Greg McCortney are squaring off in Tuesday’s general election. The winner will replace outgoing Sen. Susan Paddack, who is term limited this year.

Here are profiles of the two candidates:


Eric Hall

A longtime educator, Eric Hall has taught in small and large schools. He currently teaches band for the Ada school district.

Hall said he has not held public office office before, but he is seeking the Senate seat because it should be occupied by someone who would continue to care more about constituents’ needs than about political interests.

“That’s the paramount reason that I became involved in this,” he said recently. “I feel that we have had a true citizen legislator in our previous senator (Sen. Paddack), and I want to make sure the person who holds that seat is a citizen legislator before being a politician.”

Hall said Oklahoma’s school funding woes originally prompted him to launch his campaign. But as the election cycle progressed, he learned more about other issues, including public safety and health care.

The biggest challenge facing the Legislature is developing a budget that provides adequate funding for core services. Earlier this year, lawmakers had to find a way to eliminate a $1.3 billion deficit for fiscal year 2017.

Hall said declining fuel prices were not the only factors in Oklahoma’s budget crisis.

“The numbers that I’ve seen, we can attribute somewhere between $400,000, half a million to energy-related issues,” he said. “That still leaves a significant amount of revenue that’s decreased.

“Ten years ago, we had a $1 billion surplus in Oklahoma, and now we have a $1.3 billion shortfall. And we cannot attribute that solely to oil and gas. We try to blame it on them, but the numbers just aren’t there. It’s poor fiscal management by our Legislature.”

Hall said lawmakers need to do a better job of preparing for future economic downturns. He also said he thought the Legislature should take a close look at corporate tax incentives and decide which ones aren’t working.

“We have to find out what are net positives for the state of Oklahoma and for our citizens — which ones are returning our investment and which ones aren’t returning the investment,” he said. “And if they’re not returning the investment, we’re going to have to take a serious look at those.”

The Oklahoma Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think thank that promotes sustainable fiscal policies, recently predicted that the state would face another budget shortfall for fiscal year 2018. The new Legislature will have to tackle that issue when it convenes in February.

Hall said lawmakers need to think about their priorities and decide whether corporate tax breaks are more important than funding core services, including education and health care.

Turning to education, Hall said that low pay for educators is one of the reasons why Oklahoma is grappling with a teacher shortage. But he added that teacher pay is only one piece of the puzzle.

“I believe the heart of our teacher shortage is the fact that, as an educator in Oklahoma, you cannot provide what you need to provide for your students to have an education,” he said. “We have spent millions — tens of millions — of dollars on testing that we know is not in line with what we know are best practices in education. We have spent tens of millions of dollars on an A-F grading system that we know doesn’t collect the data that determines the success or failure of a school.”

Hall said lawmakers must take more steps to ensure that education dollars are reaching the classroom, and they must find a way to address teachers’ salaries.

In addition to those issues, Hall said he would like to see the Legislature make it easier to use the state’s County Improvement for Roads and Bridges Program fund, which helps counties finance major road and bridge projects.

“We have funds pooled up that are there for citizens’ access, and for our public sector to access, that are tied up in so much red tape,” he said. “If we can start to look at that, we can create short-term Band-Aids for a long-term problem. And then we can really go to work on the long-term issues.”

Greg McCortney

A former pastor turned small-businessman, McCortney served nearly three terms on the Ada City Council, including two terms as mayor. He resigned from the council in September so he could focus on his Senate campaign.

McCortney said he threw his hat in the ring after several people asked him to consider running, based on his service with the Ada Area Chamber of Commerce and the city council.

“At first I didn’t want to and then finally agreed to pray about it,” he said recently. “I just really feel like this is what God’s been preparing me to do for quite some time.”

Touching on the state’s fiscal woes, McCortney said several factors — including declining fuel prices — contributed to the deficit for fiscal year 2017. He said fuel prices played a major role in the budget crunch, but a weak national economy also contributed to the problem.

“If you look around, we survived the recession better than most states because of oil and gas,” he said. “And so I think when it went down, we finally felt the effects that everyone else in the nation’s been feeling for years.”

McCortney said the state’s failure to learn from previous boom-and-bust cycles was the main reason for the current budget woes. He said it was easy to second-guess lawmakers’ budgeting decisions in the middle of a crisis, but he added that the Legislature should have done a better job of setting spending priorities for FY 2017.

Looking ahead to fiscal year 2018, McCortney said lawmakers must talk about which state functions qualify as core services, then make intelligent reductions in government spending.

“There are going to be people who don’t like that, but I believe that’s what we get elected to do is to make hard decisions — to represent the people of this district as best we can,” he said. “I think we’re elected to lead.”

He said as a freshman lawmaker, he would encourage his colleagues to make difficult decisions that might be unpopular but would move the state in the right direction.

Concerning the teacher shortage, McCortney noted that a proposal to boost the state sales tax and earmark the proceeds for education is also on Tuesday’s ballot. If voters approve the proposal, part of those sales tax dollars would be set aside for giving teachers raises.

“If that passes, then in large part the teacher pay gap will be — I don’t know if it will be all the way fixed, but we will take a huge step forward in fixing that,” he said. “After that, the teacher shortage and teachers leaving the state — we’ve got to get to a place where we let teachers be teachers.”

He said if the sales tax passes, the state should get out of teachers’ way and let them do their jobs.

McCortney said if he is elected, he would like to see the new Legislature tackle health care-related issues. He noted that the outcome of the presidential election will determine the future of the federal health care law, commonly known as Obamacare.

“In Oklahoma, we’ve stayed in limbo,” he said. “We didn’t accept the Medicaid expansion. And so at some point, we have to get off the high center on that.

“If Obamacare’s going to continue on, then we have to figure out how best to provide health care in that system. And if it goes away, then we’re going to have a new system that we’re going to have to provide health care in.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.