Four candidates, including the incumbent, two teachers and one children's pastor, will stump next week in Grove, as they prepare for the House District 5 Republican Primary.
Rep. Josh West (R-Grove), along with the three challengers: Tonya Rudick (R-Eucha), Elizabeth Boney (R-Salina) and Josh Russell (R-Grove), will take part in a 90 minute question and answer forum beginning at 6 p.m., Monday, June 18, at Trinity Baptist Church.
The forum, sponsored by the Delaware County Republican Party, will be moderated by Rev. Robert Carter, acting party chairman.
"This is a great opportunity to get to know the people who are running for office," Carter said. "This may be the only chance some people have to hear from [the candidates] before the election."
Carter said he hopes the four candidates will present fresh ideas on how to deal with some of the issues facing the legislators in the upcoming session.
He said some questions will be pre-determined. A limited number will be accepted from the audience before the forum begins.
Carter said questions will address a variety of topics including education, taxes, the state budget, audits and more. Each candidate will have two minutes to answer a question, with a time set aside if one candidate is directly challenged, for rebuttal.
Carter hopes to cover at least a dozen questions during the 90 minute event.
"There are lots of things to talk about," Carter said. "We have one candidate who has a record, and he will be required to defend that record - that's what being in office is all about."
Meet the candidates
Rep. Josh West
As he completes his first term in office, Rep. Josh West said he's ready to return to Oklahoma City.
West, who was first elected to the house in November 2016, said he believes there's still work to be done, and things to accomplish within the state legislature.
"My reason for running for office has always been to serve," West said. "I served my country in combat and have served my district and state. That is honestly the only reason to run for office."
As a fourth generation Delaware Countian, West said representing the voters in District 5 has "been one of the greatest honors" of his life.
"I have been open and transparent since being elected and have truly tried to involve the district in their state government so that they can have a better understanding of the issues we face on a daily basis," West said."
West lives in Grove with his wife, Elizabeth, and their four children: Ethan, Walker, Katie and Aubrey. The family attends Elk River Baptist Church in Grove.
A 1995 graduate of Grove High School, west attended Missouri Valley College before joining the U.S. Army in December 1996.
A member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, West is also a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. He is a founding member of the Veterans Caucus within the Oklahoma legislator.
He currently works as a L.E.A.N. Coordinator for Simmons Foods, based in Siloam Springs, Arkansas.
West said it has been an honor to serve his district the last two years in Oklahoma City, adding he stands by all of his votes.
"One of the great things about me being at the capitol, is that I am looking at true numbers, not what a special interest group from the right or left is telling you, actual facts," West said. "In my first term, I was appointed as the vice chairman of the Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, started the first ever Veterans Caucus and was made assistant majority floor leader, being the first freshman to hold that position in 20 years.
"I have fought for rural Oklahomans and being from a rural district, you have to have strong representation or else it becomes all about Tulsa or Oklahoma City and rural Oklahoma gets lost in the mix.
"Yes, I may have made some enemies along the way, but I have always been a fighter and I never wanted to go to the capitol to just fill a seat, I wanted to make a difference."
West believes education, employment and infrastructure are the top three issues facing residents in District 5.
West believes, as an elected official, it is his duty to ensure his district has an educated work force.
"I want our young people to choose to come back home and live in thrive in this great community," West said. "To do that, we must ensure that they have the tools to succeed."
He said like many rural communities, District 5 faces multiple employment issues.
"We have made great strides in tourism with the resorts all through District 5," West said, noting the improvements to Shangri-La by Eddy Gibbs which brought new jobs to the area, as well as the increase presence of aerospace industry employers such as Orizon and Ferra.
Those companies, as well as AST and DC Jones Machine Company, have brought multiple new employment opportunities to the area.
"At the state level, we must ensure that we support business incentives that attract companies to rural Oklahoma," West said.
In terms of infrastructure, West said he gets 10 to 20 a week concerning the roads and intersections, including the intersection at Third and Main in Grove.
"I have worked with the Secretary of Transportation over the last year and a half with the intersection in downtown Grove and also the road between Grove and Jay," West said. "We have to have safe roads and bridges, not only for our residents, but also to attract business to our area. This is a work in progress and something that I will continue to work on."
If elected West said he wants to continue to see the state move forward, on a better path.
"This issues we face did not happen overnight and won’t be fixed overnight," West said. "We had years of budget holes and cuts, these cuts were not only bad for the people of Oklahoma, but bad for recruiting business to Oklahoma."
West said he, and other legislators made "tough decisions" in the past two sessions, and two special sessions.
Those decisions include working to eliminate corporate welfare to "big oil and wind companies," as well as passing measures to hold agencies accountable.
West said HB 2311 requires audits to be completed on the top 20 agencies every four years.
"This should have been done 20 years ago, but I am glad that it was a priority for my freshman class of legislators and we got it done," West said. "I’ve heard dozens of candidates campaigning on audits; however, we passed the bill in 2017 and the funding this year, so these audits will start in July. This is a great start but we still have lots of work to do."
West said he believes employment will remain the biggest challenge for District 5, as it continues to move from a tourism based economy to a year-round effort.
"Businesses thrive during tourism season, but we have to bring in good paying jobs," West said. "Until we bring up the median income with skilled manufacturing jobs in rural areas, we will always have problems."
West hopes SB 1585, which provides an auto manufacturing incentive - similar to the aerospace incentive - will have "a huge impact on rural Oklahoma" as it competes within the industry.
West said since being elected, he has voted for what he believes is best for Oklahoma, not based on if he would draw an opponent in the next election.
"I ran on rural education, agriculture, rural health care, mental health, veterans, economic development and public safety," West said. "I did what I said I would do.
"I am also proud of the positive strides we made with criminal justice reform. I passed HB 2881 which dealt with drug courts and SB 85 dealing with the Pardon and Parole boards," West said. "Both of these bills that were signed by the governor will help with prison overcrowding, saving the tax payers millions of dollars."
Elizabeth Jo Boney
During the 2018 Teacher Walkout, Elizabeth Jo Boney - a teacher at Oaks Mission Public Schools - said she came to a realization.
She decided something needed to be done to provide a solid education for students in Oklahoma – including finding representatives who “were passionate about education.”
An 18-year educator at Oaks Mission, Boney is certified in art, U.S. history, government, economics and Oklahoma History.
“Many other educators across Oklahoma knew that to evoke change at that level, we would need more people who thought highly of education and were aware of the challenges and needs,” Boney said. “Who better to advocate for education than the educators themselves? I stepped up to be that voice for change, so did others.”
Boney has lived 40 the last 43 years in Salina. Her mother, Linda Cagle Carnes, lives in Salina. Her father, the late Joe Boney, Jr., was from Jay.
“Whether I get elected or not I am making a statement to my students and my community that each of us has the right and the need to be active in government,” Boney said. “Whether it be by running for office, helping others get in office or just voting.
“There is too much apathy where civic duty is concerned and I am hoping to bring that awareness up.”
Boney believes Oklahoma’s main priorities should include education, health care and treatment vs. incarceration.
“The first thing that needs to happen is the statewide audit and transparency of government spending,” Boney said. “We need monies coming in to be earmarked or dedicated to specific areas, such as the tribal and lottery monies, those should be used for education and healthcare specifically.
“I do believe there is plenty of money in Oklahoma but it needs to be sent down the chain to those who are in need.”
She believes keeping schools “open and running” should remain a priority for the state government.
She also believes the abuse of drugs and other illegal substances is another huge problem for state officials.
“We need crisis and treatment centers for drug and alcohol,” Boney said. “Mental healthcare counseling for and mental illness. Currently, there is little to no help for these.”
If elected, she wants to see transparency added to the state government process, including transparency in funding for key areas which are in crisis.
“Healthcare and education are the top things I see a need for,” Boney said. “We need to create more incentives for teachers to stay in Oklahoma, and rebuild our public education system.
“The better the educational system is in a state the less the incarceration. Oklahoma is the ranked number one in incarceration, is that how we want to be perceived?”
Boney believes the biggest challenge facing the state legislature in the coming session is education.
“If we can keep kids in school and find them a career options then they have a chance of becoming productive in our society,” Boney said. “Otherwise dropout rates rise as does our incarceration levels.”
Ultimately, she wants to see reforms in funding and appropriations, as well as changes in the infrastructure of the state including repairs to failing roads and bridges.
“I do believe there is enough money without over taxing but it needs to be sent to the appropriate areas of need,” Boney said. “We need to re-prioritize things in the capitol.”
Tonya Rudick, an educator for the past 29 years, said the events of the 2018 Teacher Walkout spurred her to enter the political arena.
A teacher at Jay Public Schools, Rudick said she was "appalled at the amount of disrespect teachers" teachers received from the various legislators.
"I was looking around for a Republican who would support public education," Rudick said. "I could not find one, so I decided to be one.
"God called me to serve. I did not think it would be in this way, but I go where he leads me to go."
Rudick said if elected, she plans to work with both parties, to find a solution to funding issues in Oklahoma.
Rudick believes the top issues facing the state include public education, funding for state agencies and the overall condition of the state.
"If elected, the one thing I want to change is the respect of the workers in this state," Rudick said. "I want to cultivate a culture of respect for teachers, DHS workers, Fire and police, all who give of themselves for the future of our state."
She believes the biggest challenge for District 5 revolves around funding.
"How much there is or isn't, where it comes from and where it goes," Rudick said. "We must be better stewards of the resources God has given us."
If elected Rudick wants to promote a culture of respect "from the top to the bottom for all Oklahomans."
"I'm running for this office through the urging of God Almighty," Rudick said. "I am not a politician, I never dreamed of being the politics, but God has asked me to be a part of this!
"We need change, we need average citizens making decisions for our state, we need new voices in OKC. I have been in public education for 29 years, I have seen the decline in our state and I want to be a part of the change."
As a small business owner and children's pastor, Josh Russell believes it is important to contribute to the community in which he lives in.
With that in mind, he has tossed his hat in the ring to serve District 5 in the house of representatives.
This is the second time Russell has run for public office. He ran for the Republican nomination in 2016.
"I want to serve the State that I have lived in my entire life," Russell said. "I also want to fight for conservative principles, like government accountability and lower taxes.
"As a veteran who served our country honorably and saw first hand countries that were devastated by political corruption and mismanagement of funds and violations of the public trust, it is painful to hear about the problems at our own state capitol that resulted in hard working Oklahomans paying more out of their own pockets to correct."
Russell and his wife, Rebekah, have two children: Kaylee, 13, and Caleb, 10. A 1997 graduate of Grove High School, Russell served in the U.S. Marine Corps after high school.
He currently serves as co-children's pastor with his wife at Grove Christian Center, a position they have held for the past 15 years. He is also employed at his family business, CBi Print in rural Grove.
"If elected you can know I will do exactly what I said I’ll do," Russell said. "I love my State and the community I live in. If given the opportunity to be your State Representative my job is to be your voice at the capital."
"As a business owner, I know that we must have accountability and transparency in leadership, and oversight over expenses in order to be successful. That must be brought back to the State Capitol.
"I will champion conservative principles, demand real audits and hold unelected bureaucrats accountable for how they have spent our money. No one should be asked to pay more until there is full knowledge of where your money is already being spent."
Russell believes the top three issues facing the state revolve around education, jobs and agriculture.
"We have a lot of people relocating to northeast Oklahoma," Russell said. "We are doing good in currently developing new industry here, but this is something that needs to continue.
"With education funding, comes the next big step of improving outcomes for our students - we must study best practices in states that are outperforming our outcomes and move our state up in the rankings. Bottom five is not acceptable for our children, and for Oklahoma's future potential in attracting top paying companies to our region.
"Agricultural interests are integral to our state, and a driving force to our economic stability. I look forward to continuing to work with our ranching and farming families and business to grow success for our region and state.
If elected, he said, he will strive to see changes made in the state's accountability system for tax dollars.
"Audits should be completed by the state auditor who is accountable to you and elected by you - not an outside group appointed by political leaders," Russell said. "Putting more money in without first having an understanding of where money has been going does not lead to good outcomes in the real world nor in government. We need to audit, and demand accountability for lawmakers and all of government.
"The first instinct should not be to raise taxes, then after raising them only to find out they had the money. This kind of thinking needs to stop."
He believes the biggest challenge for the residents in District 5 is finding, and creating good paying jobs.
"Our young people leave Grove to go to college and find it challenging to move back," Russell said, "because we don't have enough skilled opportunities to allow young people to come back and settle here to have their families."
Russell said he believes his experience in the Marine Corp, as well as serving as a small business owner, will serve him well in the state legislature.
"One thing I would like to accomplish is fully funding all our core services without raising taxes," Russell said. "I believe this can be done by finding the waste and holding the heads of the department accountable for your hard earned tax dollars."
Ultimately, Russell said he believes he is the person to help bring expertise in business management, as well as accountability, transparency and ethics to Oklahoma City.
"We must have citizen legislators who will, like our Commander in Chief President Trump make the hard choices, negotiate effectively, and build an economy to become a leader," Russell said. "Oklahoma must stop being satisfied with being in the bottom tier of performance in state outcomes. We can do better."
If You Go
House District 5 Candidate Forum
A forum, designed to help voters get to know the four Republican candidates running for the District 5 House seat, will take place at 6 p.m., Monday, June 18, at Trinity Baptist Church, Grove.
The candidates include Rep. Josh West (R-Grove) the incumbent, and the three challengers: Tonya Rudick, Jay; Josh Russell, Grove; and Elizabeth Boney, Salina.
The event, moderated by Rev. Robert Carter, acting Delaware County Republican Party Chairman, will include a question and answer session for each candidate. He hopes the 90 minute forum will allow for at least a dozen different questions.
Candidates will have approximately two minutes to respond to a question, with a time given for rebuttal. Some questions will be pre-determined. Carter said participants can submit questions before the event begins.
Trinity Baptist Church is located at Fourth and Main, in Grove. For more information, persons interested may contact Carter at 918-314-5245.