Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican who has never lost an election during a 25-year political career in Oklahoma, will face two lesser-known opponents in next week's GOP primary who have made their support for legalization of marijuana an issue in the campaign.
While it is an unusual issue to highlight in such a conservative state, criminal defense attorney Chad Moody — known around Oklahoma City as "The Drug Lawyer" — and computer network operator Dax Ewbank, a libertarian-leaning Republican from Guthrie, both said they support the full legalization of cannabis. The issue arises as two separate signature gathering efforts are underway in Oklahoma to get marijuana questions on the ballot — one to legalize the medicinal use of the drug and another authorizing its complete legalization.
"It's not appropriate to be imprisoning people and perpetuating police powers through the drug war," said Ewbank, a 38-year-old father of seven known for openly carrying his firearm at campaign events.
Moody has a knack for humorous marketing techniques such as a psychedelically colored Volkswagen van with his number on it, or a billboard adorned with his trademarked pot leaf that asks: "God made cannabis. Does God make mistakes?" The 46-year-old says his gubernatorial campaign was launched to start a pro-marijuana discussion, but now says he's convinced there is a strong sentiment against Fallin that he may be able to exploit.
"From the response we've been getting I think it's altogether possible," Moody said.
Ewbank reported spending about $3,300, while Moody's report wasn't filed by Tuesday's midnight deadline. Fallin has raised more than $3 million so far and has more than $1.5 million left in her campaign war chest.
If Fallin secures more than 50 percent of the vote, she will advance to the November general election against Democratic state Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs and two independents.
Fallin said while she's interested in combating the growing number of Oklahoma inmates with substance abuse problems, legalizing marijuana even for medicinal purposes is not on her to-do list.
"I just don't see that it provides a substantial benefit to the people of Oklahoma," Fallin said.
Fallin plans to continue focusing on the same themes she's hammered throughout her first four years in office: creating a business friendly environment that attracts good jobs, reducing taxes, and improving the state's education system.
Two of Fallin's top legislative priorities — cutting the state's individual income tax and repairing the state's crumbling Capitol — both were approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature this year. The tax cut measure will drop the individual rate from 5.25 to 5 percent, and again to 4.85 percent, but only if collections grow by enough to offset the lost revenue. The Capitol repairs were accomplished with a $120 million bond issue Fallin signed into law.
Fallin took a visible role in the recovery efforts after the deadly May 2013 tornadoes, although her proposal to allow some school districts to increase property taxes to pay for school storm shelters fell flat in the Legislature.
She also has given strong support to the death penalty, even in the wake of the April 29 botched lethal injection of death row inmate Clayton Lockett. Fallin ordered her secretary of safety and security to conduct an independent investigation into the execution, but has said Lockett's death sentence was lawfully carried out and that "justice was served."
And although she has a reputation as an establishment politician, Fallin also has taken positions hailed by the party's right wing such as rejecting an expansion of Medicaid in Oklahoma under President Barack Obama's health care law, and signing a bill to repeal Common Core education standards.
"I've always stood for conservative principles in the state of Oklahoma," Fallin said. "And that's how I've governed."