Durant Mayor Jerry Tomlinson has long experience in government, in business and in the Marines. Now he wants to use that experience in the broader arena of the Oklahoma House of Representatives.
He said in an interview that his experience will make him a highly effective advocate for the people of Durant and Bryan County.
Tomlinson has been a member of the Durant City Council and mayor for 12 years. He has been particularly active in the efforts of the Durant Industrial Authority to bring new businesses and jobs to Durant. He earlier served for 10 years on the local school board, and was a certified insurance agent with Oklahoma Farm Bureau Financial Services.
He is a member of the Choctaw Nation, was an executive on the tribal board and often is the official representative of Chief Gregory Pyle at Choctaw functions and activities. He also is on the boards of the Chamber of Commerce and the Big Five organization.
Tomlinson, a Democrat, is challenging first-term incumbent Rep. Dustin Roberts, a Republican, for the District 21 seat.
The mayor calls education in the public schools and colleges his passion, and says he wants “to be at the table” when the Legislature is dealing with the state educational system. He argues that, if public school problems need addressing, public money should go to fixing those problems rather than to charter or private schools.
Looking at the results of the first round of the state Department of Education’s new A-F grading system, he said apparent inconsistencies in the grades awarded indicate a problem. The state reports include a GPA (grade point average) for each district and each school in the district.
Tomlinson noted that some districts receiving a letter grade of C, for example, had GPAs that were nevertheless higher than districts that received a B.
Another concern is the likelihood that a renewed effort will be made in the coming legislative session to reduce the state income tax without specific proposals for increasing revenue to offset tax money lost. That loss has been estimated as high as one-third of tax revenue, money that would come out of education, health costs, aid for those in need and many other vital services,” he said.
“Some proposals were touted as being revenue neutral” he said, “and that’s a red flag. Ways to offset the loss must be included in any new tax plan.” he said.
He suggested that a better tax-reduction proposal might be to kill the grocery tax. “That certainly would be a big help to border cities such as Durant and many others.”
Tomlinson said he would be a “pro-active legislator,” urging state action, for example, against the developers who have bulldozed the Lake Texoma resort but have not yet started construction on the new resort they promised to build. “That’s a project on which the Legislature should be pushing very hard,” he said.
Protection of area water resources is another critical area, he said. “The drought of 2011 is a reminder of how much care we must take in dealing with water issues.” At that time Durant officials were asked by the state to restrict use of the Blue River, the city’s main source of water. “We did it, and we cut back this summer for a short time, too, because we thought it was needed by the area and by the state. But our water must certainly not be sold out of state, it must be protected for the use of our people.”
He said he also supports the construction of the controversial Keystone pipeline, which brought sharply increased tax revenues to the city while the work was going on in the area. “It creates jobs and adds a lot to money coming into the community.”
Another issue that generated heated discussion in Oklahoma City, and will continue, was financing the $160 million estimated as necessary to repair and rehabilitate the state Capitol building. “The work has to be done,” Tomlinson declared, “either through the general fund or, if necessary, through a bond issue. But it must be done.”