Last weekend, the state Auditor, Gary Jones, went to several GOP county conventions and make his announcement of an exploratory committee. He openly asked for volunteers from all 77 counties to join the early effort. The Tulsa County GOP convention would not allow Gary Richardson (a local party member and former governor candidate) to address that same body of delegates.
So who really is a populist? And what defines a populist candidate and message? Radical? Well, both Richardson and Jones have put forth some radical concepts for change.
Jones spent much of 2015 pushing the idea of a unicameral legislature (one chamber of lawmakers).
Richardson is well known for decrying the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority and calling for the roads to be opened and free to use.
In an interview with the Oklahoman last Thursday, Richardson didn't accept the populist mantle.
“I don't like labels, to be honest about it,” he said. “I'm not a part of the system. I'm an outsider, and I'll be free to do what needs to be done in this state because I haven't made any compromises.”
He said he believes in Republican principles of small government and lower taxes.
“And honest government,” Richardson said. “There is no reason, in my opinion, why Oklahoma should be in the financial position we're in if there's no waste and corruption going on.”
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Jones said he'll know by this summer whether he will formally announce a campaign. In the meantime, he's trying to find supporters in each of Oklahoma's 77 counties.
“I've just kind of come to the reality that at some point in time if you're going to get something done you may have to be the one in charge,” Jones said. “That being said, I'm not enamored with the idea of being governor. But I understand that we've got to make some major changes in this state.”
Unlike Richardson, Jones said he's willing to call himself a populist.
“I think the only chance that I have is it's going to be a grassroots campaign. I'm not going to have the most money; in fact, I'll have significantly less money than anybody. But that doesn't make me any less qualified to do the job,” he said.