Representing communities including Asher, Bethel Acres, Macomb, Pink, St. Louis and Tecumseh, Oklahoma House District 27 is in the heart of Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s historic heartland. Incumbent Josh Cockroft, a Republican from Wanette, is seeking to retain his seat against challenger John Karlin, a Tecumseh Democrat on Election Day, November 8. We asked each about their motivations for running and views on the issues facing District 27’s constituents, many of whom are connected to CPN jobs, services and tribal members. Their responses have slightly edited for clarity.
Mr. Cockroft was unable to provide answers to the questions in time for printing of the paper, but did provide a statement.
Cockroft: “It has been an honor to build a very positive working relationship with the Citizen Potawatomi Nation over the past six years, and I look forward to strengthening that partnership in the years ahead. The Citizen Potawatomi Nation provides stability, leadership, and partnerships to this region which cannot go unappreciated. As the State House member with the most CPN employees and members residing in my District, I will continue to fight for local control of our public schools, keeping property tax dollars here at home for the use of our children, quality public safety services, and efficient and effective use of our tax dollars.
“Lawmakers must constantly strive for better partnerships between our tribal, state, county, and local governments. When communication and cooperation abounds, everyone thrives. I have been proud to push for closer alliances to bridge the gap which has historically divided our tribal and state governments. Placing political games and petty feuds behind us will result in a more prosperous future. Instead of fighting against sovereign entities at the local or state level, we must choose a better way and realize every entity in tribal and state government seeks the betterment of the people they serve. I will continue in the position I have been placed in to join our tribal and state governments to walk down a path of prosperity, collaboration, and a future full of potential for all.”
Why are you seeking this seat?
Karlin: “The Republican-controlled legislature after 10 years has the state on the verge of bankruptcy along with numerous other problems like poverty, low-wage jobs, lowest funding of public schools in the nation and teacher pay, to name only a few. Things will only get worse under this kind of leadership because they have demonstrated only incompetence for the past 10 years.”
What is one specific issue you’ll focus on during this or the next legislative session that will be relevant to the people of House District 26?
Karlin: “The state budget. There is not much that it does not affect in one way or another in any district.”
As a state legislator, what is your view on the role of tribes in Oklahoma as it pertains to state and local governments?
Karlin: “The tribes don’t owe the state and local governments anything what so ever. If anything, it is the other way around. Any role or relationship between state and local governments and the tribes should be no less than mutually beneficial cooperation and respect.”
What ideas do you have to improve communication and relationships between tribal governments and the State of Oklahoma?
Karlin: “I hope to maintain ongoing and open communication with tribal leaders. It would be necessary to have their input and advice.”
What is your opinion on tribal-state compacts?
Karlin: “Tribal-state compacts must first and foremost be beneficial to the tribes. It is the only thing that truly justifies their existence. Tribes should have veto power over all compacts should they fail or no longer prove to be beneficial to the tribes.”
What is your opinion on tribal sovereignty?
Karlin: “Tribal sovereignty is an absolute must. In every way it must be maintained and strengthened where needed. I believe that state and local governments have a responsibility to ensure and protect tribal sovereignty.”
Do you support allowing non-tribal gaming in Oklahoma?
Karlin: “I do not support non-tribal gaming because it is unnecessary and unneeded competition with tribal gaming which provides an important source of revenue for the tribes. The line has to be drawn somewhere, what else would they want to interfere with or usurp from the tribes?”
Do you support allowing Internet gaming in Oklahoma? Why or why not?
Karlin: “I do not support Internet gaming in Oklahoma because it is not necessary to the economy and comes with a myriad of problems concerning regulation like keeping minors from gambling, tax issues, etc. It could easily be more of a problem than beneficial. It would make it difficult for casinos to stay afloat and endanger the many jobs provided by them.”
Do you believe that tribes should collect and remit sales tax for sales to non-members to the State of Oklahoma? Why or why not?
Karlin: “No! The tribes should not collect and remit sales tax for sales to non-members to the state or any other government body. I see it as an infringement on tribal sovereignty and it is not their responsibility any more than France’s responsibility to collect taxes from American tourists and send them back to the U.S. Also it would entail a violation of the constitutional right to privacy of non-members in order to collect the taxes. No! No! And No!”
Who do you believe is the best method for dispute resolution between tribes and the state?
Karlin: “I like the mediation process for dispute resolution.”