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Candidate for governor offers progressive choice

Connie Johnson said she's running for governor because she wants to be a voice for the people.

A former Democratic state senator, legislative staffer and U.S. senator candidate, Johnson said she has 35 years of experience serving the people of Oklahoma and she wants to bring that experience to the governor's office.

Johnson was in Lawton this week to talk to local Democrats about her campaign and to open her office at 4645 W. Gore, as she and other candidates prepare for the 2018 gubernatorial race that will mean a new face in the governor's mansion because Gov. Mary Fallin cannot seek re-election.

Veteran lawmaker

Johnson has won her name as a progressive in a conservative state, someone who is socially conscious and a woman who isn't afraid to speak her mind on even controversial issues. She served as a state senator for northern Oklahoma County after winning a special election in 2005 and until she retired in 2014, and was a legislative analyst for the Senate from 1981 to 2005. Along the way, the woman with a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling also has worked at the Oklahoma Community Action Director's Association and as a personal assistant within the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.

She said her life has given her a wealth of experience as it continued to illustrate her commitment to her home state and the people who live here, and she wants to be the voice for those who are telling her they are not happy with the current state of affairs.

"I'm the only progressive in the race," she said, of others who have announced plans to run for governor. "Oklahoma deserves better."

She said one of the biggest issues in the 2018 race will be education, something she feels strongly about because she was raised in an education-based home (her mother was a counselor, her father a principal) and because she knows the importance of education to the state's children.

"I understand the value of education," she said, noting she worked hard for her own degrees at Langston University and the University of Pennsylvania.

Agendas for economy, criminal justice reform

She is critical of what she sees as "corporate welfare" or tax breaks that benefit the rich, is passionate about income inequality and its effect on Oklahomans, and will focus attention on privatization efforts that she said are harmful to the economy as a whole and Oklahomans in particular.

That fight ties into her long-standing support of criminal justice reform. Johnson said the conflict between state services and privatization is especially evident in the criminal justice system, where more people are going to jail for non-violent offenses because the state must help keep private prisons full, something she called "creating commodities." She said Oklahoma would be better off taking its non-violent offenders out of prison and, instead, focusing on substance abuse and behavioral treatments that keep such people from returning to crime.

"It's cheaper than locking them up," she said, adding that treatment also would offset the negative effects on families.

She said privatization schemes touch more than prisons, explaining privatization of student loan programs mean more students are graduating from college with heavy debt that affects their quality of life. She said privatizing state services also removes a layer of accountability, where private interests control the cards and the public is not allowed to know what is going on.

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