State Rep. Dustin Roberts says his first term in the Oklahoma House of Representatives introduced him to “a whole new world where it’s not so much Republicans vs. Democrats but rural vs. urban interests.”
In an interview with the Daily Democrat, Roberts said, “You think you know a lot about it — high school classes in government and reading about it all the time, but there’s a big learning curve when you get there.”
The Republican incumbent is opposed in the District 21 race by Democrat Jerry Tomlinson, Durant’s mayor the past 12 years.
Roberts grew up in Durant, went through the Durant school system and is attending Southeastern Oklahoma State University part-time, working toward a degree in education. When he gets it, he said, he would like to teach in the public schools. He served five years in the Navy, with about half his service spent working on Navy jets in the Middle East.
He and his mother run a business they started, a drive-through convenience store called All-Star Beverage at the north end of First Avenue.
The state House is about two-thirds Republican and Roberts noted there are advantages in being a member of the majority party. He introduced several bills during his first term, with one getting signed into law.
That bill allows state employees to opt out of a mandatory state health system. “That means a state employee who can save money by being on a husband’s or wife’s health insurance can take advantage of that without being forced to stay in the state system.“ He said he sees that as part of an effort to control people’s costs.
He’s continuing to work on an agreement that would allow Oklahoma and Texas farm vehicles to go back and forth across the state line without being licensed in both states, as long as the vehicles meet weight and other requirements. He hopes to push that measure through if he’s re-elected.
He serves on the House General Government Committee and on other committees dealing with education, infrastructure, veteran/military affairs/ human services and common education.
One education interest: Breaking up the two large school districts in Oklahoma City and Tulsa into smaller districts in which, he said, it’s easier to pay more attention to individual students.
He’s also trying to push legislation that would help protect people and businesses from theft, particularly copper theft, and help employers deal with scams by unemployed workers they hire who then don’t show up. He also wants to provide some help for schools dealing with kids who are constantly in trouble.
Looking ahead, he predicted a battle over renewed efforts to reduce the state’s 5.25 percent income tax. He said eight bills were introduced in the last session, four never made it out of committee and only two of the other four got much traction, but they all stalled in the House He said he favors maintaining the current income tax rate to offset fluctuations in state revenue from economic conditions here or from reductions in federal funding that may come in the months ahead — particularly from the substantial reductions that will be forced if Congress can’t agree on a budget before the end of this year.
Turning to other issues, he said he would have opposed the contract the state signed in selling the Lake Texoma resort to private developers. He complained that the contract was so loose that construction requirements in it could be met by simply moving some dirt, which the developers did do in bulldozing the lodge and many other buildings at the site. He said the loss of the resort has hurt his business and many others in the area.
Calling water critical for the whole state, he said he favors more cooperation among regional water boards to meet the state’s needs. He opposes sale of Oklahoma water to other states.
In the last legislative session, proposals to finance the estimated $160 million repairs needed on the state capitol building were hotly argued. He said it’s important to do the repairs using state general funds or, but only as a last resort, a bond issue.
He also favors completion of the Keystone pipeline through the area because of job creation and other benefits.