EDMOND, Okla. — Standing behind a screen in the age of social media will at times allow people to dehumanize one another, said state Sen. Adam Pugh, R-Edmond.
The day will come when Pugh is no longer part of the state Legislature. But he will still be a dad and husband, he said, as well as a member of the community.
“That’s important to me because I don’t forget that’s where it started and that’s where this will end,” Pugh said before chamber members at the recent Legislative Breakfast sponsored by the Edmond Chamber.
Recent events in Washington, D.C., have caused many people to give up on politics, said H.J. Reed, co-chair of the chamber’s Governmental Relations Council. Reed moderated the event.
“This is just men and women up here who want to serve,” Pugh said. “They have families, businesses and lives. And they’re really good people at the Capitol trying to do the best they can.”
Get to know your legislator outside the political nature of their jobs, he said. People in communication can help legislators serve the state better than politicizing the nature of everything, he explained.
It’s been difficult for state Sen. Chuck Hall, R-Perry, to sit in the Legislature while running a business, he said.
“As I look down this row of people I would guess that all of us are forced to sacrifice some,” Hall said.
Hall covers 3,000 square miles and 41 zip codes, including Guthrie and part of Edmond. The CEO and chairman of Exchange Bank & Trust Company said he understands why it’s difficult for business owners to stop what they’re doing to serve their state. He asked Oklahomans to have some understanding for those trying to keep their family business alive. He is grateful that his brother has taken on additional responsibilities at the Perry bank.
“It’s truly a burden, so much so that likely this year I’ll be announcing my intention to step back from the bank and focus solely on legislative requirements,” Hall said.
“It’s a neat place. It can be contentious at times, but it was a wonderful first year,” said state Rep. Gary Mize, R-Guthrie.
Mize said he had concerns going into his freshman legislative year in 2019, but found a lot of good people serving as legislators.
“They want to move the state forward and are making real sacrifices,” Mize said.
Interaction with constituents is one of state Rep. Nicole Miller’s favorite things in government. Miller said legislators were elected to advocate for the people they serve.
“Politics is all a reflection of life and what we do,” the Edmond Republican said. “And it’s all very much based on relationships, not only relationships in the building, but relationships outside the building.”
It’s important to connect people with resources they need, she said. Miller asked that people not become offended if they are not responded to in a timely basis. Oftentimes, their legislative assistants can be helpful in answering questions, she continued.
“It’s an incredible number of emails that we receive,” she said. “Many are not from our constituents. So it could be several hundred a day. Try to be patient with us.”
Sen. Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said his overall political interactions with Gov. Kevin Stitt and House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, have been more pleasant than contentious. All sides have the same goals for Oklahoma, he said. Gov. Stitt is consistently prepared with an agenda to achieve, he continued.
“Sometimes we have different ideas of how we should roll those goals out, different ideas on how we should achieve some of those goals,” he said.
Reed asked how legislators can improve the political discourse in the state and country.
State Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, said one of the most surprising things he has learned about being a state representative is how dehumanizing it becomes.
“People that you have known for a long time will suddenly forget that you’re a human being and will say some really crazy things to you,” Martinez said.
Political discourse does not have to be so personal, he said. A sense of humor helps, he continued. Martinez said he welcomes speaking with people that he disagrees with. Some of his best conversations happen when disagreements occur leaving everyone still liking one another, he said.