TULSA - Oklahoma's two female candidates for governor avoided talking about motherhood or family during their final televised debate Thursday, choosing instead to focus on their political accomplishments and visions for the future.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Jari Askins and Republican U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, one of whom will become Oklahoma's first female governor, each emphasized creating jobs and improving education during the forum before about 300 people at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa. Both are vying to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Brad Henry.
The debate took a lighter tone than one last week in which Fallin drew national attention for highlighting her motherhood as a key difference between her and Askins, who is single and has no children.
Fallin even opened Thursday's debate by thanking Askins for her service to the state and then highlighted her campaign talking points: creating a business friendly environment, improving education and resisting unfunded congressional mandates.
"Oklahoma needs a governor that's willing to stand up against President Obama and (U.S. House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi, and who has a plan for a prosperous future for Oklahoma," Fallin said.
Askins, a former state lawmaker, touted her success in the Oklahoma Legislature writing budgets and authoring bills to reform workers' compensation and civil justice policies. She said she wrote more than 100 bills during her 12 years in office.
"These are the kinds of things that I worked for while in the Legislature and my early time in public office," Askins said.
When asked about former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has endorsed Fallin, both candidates had kind words, although Fallin stopped short of endorsing the tea party-backed conservative as a candidate for president in 2012.
Askins quipped that she hadn't met Palin, but volunteered to take her hunting if they do meet.
"I'd love to go hunting with her, take her turkey hunting," said Askins, who said she shot her first turkey earlier this year.
Both candidates said they support efforts to reduce Oklahoma's prison incarceration rate, which is one of the highest in the nation. Fallin said she supported diversionary programs, such as drug court, while Askins emphasized early intervention and more community-based resources to target substance abuse and mental illness.
Fallin was the first woman and the first Republican ever elected Oklahoma's lieutenant governor, a post she held for 12 years before running in 2006 for the open 5th Congressional District seat. In the GOP primary in July, she fended off a pesky challenge from a tea party-backed state senator and won with 55 percent of the vote.
Askins worked as a special district judge in Stephens County and headed the state's Pardon and Parole Board before serving 12 years in the Oklahoma House. She defeated popular Attorney General Drew Edmondson in the Democratic primary by less than 1 percent of the vote.
Fallin has dotted the state with several campaign stunts, working regular jobs in 25 different communities during the primary and then launching a train tour across western Oklahoma.
Askins unveiled television ads in the last two weeks with endorsements from popular Democratic Gov. Brad Henry and legendary University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer.
Fallin led Askins in fundraising throughout the campaign, but Askins, fueled by personal loans of about $1.1 million, surged slightly ahead with $3.9 million raised. Fallin has raised about $3.8 million.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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