Last week I got the opportunity to interview Stephanie Bice, who is one of the two remaining GOP candidates for Oklahoma’s 5th congressional district. Elections Daily currently rates this race as Leans Republican. Once again, I’d like to thank Stephanie for taking time out of her busy schedule to speak to me. Below is the transcribed interview along with the full audio conversation at the end of the transcription.
What inspired you to run for Congress?
Bice: I think Washington needs leaders that are going to tackle the big and seemingly unsolvable problems and find conservative solutions to them. I have done that on the state level as a state senator here in Oklahoma, representing part of the 5th district and I want to take that experience to Washington.
Something that is overlooked a lot when it comes to running a campaign is fundraising. What is it like fundraising for a very competitive race?
Bice: You know I think I have a little bit of a heads up, because I currently hold an elected position. So, I know what it takes to go out and ask for money, I know what kind of resources are needed. Certainly this is a different dynamic. We are here in Oklahoma, just finishing our primary election and will be looking to the runoff on August the 25th. I’m still working on fundraising for these races, but it’ll be a quick turnaround on August 26th to continue to fundraise for the general election.
Do you think your background as a business manager will be a crucial part to personal success in Congress if you are elected?
Bice: Yeah, I’ve had my own small business for some time, I worked for the family business and I think having that business background makes me aware of the challenges small business owners face because I’ve signed the front and back of a paycheck. I know what small business owners struggle with, especially the bureaucratic red tape. Whether that be local provisions, state or federal legislation, that could be changed to help small business owners across the country.
You’ve been a key player in the state senate for the past six years, what convinced you to get involved in state level politics?
Bice: Someone asked, that’s the short answer. I was approached in 2013 by, at the time, the sitting state senator. He had chosen not to run for re-election. He said, “I know your work ethic, your type of tenacity, your ability to get things done and I think you would be an incredible legislator.” In addition to that, at the time in Oklahoma, we only had three women out of forty-eight serving in the Oklahoma State Senate. He said, “We need more women, more conservative women” and I think we’re seeing that on the national level even now.
So I ran for this state senate seat in 2014, won in a runoff election of that year and really got to work for Oklahoma. I started looking at areas of legislation that would free up businesses and put people to work. One of the pieces of legislation I wrote has created five thousand new jobs since it was enacted. I tackled everything from criminal justice reform, to education initiatives, as well as the previously mentioned state question.
If you win you will of course, have to leave the Oklahoma State senate. If you do, what do you see as your biggest accomplishment during your time there?
Bice: There’s a lot of high points certainly for me in these six years. The most recent is a piece of legislation that I worked on, which was bi-partisan, on criminal justice reform in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, Oklahoma has the highest per capita incarceration rate of any nation in the world, including that of women.
I worked with my counterparts in the house as well as the governor to pass legislation to create a process by which someone who had a simple possession charge or was serving time, could have that commuted. The voters of Oklahoma had passed a similar state question a year and a half prior to that that said simple possession was no longer a felony. We had incarcerated people on this felony convictions that were now a misdemeanor. I worked with leaders to address that issues and I was able to be a part of a commutation of where over four hundred individuals were released from state prisons across the state and that was pretty profound.
You’ve been well known in your area for really interacting with your constituents while campaigning, so how COVID really impacted the way you campaign?
Bice: It really has. I never imagined when we announced our candidacy last April, that a year later we would be in the middle of a global pandemic. We had to really pivot in how we campaign, how we fundraise and what that looks like. I’m proud of my team because they did an incredible job of really maneuvering this difficult time. There are ways to be effective even if you can’t be on a doorstep, even if you can’t be at a meet-and-greet or a town hall. We have used technology to our advantage, doing Zoom calls or doing town halls using Facebook Live. We’ve also done fundraising events online.
Being creative and innovative on how we connect with voters, is crucial right now. In addition to that, when we do have gatherings we have to be mindful of the protocols that are in place, either masks or hand-washing/sanitizing and jus being cautious. A lot of events are outside, we’re even having a breakfast this Saturday (this was transcribed after said breakfast) that’ll be out at a park. There are still ways to get engaged, we just have to be creative in how we do it.
When Kendra Horn won this seat for the Democrats in 2018, how much of a shock did that give you and did it make you rethink how your area works politically at all?
Bice: It didn’t. If you look at the numbers and the breakdowns for that particular race, the early and absentee voting is where the bulk of the votes came from that put Kendra Horn over the top and was able to secure that win. It was less than 3,300 votes out of a total of over 240,000 cast.
I think people took advantage of the fact that she had a chance because this is such a red state and typically we elect Republicans, but I think she just worked hard and tried to engage with voters. Now, I do think that people didn’t really know what she stood for and what her principles were. I think some of that has been apparent in her votes in Congress and I think that will play out as we get closer to the general election and people realize that she wasn’t as moderate as they originally thought.
You’re running as a top female recruit for the GOP, but how much support have you felt from the party?
Bice: I have had a lot of support from individual members of Congress, which has been incredible. Elise Stefanik came out and endorsed me through her E-PAC organization fairly early. I think it was last fall, it might’ve been early this year when that came from her. I’ve also got support from Martha Roby, Susan Brooks, Jackie Walorski, Ann Wagner as well as some members from Texas, Pete Flores, Will Hurd, Michael McCaul, some others. It’s just been an incredible support system and all-star resource.
When things are happening or I might have a particular question on an issue I have folks I can reach out to and ask for their advice and guidance as I navigate these waters.
How much have organizations like Elise Stefanik’s E-PAC and others creating this support system for women running for office in the GOP been helpful to you?
Bice: Well, Rep. Stefanik is incredible and what she’s doing is what the Democrats have done quite well at for sometime. That is find, recruit and support great candidates for office that happen to be women. That’s why you see such a difference and disparity with the number of females serving on the Democratic side because Republicans haven’t focused on that. I commend Rep. Stefanik in her support of so many female candidates.
The bottom line is that women might not see themselves in these roles and they may not recognize they have an opportunity until they’re asked to do so. They sometimes don’t have the support system they need and it’s great to have people like Elise and Susan Brooks, who is one of the NRCC recruitment chairs, to be able to ask the questions. How do I effectively fundraise? How do I answer these questions? What’s the best strategy for this particular issue? Having those individuals who have been there, done it and can help you, it build confidence in your ability to win these races.
If you do win, you’ll be only the fourth woman from Oklahoma to head to Congress. What would that mean to you and do you have any advice to women out there who are thinking of running for office?
Bice: I will be honored to be one of the women serving the state of Oklahoma in Congress. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the women before me who have been trailblazers in Oklahoma. Kate Bernard, being the first one who ran for local office decades ago. Most recently, Governor Mary Fallin, she was the first female governor of Oklahoma. We’ve had a lower number of women seeking office, but I think that is beginning to change and people are realizing that there’s a great opportunity. I look forward to serving the state of Oklahoma in that capacity and I’ve been honored to be a part of that at the state level.
I was actually appointed the Assistant Majority Floor Leader in the Oklahoma State Senate three years ago. I was the first Republican female to ever hold that role. It was a pretty incredible honor to be named to that position.
One of your main issues you’ve put up is education. Supporting it and working to grow education in all forms. With COVID, do you think how we educate our children needs to change?
Bice: I think there’s a balance there. Let me be clear though, we need to be using technology and innovation to be able to continue to educate our kids whether in the classroom or remotely. Part of that will be ensuring every child has access to broadband. Certainly there are some challenges in rural communities where they don’t have high-speed internet access. We need to figure out what are the obstacles to making sure hey do have access to be able to learn remotely or do distanced learning.
The area thing is that we right now have an opportunity to really change the way we think about education in America. We have, in many cases, taught the same way we have been teaching for decades and you see people leaving public education to go to virtual or online or a hybrid model. I think we may see the benefits of this, although there will be short term pain, there may be a long term gain since we’re really rethinking how education operates in America.
You are headed to a runoff against Terry Neese for the right to face off against Kendra Horn. What is the shift like when going from the regular primary to a runoff?
Bice: The first thing we focus on is what voter turnout will likely be. Unfortunately, many runoff elections have much lower participation than a primary and certainly a general election. So really identifying those voters that will actually get to the polls and vote in that election. Absentee voting is a big topic of conversation right now, ensuring we’re getting the absentee voters to send in their ballots. As well as really communicating to those individuals who did not support me in the first round and convincing them I’m the best candidate to take on Kendra Horn in November.
You mention absentee ballots and this expanded version of mail-in voting. The President has come out against using measures like mail-ins. Do you think he is right in that regard or do you think he needs to be informed a little more on the issue?
Bice: I think Oklahoma does an incredible job with our absentee ballot process. No other state in the US does as good a job as we do. We have a very thorough process, election security is important. You have normally a notary requirement. The legislature this past year decided to expand that to also allow either a photocopy of the government-issued ID or a voter registration card that is mailed to you by the county. You could include that with your ballot, but we made it very easy for people to participate in mail-in ballots. It is not like other places where you have things like ballot harvesting or improper ballots. We believe it’s a very secure and thorough process and so much so that you will actually know elections results within a couple hours of the polls closing. Which is very unusual for lots of other states.
Do you think you are the better candidate to take on and beat Kendra Horn, and why?
Bice: I think that I have not only the business background, having been a business owner myself and working for the family business, but I also have the legislative experience to be able to go to Washington and hit the ground running on day one. It’s easy for people to say what they believe or say what they’ll do, but I’ve actually done it on the state level. My hope is that the voters of Oklahoma will recognize my tenacity and ability to get things done and send me to Washington to do the same.