The Senate Finance Committee chair said he was pleased House Republicans appear to have “finally begun to value rural Oklahoma” and the work of Rural Enterprises of Oklahoma (REI).
Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, said a proposal announced Monday by Speaker Todd Hiett to partner with REI on a rural economic initiative is in stark contrast to many policy positions historically held by House Republicans.
“I welcome the Speaker and House Republicans to the fight to bring more jobs to rural Oklahoma,” said Gumm, who as director of the Durant Area Chamber of Commerce helped write the plan that has brought almost a thousand jobs to rural southern Oklahoma.
“Democrats in the Oklahoma Legislature have long been the only voice urging rural economic development, as well as the first line of defense against Republican initiatives designed to weaken rural Oklahoma.”
Among those, Gumm noted, are the continued proposals by Republicans to consolidate rural schools, and their reluctance to invest more dollars in the Rural Economic Action Plan.
At a Capitol news conference, Hiett along with former U.S. Congressman Wes Watkins and representatives of Rural Enterprises of Oklahoma announced the Rural Economic Development Initiative.
“Clearly, this is the influence of Congressman Watkins, one of Oklahoma’s greatest champions for rural Oklahoma,” said Gumm, who was an intern in Watkins’ Washington office during his college years. “I have no doubt it was the congressman’s urging that brought about the Republicans’ conversion.
“I am grateful to the congressman for bridging the gap between those of us who have always fought for rural Oklahoma and those who have only just now jumped on the bandwagon of rural economic development.”
While the initiative is a positive development, Gumm said it appears the policies proposed are treading on ground already covered by a task force chaired by Democratic state Rep. Dale Turner of Holdenville two years ago. Among the accomplishments of the task force was the placement of four economic development coordinators across the state to help small communities – one of which is based at REI’s headquarters in Durant.
“This proposal sounds very familiar,” Gumm said. “Despite that, I trust we now will find Republicans to be Democrats’ partners in growing rural Oklahoma rather than an impediment.”
Gumm praised the involvement of Rural Enterprises of Oklahoma, which is based in the senator’s southern Oklahoma hometown. “REI is one of the greatest tools out there to promote entrepreneurship in our rural communities,” he said. “Their involvement encourages me more than anything else announced during today’s news conference.”
Gumm, an assistant majority leader in the Senate, concluded by saying that rural Oklahoma has a great quality of life and the best people anywhere.
“Rural communities have been an important part of Oklahoma’s history,” he said. “We all, regardless of political party, need to work to pass initiatives that will ensure that they are an important part of Oklahoma’s future.
“That is my commitment, and I intend to work diligently to make rural Oklahoma an even better place to live, work and raise a family.”