I am sure most of you are pretty tired of this election cycle. The relentless barrage of campaign ads ahead of the November 6 general election is not new, but there does seem to be an increasingly hostile, personal and, in many cases, nasty tone.  I am seeing the fatigue in the faces of many voters who I have had the chance to chat with about the elections.
 
I have also noticed more people, including many current and former politicians, pointing out that this is the time to “take our country (or state) back,” as if it was ever taken away from them in the first place. The implication is that we have stopped being Americans or Oklahomans because one party or another is in power. This message is divisive and, frankly, disturbing.  

Fear and anger have always been used to gin up votes, but there is an overwhelming sense of dread in the 2018 election cycle that I do not remember from my days as an elected official. Regardless of which candidates win, this kind of politicking is not helpful to creating a functional government capable of working in a bipartisan manner and solving real problems.
 
I am not driven by negative commercials, nor am I a one-issue voter. I obviously care about children.  Everyone at the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy wants to see elected officials who will cast responsible votes or shape sensible policies for our youngest Oklahomans.  I often joke that we have a tough job at OICA in that we represent the interests of around 900,000 Oklahomans, but all of them are too young to vote. Fortunately, if you are reading this column, voters such as you do care about children and we hope you take that into consideration when casting your ballot.
 
At OICA, we are trying to encourage a sense of camaraderie among candidates of every political party and remind them that we need them to work together once the dust of the campaigns settles. This past weekend, OICA hosted a long-standing tradition in Oklahoma politics which, more than ever, I am honored to be a part of.  The Political Hacks Chili Cookoff celebrated its 35th anniversary with candidates from the three political parties present, along with civic-minded voters and activists.  I am happy to announce that former State Representative Ryan McMullen won with his chili, with my chili finishing second, and Will Cagle, a Libertarian candidate for the Oklahoma House finishing in third.  In a truly bipartisan fashion, and I swear it was an unplanned outcome, Kevin Stitt’s entry won the best theme for table decorations and Drew Edmondson’s chili won the People’s Choice vote. I am happy that both of these candidates won an award, and that all three candidates (including Chris Powell, the Libertarian candidate for Governor), were sponsors of the chili cook-off. I am also thankful we had Donna Nigh present to recognize her for her years of work, beginning as First Lady and following with the Donna Nigh Foundation.
 
Most importantly, the candidates who were present had the opportunity to visit with supporters and even those working against their campaigns in a civil setting where no hostility was seen or heard.  I am thankful that this event provided an opportunity for voters of all parties to come together, have a fun afternoon, stand on their principles, and enjoy some great chili!  I just hope the civility will return on November 7 and we can focus on making Oklahoma a better state, especially for the children.