Governor's race candidate makes Miami stop.

MIAMI – Gary Richardson is an imposing figure, his words, handshake, and demeanor are indicative of the passion he has for the state of Oklahoma. Richardson is a Republican candidate for the 2018 Oklahoma Governor's race.

The 76-year-old Tulsa trial lawyer, made the rounds in Miami on Tuesday meeting with locals and city and tribal leaders and media to introduce himself and his gubernatorial platform.

Richardson's main campaign focus is to conduct forensic audits of all state agencies, including the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority (OTA) and he vows if elected governor he will end Oklahoma's turnpike system opening the state's highways to free travel.

Richardson said not one cent of the $250 million in annual tolls collected here goes to the state of Oklahoma, and in fact, the state gives almost $50 million each year to the Turnpike Authority.

“If I become elected governor, one of the first things I will do is audit the agencies, the authorities and the trusts,” Richardson said. “The first one will be the Turnpike Authority.”

No external audit has been ordered since the OTA was created in 1947 by any governor, and Oklahomans are forbidden by state law to know who owns the $950 million worth of turnpike bonds, according to Richardson. The governor is the only authority who can request an independent audit of OTA as the governor appoints the OTA board, and Richardson intends to use that authority if elected governor.

Richardson believes there is a lot of corruption in the state, and he plans to call for audits and subsequent investigations and promises to make changes needed. As a former US Attorney appointed by President Ronald Reagan, he believes he has valuable experience and an impressive track record of tackling corruption cases.

“I do believe there’s a lot of waste, foolish spending, and corruption in our state,” Richardson said. “There’s no reason why we should have an $878 million deficit…I will audit to find out what’s causing the problem, kind of like a doctor who does testing before he tells you what he’s going to prescribe. From my standpoint it’s not about raising taxes, it’s about finding what causes the illness and doing something about it.”

Richardson said at 76 he is not interested in politics as a career but wants his legacy to be a better state for his grown children, grandchildren and the citizens of Oklahoma.

“Foremost is leadership and integrity. We are severely lacking in leadership,” Richardson said. “We’re in a crisis in our state. We need someone who wants to do what’s right for the state. We have so many leaders who are interested in their own careers than they are in doing what’s right for the state. ”

He says he will be committed as governor to representing the state and not the Republican party but will put party lines aside to see change in Oklahoma.

“We need a governor that’s truly governing for what’s best for the state of Oklahoma, and until we have that I’m convinced we will never see change,” Richardson said. ‘That’s why I ran as an Independent in 2002, even though I was Republican. We’ve got to stop having division, and I think it can be done with strong leadership.”

He sees deferred tax credits and tax exemptions as “corporate welfare,” and adverse to economic strength.

Richardson has spent months on an education plan which gives local control and details can be found on his website www.GaryRichardson.org as well as more information about the candidate.

Richardson ran as an independent for governor, spending $2 million of his own money, in 2002, in the race won by Democrat Brad Henry and Republican Steve Largent. Richardson won more than 14 percent of the vote in that bid for the office.

Richardson was born in Caddo, Oklahoma and is the son of a cotton sharecropper. He moved with his family to Texas at the age of nine, graduated from Rio Hondo High School in 1959, and attended Bethany Nazarene College, now known as Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma where he was recognized as a 1972 “Outstanding Graduate.”

After graduating, he worked full-time in an insurance agency while attending night school to earn his law degree at the South Texas College of Law.

Richardson moved to Muskogee and served as Assistant District Attorney before going into private practice. In 1981 he was nominated by President Reagan to serve as US Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma and during his time in the position prosecuted and convicted 210 County Commissioners engaged in kickback schemes.

He started his own law firm in Tulsa in 1984 specializing in personal injury claims and has won more than $500 million for the firm's clients.

Richardson and his wife, Lanna, live in Tulsa, are members of the South Tulsa Baptist Church, and together have five children and 11 grandchildren.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin can't seek a third term in office because of term limits, and 12 candidates are seeking election to the office.

Other Republicans declaring candidacy, as well as Richardson, are; Lt. Governor of Oklahoma Todd Lamb, Mayor of Oklahoma City Mick Cornett, former State Representative Dan Fisher, Oklahoma State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, and businessman Kevin Stitt.

Democrats who have declared candidacy are former Attorney General of Oklahoma Drew Edmondson, Minority Leader of the Oklahoma House of Representatives Scott Inman, and former State Senator Connie Johnson.

Declared Libertarian candidates are telecommunications technician Rex Lawhorn, zookeeper Joe Moldonado, and evidence specialist for OKC Police Department Chris Powell.

Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at mstotts@miaminewsrecord.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.