Padgett will be attending the annual Ottawa County Democrat Picnic Saturday, June 2 from 2 to 6 p.m. in Miami's Riverview Park.

MIAMI – Clay Padgett, one of four Democrats vying for Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District seat, will be making his first campaign visit to Ottawa County this weekend.

Padgett, along with several other Democratic candidates bidding for various service positions, will be attending the annual Ottawa County Democrat Picnic Saturday, June 2 from 2 to 6 p.m. in Miami's Riverview Park.

Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District race has drawn 10 candidates who will be on the ballot at the June 26 Primary Election – Four Democrats, Virginia Jenner, Elijah McIntosh, Jason Nichols, and Padgett; four Republicans, incumbent Markwayne Mullin, Brian Jackson, Jarrin Jackson, and John McCarthy; Libertarian Richard Castaldo and Independent John Foreman.

Padgett's political pledge is, "Serving the people of Oklahoma with character, selfless service, and civility," which he frames as a reflection of his former Army unit’s motto, “Deeds, not Words,” and personal commitments to transparency, responsibility, and meaningful discourse.

Padgett who grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, was the first in his family to attend college earning a B.S. in biology from Tarleton State University and later a Masters in international public policy from Johns Hopkins University following the end of his 22-year Army career where he achieved the rank of colonel.

Now a cow-calf operator in Soper and 5th-grade science teacher in the Antlers Public School District, Padgett re-settled in Oklahoma following his military retirement in 2015 and readily expresses a deep affection for and sense of pride in his new home state.

"Oklahoma is fully ingrained in my soul. It is where I met my wife, where I formed lifelong friendships, and where I have worked on the land and in our schools since retiring from the military," Padgett states in a campaign introduction on his website.

In discussing his move into education and subsequent decision to run for Congress, Padgett said a pivotal moment came in the spring of 2017 while visiting a dear friend in Choctaw County who asked if he had ever considered teaching.

While having instructed before he said he had not previously considered a career in public education but was encouraged to share his extensive experiences and give back by helping to lead and shape young minds.

"Through an education, anything is achievable," said Padgett. "Public education is the great equalizer in our nation. It doesn't matter where you start on the socioeconomic ladder."

Padgett said teaching has become one of the most rewarding types of work in his life and even if not successful in his bid for the state's 2nd Congressional District seat, he is proud to continue to serve as an Oklahoma educator.

"If this is not successful on June 26, the most proud thing I will be able to say on June 27 is that I am still a 5th-grade science teacher in Antlers, Oklahoma," said Padgett.

With the school year ended, Padgett has stepped up his in-person campaign outreach in visiting the counties in Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District. He said before fully committing to running he touched base with school administrators to get their blessing and received overwhelming support.

Along with education, Padgett summarizes his policy platform under three headings – "Regaining Our Prosperity," 'Taking Care of Our People," and "Maintaining Our Security."

He describes these in part as encompassing revitalization of rural economies, building next-generation infrastructure, attracting businesses, protecting Social Security and Medicare, improving rural healthcare, tribal economic development, and addressing complex threats such as the opioid crisis, terrorism, and cybersecurity.

Padgett said he believes his global military experience has equipped him to serve effectively in Congress not only in understanding how to address complex threats head-on but also in working across the aisle and implementing successful solutions.

"I do believe that my experiences around the world are unique in the fact that I have seen what isn't working and what could work as you go through it," said Padgett. "The party politics that we're in right now are really focused on being divisive. There are so many other things that bring us together as Americans than what drives us apart. We should not focus on the lowest common denominator, which is what separates us.

"I knew when I first served in Afghanistan in 2010-2011, that I was sitting across the table from folks that didn't want me or my soldiers to be there," said Padgett. "But by the end of that deployment, I had established lifelong friends."

Padgett added that his experiences abroad also further deepened his commitment to America as a nation of diversity, and said he is passionate in speaking out in defense of people of different religions and immigration.

"When I hear people talking about religion and stuff like that, I know my life has been saved by Afghans and at a couple points in time has been saved by Iraqies, and I didn't ask them what religion they were when they were helping us out," explained Padgett. "It was the fact that we were all working towards a common goal, and that matters. Let's also not forget that our country is made up of immigrants, so unless you are 100 percent Native American, your ancestors came here from somewhere else, and I'm passionate about that."

Padgett concluded by reemphasizing his commitment to transparency and accountability if selected to represent Oklahoma in Congress.

"I believe at the end of the day, as a public servant, regardless of where you serve – in the military, whether it's in law enforcement, a firefighter, or inside government – you have to earn the respect of those people you represent every day, and the only way you can earn it is if they truly believe you are an advocate for them," said Padgett.

To learn more about Padgett and his platform, connect with his campaign at https://www.padgettforcongress.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ClayPadgettOK2.

Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor for the Miami News-Record. Email her at dballard@miaminewsrecord.com and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.