Accompanied by his wife, Jennifer, Jason Nichols returned to Ottawa County on Feb. 16 to meet with locals and discuss his campaign at an open gathering.
MIAMI - Jason Nichols, current Mayor of Tahlequah and a Democrat campaigning for U.S. Representative of Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District, frames his bid for the federal level seat as one dedicated to accountability, accessibility, and supporting partisanship efforts within Congress.
"I'm used to having to look my constituents in the eyes," he said during a meet-and-greet hosted at the Chapters bookstore in downtown Miami Friday evening that garnered over 60 attendees.
Oklahoma's 2nd Congressional District is comprised of 26 counties in full or in part in the eastern portion of the state, including Ottawa County.
All of Oklahoma's five seats in the United States House of Representatives are up for vote in the Oklahoma general election set for Nov. 6, 2018.
Accompanied by his wife, Jennifer, Nichols returned to Ottawa County on Feb. 16 to meet with locals and discuss his campaign at an open gathering coordinated by Chuck and Ann Neal and Representative Ben Loring (Dist. 7-OK) and his wife, Barbara.
The atmosphere was a casual one, providing light refreshments and direct access to Nichols who is running against current District 2 Representative, Republican Markwayne Mullin, who is seeking a fourth term.
A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Nichols is a sixth-generation Oklahoman that graduated from Tahlequah High School and went on to earn both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Northeastern State University where he met his wife.
Nichols began his career in politics on the Tahlequah City Council, elected to his first term in 2005 and was reelected in 2009, serving a total of six years.
He then campaigned for and won the office of Mayor in Tahlequah in 2011, becoming the youngest to be sworn into the seat in over fifty years. Nichols secured his second term as Mayor in 2015, which he is currently serving.
In announcing his campaign bid for District 2, Nichols cited an increasing level of dysfunction as his primary motivation for entering the race on his campaign website, stating in part, “The political culture in Washington has devolved to the point where even the smallest issues seem to be catalysts for controversy or an excuse to argue with someone because they happen to belong to a different political party.
"It isn't conservative or liberal causes, Democrats or Republicans, or people on the right or the left that suffer. The country does. Regardless of your position on any particular issue, the current environment doesn't allow much of anything to be accomplished for anyone. I'd like to have a hand in changing that and in getting Congress focused on the things that impact the lives of Americans.”
Midway through the two hour Miami meet-and-greet Friday, Nichols addressed attendees sharing information about his campaign platform and concerns about current congressional representation overall and in District 2.
"I'm on this new journey trying figure out how in the world to make the federal government work a little bit better, and I would imagine that if you are here there is a decent chance that you probably believe it isn't working to all of our benefits," said Nichols.
Nichols expressed that he believed his experience within government on a municipal level would allow him to represent Oklahoma's 2nd District with his ethics intact and avoid adopting a shift in priorities he's observed by some in the federal government that puts profits before people.
"I think with the experience I've got in local government I'm ready to make the leap and carry my ethics with me and hopefully, alleviate some of those concerns many of us in this room share," said Nichols.
"We have seen these votes cast by this Republican majority in Congress over the past couple of years, including our representative here in District 2," Nichols continued. "...there is a heartlessness, an inhumanity to the whole thing, and it doesn't seem like you all, or for that matter, me and my family, are being put first.
"Profits are being put before people. If somebody is trying to make their way up the food-chain or the organizational chart inside the federal government, they are casting votes and doing things that clearly indicate that they got priorities other than the people that they serve. Mr. Mullin seems to have fallen into that trap."
Nichols then honed in on accessibility, referencing a series of subsequently controversial District 2 town halls hosted by current Congressman Mullin from late March through mid-April, 2016.
During one of Mullin's first town hall meetings in Pryor on March 31, Leslie Moyer of Cherokee County was among attendees holding two pieces of postcard-sized construction paper - one green to signify agreement with a talking point and one red, to signify disagreement.
Mullin admonished Moyer for the use of the cards and reiterated that the use of signs during the town halls was not permitted.
A prickly exchanged ensued which was captured on video and quickly went viral, garnering millions of views in less than a week and drawing extensive criticisms and questions on how open and inclusive the meetings truly were for constituents.
Adding to the controversy surrounding Mullin's town hall tour was the cancellation of his scheduled visit to Tahlequah for Cherokee County April 11 due to what he said were "safety concerns," in a tweet made the same day.
At the Friday meet-and-greet, Nichols said during similar events he is hosting through July, his campaign will be taking the opposite approach, welcoming and possibly even providing the cards.
"Sometime around April our representative decided to cancel a town hall event, back in Cherokee County where I'm from... and it's because somebody at a previous event held up some red pieces of paper or something when they disagreed with him.
"We're going to hold a series of town halls between now and July, the first one is in Okmulgee, on the 22nd (Feb.), so there will be 24 different town halls because we combined a couple and we're going to visit every county (within District 2) like we've tried to do so far," said Nichols. "We're thinking about handing out red pieces of paper at the door and saying 'use these if you feel the need.'
"I've been Mayor for seven years and the point I try to make to everyone about my experience is that I've developed a habit of talking to them about their problems, my constituents, and if a red card were the only way they expressed disagreement with something I've done, my blood pressure would go way down," Nichols said drawing laughter from the room.
He added he is always willing to discuss "any topic, with anyone, at any time" and that his hope is every conversation ends with those he engaged knowing that he is genuinely doing what he thinks is right and not what will get him the largest contributions.
Nichols then spoke to his approach being a positive one, instead of following a course of inciting fear and blame that he has observed in governing and campaigning.
"I'm used to having conversations about what's bothering them (constituents) and what may be going right for them. How we can make their lives better, and not being so cynical and pessimistic and telling everybody what they should be afraid of and who to blame for it," said Nichols. "That seems to be the way people try to govern anymore, that's the method through which they try and win their elections."
Wrapping up his talk and before taking questions, Nichols emphasized his approach is also focused on collaboration in solving issues, which he again credited to his experience on the municipal level.
"I've cut my teeth in an environment in which you have to learn to work with other people and there is no reason that can't scale out to a 435 member House of Representatives," said Nichols. "I'm looking forward to going there, and I'll need your help to get there. I promise you that if you support me, whether its financially or with your vote, I'll work hard every day to make sure you don't regret giving me that support."
To learn more about Nichols and his platform, connect with his campaign at http://nichols4congress.nationbuilder.com/ and on Facebook at Jason Nichols for Congress.
Dorothy Ballard is the managing news editor of the Miami News-Record. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @dm_ballard.