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Whether absentee or in person, it is time for Osage County to vote

Robert Smith

There is something on the ballot for everyone on Tuesday.

All Osage County voters are being asked to decide if state government should be constitutionally mandated to expand Medicaid coverage. That decision is being offered in the form of State Question 802.

Pawhuska voters will be picking an at-large city councilor, and Republican primary voters will be choosing a sheriff for Osage County.

Election day is June 30 — next Tuesday — but early voting will be held this Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Additionally, people who requested absentee ballots so that they could avoid voting in person during the COVID-19 pandemic may already have cast their ballots.

In Pawhuska, voters are deciding between two candidates for the at-large seat on the City Council. This choice was originally scheduled to be put before the public April 7, but it has been postponed until now because of the health crisis. The candidates are businessmen Steve Tolson and Rodger Milleson. Tolson, the challenger, was the leader in a four-candidate primary on Feb. 11, with 204 votes out of 426 total votes cast. His business, the Tolson Agency, provides insurance and real estate services.

Milleson, who runs an oil-field services company, ran second with 107 votes, retiree Amber Nash received 89 votes, and elementary school principal Byron Cowan received 26. Tolson’s percentage of the primary vote was 47.89. Milleson’s was 25.12.

Tolson has offered himself to voters as a businessman who, based on education and experience, has an aptitude for financial and organizational management. Milleson has described himself as someone who is willing to challenge the rest of city government to wisely manage taxpayer dollars by shopping for better bargains rather than accepting the first proposal it receives for a given project.

The Pawhuska City Council is a five-member panel that sets policy for city government. It hires a city manager to select and lead department heads such as police and fire chiefs. Pawhuska currently has an interim city manager and an interim police chief.

At the county level, there is one contested race on which voters will be casting ballots countywide. That is the sheriff election. Since both candidates are Republicans, the party primary June 30 for sheriff is effectively the general election for the position. Incumbent Sheriff Eddie Virden is being challenged by veteran law officer Rocky Davis. Davis has worked as a school resource officer in Skiatook Public Schools, and he has worked as a police officer for the Osage Nation.

State Question 802 will be on all ballots. SQ 802, if approved, would require the addition of an article to the state constitution that would expand Oklahoma’s Medicaid program to include certain low-income adults between 18 and 65 years old whose income does not exceed 133% of the federal poverty level, as permitted under the federal Medicaid laws. The expansion would take place by July 1, 2021, at the latest and it has been estimated that some 200,000 Oklahomans would likely receive health coverage as a result.

Proponents of SQ 802 believe it will cover more people who need access to health care than an alternative plan developed by Gov. Kevin Stitt. Opponents of SQ 802 offer objections that include not wanting to make health care funding part of the state constitution, and concerns that Medicaid expansion could hurt rural hospitals.

In the southern portion of Osage County, both Democratic and Republican candidates will be competing for party nominations to run in the November general election for District 2 county commissioner.

Persons filing to run for the District 2 seat included Steve Talburt of Skiatook and Tom Teel of Sperry, both filing as Republicans; and Joe Williams of Tulsa and Scott Hilton of Skiatook, both filing as Democrats.

Talburt has been working as an investigator for the Osage County Sheriff’s Office. Teel is a former District 2 employee who was charged in March in Osage County District Court with two counts of embezzlement by employee.

Hilton is a former District 2 commissioner. Paslay, who was charged in March in Osage County District Court with a single count of bid rigging, defeated Hilton nearly four years ago. Williams is a former Tulsa city councilman and a retired Oklahoma Natural Gas manager.