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Jena Nelson asks Ryan Walters for debate

Democrat Jena Nelson (left) and Republican Ryan Walters (right) are vying to be Oklahoma's next State Superintendent for Public Instruction in the Nov. 8 election.
Democrat Jena Nelson (left) and Republican Ryan Walters (right) are vying to be Oklahoma's next State Superintendent for Public Instruction in the Nov. 8 election.

Democrat state superintendent candidate Jena Nelson, who is on the campaign trail, has agreed to a number of debatesand would like Republican opponent Ryan Walters to do the same.

“I’m enjoying of course going around the state right now and talking to voters, and I think of course a debate would reach even more people so that they will have a chance to really get to know us,” said Nelson in an interview with Public Radio Tulsa. “This is part of the democratic process and it’s very important to the people of Oklahoma to get to see this debate happen.”

If a debate were to take place, Nelson says she would ask Walters, who’s currently the state secretary of education, about his support of a voucher system that would see public money funding private schools. The Frontier and Oklahoma Watch have reported that aside from his state job, Walters makes more than $100,000 a year as director of an organization funded by voucher proponents.

Nelson, a middle school teacher with Oklahoma City Public Schools, says she’d also ask Walters about his stance on rejecting federal dollars. Walters has said he is “phasing out” federal money because President Joe Biden wants to “indoctrinate” children. About 10% of Oklahoma’s school budget comes from the federal government.

In a June debate hosted by local news outlets, Walters indicated he would debate his general election opponent after moderator Storme Jones asked. Yet Nelson says he hasn't responded to any invitations, some of which have tentative dates attached.

"I can't give you actual dates because it's all hypothetical until he answers the phone," said Adam Graham, Nelson's campaign manager.

Walters didn't respond to questions for this article.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.