One of the most important contests on the Nov. 6 ballot may also be the one voters know the least about: the race for Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC).
The OCC oversees the most powerful industries in our state: utilities, telecommunications, oil and gas, and more. With legislative, judicial, and executive powers, no other state agency rivals the impact the Oklahoma Corporation Commission has on our daily lives.
Ashley Nicole McCray, a political outsider, environmental scholar, and fierce community rights advocate, has been traveling across rural and urban parts of the state, listening to the concerns of voters as she works toward a movement to unseat 30-year Republican incumbent Bob Anthony.
McCray’s scholarly research focuses on intersections between the environment, political economy, and industrialization. She has helped organize and facilitate education initiatives and listening sessions around the issue of environmental policy and its impact on ordinary Oklahomans.
McCray comes from the Oglala Lakota Nation, and she’s an enrolled tribal member of the Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. "I also have ancestors who came here on the Land Run, including David L. Payne’s brother," she said. "My roots here pre-date statehood. I consider myself a true Okie."
Deon Obsborne: How does OCC impact Oklahomans?
Ashley McCray: They are responsible for approving injection wells, among a number of other oil and gas-related projects. This makes this state agency directly responsible for the earthquakes we experience because of injection well dumping of frack wastewater. Our state currently allows five other states to dump their frack wastewater into our injection wells, because of bans and protections that prevent it from happening in their respective states, so the Corporation Commission is essentially responsible for opening the door to Oklahoma being the dumping grounds of the nation.
Osborne: What makes you qualified for the job?
McCray: As an advocate for community, I present a real opportunity for Oklahomans to restore their voice back to state government. I was recognized by the White House in 2015 as one of 11 nationally-selected Champions of Change for Young Women Empowering Communities. That same year, I was recognized by my hometown of Norman as their Norman Human Rights Commission and Norman City Council’s Human Rights Award recipient.
In 2017, I was recognized by Oklahoma’s Sierra Club (Red Earth Group) for my advocacy on behalf of Oklahoman water, land, and communities.
In 2018, I confronted Bob Anthony to talk about the issues related to excessive fracking and the industry’s impact on our water, land, and communities. I am also proud to be part of the #ReadyFor100 #RF100 campaign, which was successful in passing a citywide policy in Norman that will commit us to 100% renewable energy by the year 2035.
Osborne: What do you plan to push for if elected?
McCray: At the very least, interstate dumping of fracking wastewater must end. I also plan to work to expand our energy economy, which would be inclusive of renewable energy—specifically wind and solar. Most importantly, I will work to make sure communities are informed and included in the decisions that will most directly impact them. We need to prioritize people over profit and hold corporations accountable.
Osborne: How do you plan to beat a 30-year incumbent?
McCray: I’ve been traveling all throughout the state, meeting people from all backgrounds and political parties who are dissatisfied with my opponent’s complete lack of concern for Oklahoman voters. He has declined to participate in any public forum that would provide voters the opportunity to see and hear us together. Oklahomans are tired of incumbents. Oklahomans are tired of earthquakes, property damage, being worried about their water, and having their voice stripped away through administrative approval.
Osborne: Why should conservative Oklahomans vote for you?
McCray: Conservative Oklahomans are voting for me already because I care about making sure their property isn’t damaged from earthquakes, that their home values won’t decrease—because administrative approval could very well mean a hydraulic fracturing operation right over their fence—because they know diversifying the economy is the only way to ensure a robust and secure economic future, and because I can save taxpayers money by further developing the relationships I have with our 39 federally-recognized tribes.