The year 2020 has given Chickasha voters a lot to think about ahead of the Nov. 3 Presidential Election.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed everyday life for people all over the world. There's been debate on whether to wear masks and when the curve would be flat enough for businesses to reopen.
Tensions came to a boiling point again on May 25 after the murder of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, in Minneapolis.
Bill Schwenk, a 72-year-old Chickasha Republican, has served as a police officer and as an oil field worker before retiring. Schwenk said he supports President Donald Trump. Sherrie Lambert, a 66-year-old Democrat who has worked in advertising and performing arts, supports Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Something they both have in common is that they switched parties over the years.
Schwenk said he was an Okie Democrat, "but the party left me." He said the turning point was when President Jimmy Carter pardoned the draft dodgers. Having served in the military himself, Schwenk doesn't think it was fair that he accepted his responsibility to serve his country, while others were let off the hook.
As a conservative, Schwenk said he supports Trump because appreciates the president's pro-life stance, and his support of the Second Amendment and law enforcement. Schwenk was an officer with the Chickasha Police Department for 1-1/2 years. He started by patrolling Chickasha Avenue on foot to check if the doors were locked.
While Schwenk acknowledges there are bad cops, the whole lot should not be judged on the bad behavior of a few.
“There are always bad apples, but they’re not all bad,” Schwenk said. “Don’t lump everyone together.”
Schwenk said it was wrong for Chauvin to put his knee on Floyd’s neck because the suspect allegedly passed a counterfeit $20 bill. He said that kind of force should only be used to stop a violent crime, such as murder or rape.
In Schwenk’s experience as an officer, he said, he tried to be judicious about the consequences of pursuing an arrest. He recalled giving chase to a man who was speeding. However, at a certain point, he stopped chasing because he didn’t want to put the public in danger over a traffic ticket.
However, Schwenk said police are often called to respond to high-stress incidents where they have to think and act quickly. The worst calls he responded to were domestic violence incidents. When police walk into a home wherein everyone is screaming, it’s sometimes unclear who was in the wrong and who may be armed. The amount of force needed in a violent situation like that is easy to dictate from a distance, but when an officer is actually in that situation, the proper course of action is less clear, he said.
As far as racism in the U.S., Schwenk believes Black citizens have made huge gains over the last 50 years.
Lambert said she highly values and respects law enforcement officers, but that the same social diseases of discrimination based on race, gender and sexual orientation are still prevalent.
Lambert said she appreciates that officers put their lives on the line to protect citizens. She noted this duty is often performed without thanks and without fanfare.
“We owe our men and women in blue a tremendous debt of gratitude,” she said. “Having said this, I’d like to add that for anyone to believe that the same social diseases of white supremacy, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny and racism that have infected every aspect of our daily lives – and every other profession known to mankind, to some degree – has not also infected our law enforcement profession as well, would be ludicrous.”
Lambert said the murder of Floyd and others has ignited a cry for pragmatic, justifiable police reform and police accountability.
“No person should be above the law, not even the law itself,” she said. “I shudder to imagine a community without law enforcement officers. I also shudder to imagine a community of lawless law enforcement officers.”
Schwenk said he opposes voting by mail due to the risk of fraud, which he said has impacted both parties.
Lambert, on the other hand, sees voting by mail as a way to make process more accessible. She said it would help alleviate problems with insufficient voting locations, as well as help voters who have issues getting to polling places. Moreover, she believes vote by mail could avoid issues with voting machines, such as tampering or malfunctions.
“Personally, I choose to vote in person rather than hunt down a notary, but I think people should be allowed the option. I see being able to vote either way as a win-win for everyone,” she said.
Schwenk said he sees Democratic nominee Joe Biden as a career politician. He appreciates that Trump, like former President Ronald Reagan, is not a career politician. Moreover, Schwenk said he has seen Biden flip-flop on many issues. While Schwenk said it’s fine for politician to change their minds, he doesn’t believe Biden has shown much consistency.
In regard to the COVID-19 pandemic, Schwenk said there were also inconsistencies with recommendations, and as a result, he became skeptical. He also noticed that while people could not gather in congregations at church, they were still allowed to have abortions, go to liquor stores and shop at Walmart.
After some time, Schwenk said, he decided to stop following the restrictions and live his life as a retiree. However, he said he will wear a mask if a business requests that customers do so. At church, Schwenk wears a mask as requested, but church members are allowed to remove their masks when they sit in the pews because they are socially distanced.
Lambert said the COVID-19 pandemic has been mishandled by the U.S. government. She is critical of the initial inaction, as well as the pandemic being referred to as a "Democratic hoax." She added that medical and scientific information about the virus has been ignored.
“To me, [this] not only constitutes a gross mishandling of this pandemic by this White House administration, but in my opinion, borders on criminal negligence on their part,” Lambert said.
Lambert said the pandemic has further been mishandled by the gutting of the CDC, withdrawal from the WHO, delayed and inadequate response to frontline workers’ PPE supplies, and testing.
Lambert feels the Trump administration has placed partisan politics over public health policies.
She said it was irresponsible of Trump to hold a large indoor event despite the advice of health experts, as well as the spike of COVID-19 cases. She also notes Trump’s refusal to wear a mask in public.
“All of which I believe spells out an obvious prescription for danger, no matter what party you subscribe to,” she said.