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Transforming Oklahoma


Brittany Novotny sent a letter to Oklahoma state representative Sally Kern this week -- she of the quotable statements "Gays are a bigger threat to the nation than terrorism or even Islam" and "We're trying to teach 2-year-olds that homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle."

The letter was Novotny's way of introducing herself, letting Kern know she plans to run against her in the upcoming election after several of Kern's constituents encouraged Novotny to take on the challenge.

"In your nearly six years in the legislature, statements you've made and positions you've taken on issues have encouraged division instead of unity and pushed new business away from Oklahoma," she wrote. "People are ready for a change."

But Novotny is not just another outraged citizen. The 30-year-old practicing attorney is an alumna of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, a member of the national Democratic Party, and the first transgender person to chair the Young Democrats' LGBT Caucus. After running her own law practice for four years, Novotny took a position with the American Federation of Government Employees, Local 916, where she handles cases for union members.

And she even handles her own Twitter account.

The Advocate: Did you anticipate that you would be running for office when you were younger?
Brittany Novotny: It was certainly something on my horizon -- something that hoped I could do. I was involved with student government in college, and I decided it was a career that I at least hoped I could obtain.

Months before Kern was reelected in 2008 was the event that made her famous to a lot of people, when a video in which she called gays, among other things, more dangerous than terrorists was posted on the Internet. Why do you think she was reelected?
There's a lot of factors as to why she won reelection in 2008. Most Oklahomans are good people, and they really didn't agree with a lot of her comments. They may not be pro-gay rights, but they're certainly not antigay homophobes by any sense of the imagination. But that being said, it requires a lot of time, effort, and money to run a campaign, and we haven't had anyone with that kind of time or the kind of money that was needed to do the job here in house district 84. I don't think people with vote against somebody just because of something they said. They need somebody that they will vote for.

When did you first decide you were going to run against Kern?
As I stated in that letter, there's been a lot of talk about her obviously, and one of our most respected business newspapers, TheJournal Record, really called her out this past July because she had signed this citizens' proclamation for morality, which blamed the economic situation on gays and abortions and had quotes from the Founding Fathers that were taken out of context, and it became fodder for national media to make fun of Oklahoma again and make us look like we're not moving forward. It really hurt our image because Oklahoma City is really becoming a great place to live. It's an amazing city with a lot of diversity and a great culture. Our downtown has really been thriving, there's a lot of urban renewal going on, metropolitan area projects that have renovated our downtown like our new arena, we have an NBA team, a new skyscraper going up. We've put a lot of effort in renewing the business environment here, and we're trying to attract more young professionals who would hopefully make this their home. Her pushing this agenda that blames economic problems on certain parts of our population and creating a divisive climate just pushes people and business away. It hinders our ability to draw young people here.

In your open letter to Kern, you said you would run a fair campaign with no personal attacks. What if the political landscape starts to get personal or below-the-belt?
There's nothing I can do to stop whatever might happen. I hope that Representative Kern will hold true to her word. She gave some interviews around the time that I announced my candidacy and indicated that the way she saw it was that I'm a Democrat, she's a Republican, and we would run on that. So I hope she'll maintain that. Certainly there are third parties out there who may not listen to me and may go ahead and personally attack her, just like she may have supporters that don't take the lead from her and personally attack me. It happens. I hope that those voices are kept to a minimum and they don't overshadow the campaign, because I really do think there are some serious differences in how we see the future of Oklahoma and what we think will be best for our economic development. I think the voters deserve the chance to discuss those differences.

When I told our staff that we would be interviewing you today, someone said, "Those are going to be some interesting debates." What are the issues concerning your district, and how will you two shape the debate among those issues?
Right now I've been particularly concerned with legislation that she's been pushing that would basically have Oklahoma opt out of Environmental Protection Agency regulation and take that on ourselves. We're not at a time in the state budget where we can take on that kind of responsibility by ourselves. Environmental regulation is going to take a lot of time and money, and nowhere in her bill does she account for budgeting and responsibilities that our department of environmental quality would have to take on. I believe in fiscal responsibility. You can't just push legislation because it plays into the fears of our federal government. You have to look at how this actually impacts our budget. You have to ask yourself, "What is this actually going to do for the lives of everyday Oklahomans?"

Oklahomans deserve to hear that debate. She's continued to push a lot of these states' rights legislations. They're going to cost us a lot of money in lawsuits. It will cost us money if we actually did have to start carrying this stuff on our own, and people need to know that and not just fall for rhetoric of "the federal government is taking away Oklahoma's rights. "

Do you feel that Oklahomans are ready to elect a transgender person to represent them?
You know, I do get that feeling. In fact, I've even received e-mails and messages from folks who identify as conservative Republicans who support me. They say, "I may not agree with you on everything, but I agree with your approach to this. This is the kind of approach we expect from our leaders, so we support you." I've been open about my past as a trans woman. There was a two-part segment about me on our local Fox affiliate, and an article ran in our main alternative weekly newspaper. The only negative feedback I've really received was based on a policy issue.

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