A culmination of the work he has done during his first term in office and his history of being involved with the Lawton community secured Rep. Daniel Pae’s second term during the November 3 general election.
Over the past two years, the 25-year-old Republican Lawton incumbent has served on prominent committees in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. In policy committees, Pae was vice chair for Government Efficiency, served on the committees of Veterans and Military Affairs as well as County and Municipal Government. He was also assigned to the budget subcommittee for Human Services.
“With Government Efficiency, last year, the Governor’s Office received staffing authority over the four biggest agency heads,” said Pae. “That brought more accountability and oversight to Oklahoma Department of Transportation, Health Care Authority, Office of Juvenile Affairs, Department of Corrections as well as the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.”
Government Efficiency also worked with Iowa policymakers and on “a bipartisan, bicameral interim study [to improve] the state of race relations in the state of Oklahoma,” Pae added. “It was really interesting to hear from other national legislators on how to get action done.”
The study allowed Iowa legislators to pass significant police reform last session, he said.
“Iowa is a fairly homogenous state when it comes to their demographics, and yet, they were able to come together and understand why change is necessary. That gives me hope for Oklahoma that we can get something done on a similar level next year.”
While assignments to committees will not happen for about another month, Pae hopes to be reassigned to the Government Efficiency, he said, commenting it was the most efficient committee in the Oklahoma Legislature.
Pae’s father, Tae, and mother, Myung, emigrated from South Korea in 1983. Pae’s father worked for Dolese and the couple saved their money to open Class A Cleaners in 1989. Pae grew up in the business and credits many professional relationships through customer service with the patrons.
“It was a really great experience for me,” Pae told Southwest Ledger last year. “Talking to people and learning what it takes to really serve, even in that capacity.”
His respect and admiration of the military and veterans who have served is highlighted through his service to the House.
In response to the allegations of abuse and neglect to veterans in health care facilities managed by the Oklahoma Department of Veteran Affairs, an informative town hall meeting was held last year in Lawton, in which Pae and others discussed the care of those who served in the military.
“An independent investigation into social media posts alleging abuse and neglect at the Lawton Veterans Center was completed by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services (OKDHS) Advocate General, and showed no substantial findings,” Paul Rosino, Senate chair of the Legislative Veterans Caucus, said in a press release.
“DHS found no evidence of wrongdoing,” said Pae. “But, just based on what veterans’ family members are saying, there’s a serious disconnect.”
Pae wants to continue working with ODVA to “shed some light” on the investigation concerning the allegations and ensure that veterans are provided the proper care.
“We’re certainly not finished with this,” Pae stated. “I would like to see a more thorough review of all the centers.”
Pae, along with Rep. Trey Caldwell, R-Lawton, and state Sen. John Michael Montgomery, R-Dist. 32, have been working on legislation with the ad valorem tax exemption for veterans.
“The number of veterans has grown,” said Pae. “We’re trying to get counties reimbursed so long-term we don’t have a fiscal crisis on our hands. Especially with COVID, it will definitely put a strain on the budget if we do nothing.”
Pae discussed allowing municipalities the opportunity to go to the people and use ad valorem revenue to fund public safety measures, including police, fire and emergency services. The measure passed through the House but stalled in the Senate, he said.
“This is just one example of how we can be creative in terms of our municipal funding,” said Pae. “Oklahoma is still the only state where sales tax is the dominate revenue source. Other states have utilized ad valorem to some extent.”
After graduating from the University of Oklahoma, Pae’s worked as an administrative assistant in the Lawton City Manager’s Office, the position allowed him to learn more about fiscal issues municipalities face, such as balancing the budget, he said.
“Often times, in really tough budget years like the ones we’ve experienced recently, leaders have to make cuts to services,” said Pae. “People are happy about that, but the options are limited in terms of funding.”
With the recent move to collect online sales tax, Pae stated that more revenue is available to the state.
During his senior year at Lawton High, Pae began volunteering for Comanche County Teen Court, an initiative to prevent juvenile first-time offenders from reoffending. Pae also worked with Lawton Schools social media campaign to secure a $99.5 million bond passed for the district.
Until recently, Pae continued to work with the district, volunteering his time as a substitute teacher. Between safely meeting with constituents to address any concerns they had for next term and the school district’s move to more distant learning due to the pandemic, Pae said he misses the opportunity to help in the classroom.
“I wanted to knock on doors during the interim period when there wasn’t any campaigning going on just to get feedback – not to ask for people’s votes,” he said. “I’m very happy that I was able to accomplish that before session began. In hindsight, it was very good that, I didn’t predict that we’d be in a global pandemic, but certainly making the rounds before all that began helped me feel more confident during the campaign.”
Pae said his first term was educational, but very rewarding. “Running on a record and being re-elected means a lot to me,” he said. “Two years ago, they saw potential and placed their faith in me.”
Next session will be a lot of catching up,” said Pae. “We’re going to see a record number of bills filed because people want to get their ideas through the process. The state budget will be the number 1 priority as it always is, but certainly with the economy being better than expected but nowhere near what it was pre-COVID, that’s going to be a big challenge.”
Lawmakers will also look at the state’s health care needs as well as ways to fund the Medicaid expansion, which was passed with State Question 802. Federal tax dollars are used to fund the expansion at a 9-1 ratio; the state must find ways to cover the remainder, Pae explained.
State Question 802, which voters passed June 30, expanded Medicaid coverage to lower-income Oklahomans. SQ 814, which Oklahoma voters rejected, would have allowed the Legislature to use a large portion of the interest earnings from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust to offset much of the cost of Medicaid expansion.
“With State Question 802 in the State Constitution, it’s a mandate,” Pae stated. “We have no flexibility. We need to get it done.”
Pae has also worked with other representatives in addressing Missing and Murdered Indigenous People as well as the Harm Reduction (a/k/a “needle exchange”) bill with Rep. Carol Bush, R-Tulsa, which “allows people who have been using dirty needles to exchange them with clean needles and gives them information on drug addiction and mental health resources.
“Other states that have done this have shown you decrease usage over time, and you get cost savings for the state as well,” said Pae. “It develops a relationship because we’re not stigmatizing them, we’re offering them help and hope.”