“I remember when I was probably about 10 years old, putting a ‘Lonnie Manuel for county commissioner, District 1’ bumper sticker on my bicycle,” Manuel said. “And kind of thinking then, ‘I may have my own bumper sticker someday, because I may do something like this.’ And it’s not that I started a plan right then, but that thought has been in the back of my mind.”
As an Ada firefighter, Manuel has served the public for nearly 20 years. And now, he is moving into the political arena.
A Democrat, Manuel is running for the District 25 seat in the Oklahoma House next year. The seat is currently held by Republican Rep. Todd Thomsen of Ada, who is term limited in 2018.
The Ada News recently interviewed Manuel about his decision to run, the skills he would bring to the position and other topics. Here are questions and answers from the interview, edited for clarity and length.
The Ada News: What made you decide to run?
Danny Manuel: I decided to run because I’ve seen the state of education in Oklahoma, and I’ve seen the cuts to important services that are important to me because of some of the areas that I like to volunteer in.
I’m part of the It’s a Child’s Life Foundation — we do the Orphan Love Mud Run and do stuff to help adopting families and raise awareness for fostering. That and public education — those are issues that are very important to me, and I’ve seen the lack of funding and the cuts and how our state is being affected by those.
With my job in the fire service, I have a very broad perspective. I go in the nicest homes, I go in the not-so-nice homes. And I realize that the best opportunity for all of those children and all of those young people to have a chance at success or a better future or to break a cycle that needs to be broken is for a good education. Public education is what provides that.
The Ada News: When you say you’ve seen the state of education in Oklahoma, are you referring to state funding for schools?
Danny Manuel: I have seen how the funding has been reduced and how it’s been cut year after year. I’ve seen that as the spouse of a teacher. I’ve seen how that’s affected my wife and her classroom.
I’ve seen that as a parent. I’ve seen eight- to 10-year-old textbooks that my daughter has used that, once or twice during the year, we might have to put a fresh coat of duct tape on them.
As a risk reduction educator — as a local firefighter — I’ve seen where schools have had to cut back on field trips because they don’t have enough money in their budget to drive a bus to a program.
So I’ve seen those things and realized that we need to do something.
The Ada News: Apart from the issues we’ve discussed, what made this the year to decide to run?
Danny Manuel: Well, it’s going to be an open seat. Todd Thomsen is in his final term because of term limits.
And I will have my 20 years in at the fire department in November, which means I will be eligible to retire. So if I get elected, I’ll end up with 21 years in the fire service and just transition to a different way of serving.
So a lot of things coming together. The timing of it, the education crisis — because I believe that education in Oklahoma really is in a crisis state. Our teachers are leaving the state, and we just really need to address this and stop this downward spiral that we’re in.
The Ada News: What skills do you have that would make you an effective lawmaker?
Danny Manuel: The skills that I have that will make me an effective lawmaker are people skills — being able to listen to people. Being able to listen is so important. Effective communicating is just critical.
I have the ability to consider perspectives and not just force my own beliefs on other people, but to truly listen to them and try to learn and understand where they’re coming from. That’s very important as well.
I show respect to all people. I can be polar opposites with someone, and I can still show them total respect. Be comfortable sitting right next to them, right across from them, and carrying on a conversation. I can do that and still show them respect.
I believe that’s one of the things that is lacking right now is that people aren’t willing to really consider a perspective and try to understand. Those people skills are really important.
The Ada News: If elected, what would be your top priorities as a legislator?
Danny Manuel: My top priority would be helping restore funding to critical services and education. Restoring the funding is what’s going to be critical to helping education, so they kind of go hand in hand.
Especially in this past session, there was a lot of talk about education. But we have to have money to fix the issues.