Oklahoma elections require candidates to earn 51% of the votes in a closed primary to move onto the general election. Usually this is not an issue, but the election season of 2018 is not typical. The Teacher Walk Out in April inspired teachers and other citizens to challenge incumbent legislators. The nineteen GOP House Representatives who voted NO on HB1010xx, the tax bill to fund teacher raises became targets in a backlash. More GOP incumbents faced primary challenges; their success, unlike other years, was not assured.
Of the nineteen NO votes, seven were either term-limited, or chose not to run for their seat. Only two had no primary opponents, and advanced to the general election.
Ten no-tax incumbents ran in primaries. Two were defeated outright in the primary, and one won his primary.
This year, a record number of primary races were forced into runoffs. More GOP races than Democrat races were on the August ballot. Seven incumbents who voted no were forced into runoffs, since they did not win their primary outright. Several did not actually come in first in their primary.
State Superintendent of Schools, Joy Hofmeister drew two primary opponents: Linda Murphy, a well-known educator in Oklahoma, and newcomer Will Farrell. Hofmeister came in first in the primary but missed the 51% threshold, so she and Murphy were also forced into the runoff. Superintendent Hofmeister easily won her runoff and now faces a Democrat in November.
August 28 turned out to be bad news for most of the incumbents who had fought the tax raise. Only one won his runoff, and that by fewer than 100 votes.
Of nineteen incumbents who voted NO on the bipartisan bill to raise taxes for new education funding, only four will be participating in the general election: Tommy Hardin, HD 49 and Kevin West, HD54, both advanced to the November election with no primary challengers. Tom Gann, HD 8 won his primary in June. Sean Roberts, HD 36, won the single runoff of a no-tax incumbent. Political observers all assume GOP voters rebelled against the anti-tax legislators and ‘voted them out.’
Uncertainty and true voters’ motivations make November a major focus for all Oklahoma public education advocates. But, educators are celebrating.
Oklahoma’s 57th Legislative Session will include more freshman Representatives than recent Sessions, and there may be a political power shift.