Oklahoma’s statewide party primary election on June 26, 2018 was, at least in the House races, partially a test of how engaged educators in Oklahoma would be after the ten-day Walk Out in early April. The state continues to be in the national spotlight, with interest from the New York Times and the New Yorker. The author of the New Yorker piece grew up in Oklahoma and returned to cover the Walk Out.
Oklahoma’s primary system is a closed primary, where voters must declare their party at registration, and are allowed to vote only in that party’s primary. Independent voters were invited to vote in the Democratic primary, but not the GOP primary. So, only declared Republican voters voted for Republican candidates.
The primary also had State Question 788, legalizing medical marijuana, on the ballot, and speculation is strong that this question inspired voters to show up. No matter what the motivation, voter turnout was high, with nearly 900,000 voters casting ballots.
Nineteen sitting Representatives voted against HB1010xx, the bill that raised taxes to fund a teacher raise and state worker raise. Some funding was to be added into the funding formula and would go directly to schools as well. The vote spurred a citizens’ petition to revoke all funding, led by Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite. Several court challenges were raised, including one that successfully blocked the petition in its present form, and will require organizers to begin again to get the petition on the November ballot.
Oklahoma requires all tax-increase bills to receive a ¾ majority in both houses to become law, a threshold that has been impossible since the last tax increase, also to fund public schools. In 1990, HB1017 passed the legislature, creating sweeping reforms, and adding much-needed funding for public schools. A successful referendum, State Question 640, instituted strict legislative requirements on all future funding efforts in 1992. For the first time since then, HB1010xx did just that. In the House, 19 Representatives voted no.
Of the 19 Republicans who voted no for the tax increase, seven were either term-limited or chose to leave the legislature early. Only two faced no primary opponent and advanced to the November election automatically. Ten Representatives drew primary opponents, with Bob Cleveland, R, District 20, and Sean Roberts, R, District 36, each facing four opponents Tuesday. Others faced fewer opponents.
Of the nine GOP “no” votes, two outright lost their primaries and have been retired by their party: Scott McEachin, R, District 67 and Chuck Strohm, R, District 69. Strohm was a member of the House Common Education Committee. One Representative, Tom Gann, R, District 8, won his primary.
Nine of the “no” votes will face runoff opponents in August, another closed primary, with only GOP voters eligible to vote in those races.
In the smaller Senate chamber, ten Senators voted “no” on HB1010xx: 8 Republicans and 2 Democrats. Issues were different for Senators of the two parties. The two Democrats said they were voting the will of their teacher constituents who did not believe the bill went far enough; Republicans voted to not raise taxes.
Of the two Democrats, only J.J. Dossett is up for reelection this year; he drew no opponent in the primary or general election, and has won reelection. Dossett joined four Republican Senators whose seats were scheduled for election. Mark Allen, R, District 4, handily won his primary with 63% of the votes. Josh Brecheen, R, District 6, announced he would not run again. Anthony Sykes, R, District 24 and Randy Bass, R, District 32, were both term-limited and could not run.
Natham Dahm, R, District 33, gave up his seat to run for US Congress, and came in third in a four-candidate race.
Five Senators who voted “no” will stand for reelection in 2020.
112 self-identified educators ran for office, most for seats in the legislature, in each party’s primary election. This uptick in candidate filing was a direct result of the Walk Out and teachers’ feelings of frustration. Many of these candidates are now working toward nomination in the runoff, or running for the general election in November.
The Superintendent of Public Instruction, Joy Hofmeister, faced two challengers: a political newcomer, Will Farrell, and a candidate who has run for this office in the past, Linda Murphy. Murphy and Hofmeister will face each other in the runoff.
The echoes of the Walk Out were definitely felt in GOP primaries. There will be heightened interest in the races leading up to the August runoff. Observers ask, without the State Question on the ballot, will educators return to vote?