The official window for filing for state and federal elected office occurred in the last days of the two-week Oklahoma Teacher Walk Out. Usually filing is handled in the Election Board Office in the Capitol, but because of a record volume of candidate filings, it was moved to the basement of the Capitol in the hallway by one of the entrances. Would-be candidates were lined up before filing began on April 11, and was steady for the three days.
791 candidates filed for all offices, with both parties actively recruiting. Conservative Republicans and Libertarians were outraged over the $474 million tax package passed by the legislature to fund teacher, support personnel, and state employee raises. And Democrats directly challenged legislators who opposed more funding for schools.
One legislator, Representative Kevin McDugle, GOP- HD 12, used FaceBook Live to record what critics have called a ‘rant’ against the teachers at the Capitol. On the first day of filing, Cyndi Ralston, an Oklahoma teacher, filed to oppose McDugle, citing his FaceBook post as her inspiration.
Another Representative, Bobby Cleveland, GOP- HD 20, on record as telling teachers to go back to school, drew seven opponents for his Republican primary on June 26, and a Democrat opponent for the general election. Cleveland successfully challenged two of his opponents’ candidacy, but still faces five primary challengers, including one teacher.
The number of candidates cannot be attributed solely to the Walk Out, but it has raised awareness in the state of the legislative process as teachers shared videos, pictures, and impressions on social media. The coincidence in timing was also attributed to increased attention on the filing process, as hundreds of educators entered the Capitol and walked past the lines of candidates filing their paperwork, and extra national attention was brought to the filings for office.
Another possible factor for the increased attention to education in the state could be the previous election cycle in 2016. Oklahoma saw a large number of educators and their immediate family members run for office two years ago. This ‘Teacher Caucus’ was largely unsuccessful in winning office, but that did not stop teacher John Waldron, NBCT, who ran in 2016 and is running again in 2018.
Even the Governor’s race has been touched by the results of the Teacher Walk Out. Fifteen candidates, ten Republicans, two Democrats, and three Libertarians, are vying for the top executive spot. Education is one of the contentious issues in the race, with several candidates being on record stating they would not have signed the tax package that will fund the raises.
Oklahoma Policy Institute, a progressive think tank in the state, published an analysis of candidate filings and what that means to the state. Another publication, The Muskogee Politico, a self-identified “conservative view,” offered their own ”in-depth” analysis on the filings and races. This election season will provide choices across the political spectrum, with an added focus on public education and funding.
Along with a record number of candidate filings, Oklahoma has seen a surge in the number of new voter registrations, with the window closing Friday, June 1, for the primary. On May 29, over 45,000 new voters had registered for the June primary. Greater numbers of Republican voters registered, with the Democratic share of voters decreasing slightly. Some analysts wonder if this is an effort to affect the primary election results, since a State Question to legalize medical marijuana is also on the primary ballot. Oklahoma’s primary system is a closed one, with only Republicans allowed to vote in that primary; while Democrats and Independents will be eligible to vote in the Democratic primary.
It is unclear whether the primary election later this month will clarify the influence of the Teacher Walk Out, and increased attention to public education as a state-wide issue.