Oklahoma is in desperate need of some people who know the difference between good public policy and a kick in the head. That’s why we have so many active races for the Legislature, including 13 run-off elections in which many of you can vote tomorrow.
Over the last few months, I’ve seen different friends go back and forth about a person’s civic obligation to vote. I feel strongly that everybody should be as well-informed as possible and show up on election day. That means, of course, that many of you are going to show up and cancel out my selections. That’s fine too. I can live with not getting my way all the time.
It’s also fair to say that I’m more passionate about some races than others. In 2014, I put a lot of effort into writing about why we needed a new State Superintendent. I didn’t pay attention to the Legislature that much. I didn’t even chime in on the governor’s race until late, not that I think my thoughts there made much difference.
I believe one reason many people stay away from the polls is because there are just so many races. In how many have you really researched the history and positions of the candidates? You can look at party registration, but if you’re like me, sometimes it doesn’t matter. I regularly vote for Democrats and Republicans, and I often wish for more choices than that. Few people I know are straight-party voters, or so they say.
In general, I’m looking for people who support public schools. I want to know that the candidates I choose understand that there’s nothing conservative about gutting state services to the point that roads and bridges crumble and schools have to lay off thousands of teachers.
And to be clear, there’s a good chance that if you say things like this…
For years now we have been taught wrong. Our schools teach atheism and call it science. We are taught a revisionist view of American history, erasing our rich Christian heritage. We’re told that Christians don’t belong in the culture.
…then I won’t vote for you. Come to think of it, I hope most Oklahomans – especially public school teachers – wouldn’t vote for somebody with that mindset. It shows ignorance and a complete disrespect for what we do in our schools.
Other than the Blair race, the one that really interests me is one in Tulsa County, SD 25, featuring Lisa Kramer and Joe Newhouse. I can’t find anything damning about Newhouse, and Kramer as said she’d be willing to listen to a voucher proposal if public schools were fully funded (and the vouchers included some real accountability). It’s become one of the nastiest contests in the state, though.
In the end, it’s a sitting school board member who also happens to be an accountant and who hasn’t taken dark money from shady pro-voucher groups. As my friend at Blue Cereal Education put it:
Consider the value of having at least one person in state government who knows how math works, or who may just be old-school enough to think her job is to fix problems and serve constituents rather than cater to entrenched power – even if that power currently resides in the darkest recesses of her own party.
Her party, by the way, controls the House, the Senate, and all statewide elected positions in Oklahoma. In spite of what they insist, they can’t put their heads together and raise teacher salaries. No, the best they can do is pass a bill that makes all of us get lovely new license plates based on a drawing that somebody left on the butcher paper at a mall Garfield’s back in the mid 1990s.
This was a way for the state to raise revenue without raising taxes, since – and again, in spite of one party controlling every major office of the government – they don’t have the votes to do it any other way.
This is what I’m talking about. We get the government we deserve because we don’t get more involved when these people are running.
Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting with a reporter from Education Week who came to Oklahoma to talk about the teachers running for the legislature. He met with a few candidates, as well as some of my fellow activists. What I noticed is how our little movement here is not the only one nationally. The reporter summed up our collective influence, though:
When legislators earlier this year tried to pass through a bill that would expand the use of taxpayer funded vouchers, the group flooded their inboxes and lobbied them on Twitter under the hashtag #oklaed. Despite a robo call from Gov. Fallin to voters in support of the bill, it failed.
“What we’ve seen is a strong bipartisan movement in favor in public education. And the voices have been heard by legislators,” said David Blatt, the executive director of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a Tulsa-based bipartisan think tank.
No matter what happens tomorrow and in November, #oklaed has made a difference already this year. The magnitude of our impact is still to be determined. The number of educators and concerned parents who get to the polls will determine how strong it is.
Two years ago, I made a list of the top 20 reasons to vote for anybody else other than Janet Barresi for state superintendent. At the end of the list, I also had a sizeable honorable mention list. We have two days left and I’m down to my top three reasons to vote for pro-public education candidates. I had better pick up the pace.
10. One person can’t fix bad education policy alone.
9. The people who hate us still hate us.
8. I’m tired of saying “only.”
7. This matters more than Trump vs. Clinton.
6. What if the Veep thing really happens?
5. We are the Blob. We must protect the Penny.
4. Paul Blair would make us miss Clark Jolley.
3. Janet Barresi and her friends won’t go away.
In August 2014, the Oklahoma Federation for Children supported six candidates in run-off elections for legislative seats. They won all six. From their press release:
Washington, D.C. (August 26, 2014) – The Oklahoma Federation for Children celebrated the results of tonight’s run-off election, as parents responded overwhelmingly in support of educational choice candidates. All six of the Oklahoma Federation for Children Action Fund supported candidates were successful and strongly believe in empowering parents through educational choice. The most closely watched race was between Melissa Abdo and Chuck Strohm. Abdo, the front runner and an unapologetic opponent of educational choice, was upset by pro-educational choice candidate Chuck Strohm.
The group is still involved in our legislative races. Here is a letter they sent to candidates in April:
The name at the bottom should sound familiar to you. Maybe this will help:
The one on the left is Jennifer Carter. The one on the right, of course, is Janet Barresi. Carter was Barresi’s campaign manager in 2010. She was Barresi’s first chief of staff. She has referred to a group of superintendents as “dirtbags,” and her husband writes editorials for the Oklahoman.
Here are a couple of attack ads by their group aimed at candidates in this year’s races:
The people out there who just hate public education because they think we’re indoctrinating the kids have always been there. They always will be. Then you have the Barresi crowd. They love to perpetuate the belief that schools are failing. They more they say it, the more their corporate partners can swoop in and take something.
They want vouchers. They want for-profit charter schools (which, for the most part, are different than the ones we have now). They want to label as many things as they can and create a system of winners and losers.
And they’re not the only ones. According to Oklahoma Watch, dark money is rampant in this year’s primaries:
Independent groups that seek to influence elections have spent more than $300,000 over the past five weeks on Oklahoma’s legislative and congressional primary contests.
Since May 19, $300,716 in independent expenditures have been made to influence results in Tuesday’s election, Oklahoma Ethics Commission and Federal Election Commission filings show.
Of the four groups that have made independent expenditures on legislative primary races, an obscure nonprofit called Catalyst Oklahoma spent the most.
The organization, formed in October 2013, has spent $89,120 on advertisements, videos and phone calls in support of three Republican legislative candidates. This includes $17,500 in support of Bob Jack in Senate District 25, $32,500 in support of Julie Daniels in Senate District 29, $10,000 in support of Miguel Najera in the Senate District 21 and $29,120 in support of Tim Downing in House District 42.
The group is registered with the IRS as a 501(c)(4) social-welfare nonprofit and it identifies in its federal filings as a “nonpartisan organization dedicated to the promotion of pro-growth public polices based on the free market principles that are the foundation of a long-term vibrant economy for Oklahoma.”
Charles Sublett of Tulsa, a member of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs’ board of trustees, is listed as the president of the group. The organization’s 2014 tax return also names OCPA, a conservative think tank, as a “related tax-exempt organization.”
The tax form lists four contributors who have given $1.35 million, including one who gave $1.15 million, but the names have been redacted.
Well that’s lovely. Apparently OCPA has yet another tentacle (they might want to get that thing checked out). And they get to launder donations from millionaires, while the rest of us have to observe campaign donation limits. Different income strata, different rules I guess.
Politics has long been about money and about paying no attention to the person behind the curtain.I think we’re all used to it. That doesn’t excuse us from trying to educate ourselves.
For the record, one candidate opposed by both of these groups is Lisa Kramer in Senate District 25. The Tulsa World just endorsed her today:
Kramer is a rational conservative. She isn’t an ideologue determined to fight a social war in Oklahoma City. Rather, she’s a CPA and a mother who has been on the front line of trying to save public education and understands the state isn’t pulling its share of the load.
She favors prison reform, opposes vouchers, understands the role of charter schools and is willing to look at a variety of ideas — from reforming the way tax credits are distributed to how we fund health care — on the basis of what would be best of the state.
I love those words: rational conservative. Those are people I can get along with beautifully. Those are the candidates who put their constituents above their party. I guess that’s why Barresi and the OCPA oppose them.