Moving the GOP Further to the Right
Is the reddest state in the union getting redder? Could conservative Oklahoma be getting too conservative?
Oklahoma incumbent Republicans are facing serious challengers from the far right in the party which could be moving the discussion away from the center.
Incumbent candidate and a few challengers mingle through the crowds at a recent Oklahoma City Republican Women’s forum looking to garner votes.
Though Oklahoma has long voted Republican in presidential elections, locally the political pendulum has been swinging fast.
Less than 10 years ago, Democrats had the majority in both houses of the legislature.
Today, the Republicans have a commanding majority 100 seats in the legislature, compared to just 55 for the Democrats.
It’s a commanding majority, but with the rise of the tea party, some Republican voters became concerned the conservatives in office weren’t conservative enough.
And, that has resulted in some particularly nasty Republican primaries.
Steve Byus compiles the Oklahoma conservative index every year based upon how lawmakers vote.
He says the crowded Republican primaries are just a result of today’s conservative political winds.
“If they’d been running 40 years ago they would have had a “D” by their name. It’s not because they’re liberal it’s just because they would run whatever was the political party vehicle that would get them into office.”
But, there are some who raise concerns about Oklahoma moving too far to the right.
UCO Political Science Chair Lou Furmanski says nationally the Tea Party is pushing the GOP further to the right which could backfire and label the party as extremist much as the far left did to the Democrats in the 60s and 70s.
“The American public has been sort of more center right than center left so maybe they don’t risk as much as the Democratic Party did in the 1960s and 70s but if the economic conditions continue to stagnate who knows.”
Furmanski says social conservative issues might have run their course nationally as they risk alienating moderate voters in the general election.
Republican strategist Pat McFerron says some may also affect candidates’ ability to raise money from Oklahoma business conservatives.
“Open carry, fetal tissue research, these types of things are issues where it makes it more difficult for the Republican coalition to stay together, but successful politicians navigate those waters and are able to keep everybody under the tent.”
McFerron says polling shows while Oklahomans identifying themselves as conservatives has remained at 70% since the 70s those identified as strongly conservative increased over the past three decades.
But, he says that number has started to decline since 2008.
There’s also division on the fiscal conservative side, some Republicans are starting to get criticism from groups like the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs who want to see more cuts in government spending.
President Michael Carnuccio says the problem stems from elected officials who reach leadership in a majority and stop being fiscally conservative.
“The way government operates is very different from conservative principle, so you take someone that is extremely conservative and put them in leadership or you take someone that is extremely progressive and you put them in leadership and government tens to operate in the best interest of government.”
Republicans hold the keys at the Oklahoma State Capitol, but managing all of those different camps makes GOP Chairman Matt Pinnell’s job challenging.
“Something that I’ve had to spend a little more time as a chairman to make sure that we’re as clean as we are, play clean in the primary, go out there and support who you want in the primary that’s fine but we’ve go to get together holding hands going into November.”
Chairman Pinnell admits simple anti-establishment voters could also be the reason there’s such a strong opposition to some incumbents.
But, OKC Republican Women President Evelyn McCoy says she thinks Republicans will come back together in time for the November elections
“Most of them have similar beliefs that I have and are conservative. I think we have like very few differences on the platforms that we differ.”
Only time will tell how far the pendulum will swing to the right.
The conservative index has always been released in print just before the primaries, but this year the voting happens a month earlier.
So, Byus says it will be released online only the week before the primary on June 26th.