OK Democrats Looking for Identity
Since statehood the Democratic Party ran Oklahoma, but you wouldn’t know that to look at the makeup of today’s government.
Since the 90s the Republicans have grabbed more and more control to where now they run the legislature and all statewide offices.
So, will Oklahoma always be a red state? Or do Democratic candidates really have a chance in 2012??
An early morning at the State Democratic Headquarters as 19-year-old Annastacia Langthorn gets busy rebuilding the party.
As the President of the Young Democrats of Oklahoma she spends her summer days away from college organizing for parades, sending out mail and delegating for caucuses.
She says it’s a hard sell for her friends who have never known a Sooner State where Republicans didn’t have a stronghold or registered with the GOP just because their parents did.
“It’s actually though more frustrating is progressive peers, democrat peers who refuse to be involved or refuse to be active because they do have this belief that we are only a red state and that we’ll always be a red state and their participation won’t mean anything.”
She says the hardest part about getting out the Democratic platform is having an effective message.
“Democrats bring a library book to a knife fight.”
She says it’s the inability to make so-called bumper sticker slogans that can compete with the Republican Party that’s affecting voters.
The State Election Board Secretary reports voters registering as Democrats has dropped to under 47% where 30 years ago it was more than 71%.
So, what is the real reason behind the major shift? Is it bumper stickers or something else? It seems everyone has a different answer.
Democratic strategist Kristopher Masterman says while all politics is local there’s been a shift from the national stage.
“With news organizations like fox news and then more recently supreme court decisions like citizens united that allow huge amounts of money that allow huge amounts of money from out of state to come influence very local politics.”
For Kurt Hochenaur who writes for the progressive blog Okie Funk it’s a negative image problem.
He says Oklahoman’s view of Democrats has been tainted by former Governors David Hall and David Walters, corrupt county commissioners and more recently officials like state auditor and inspector Jeff McMahan, insurance commissioner Carroll Fisher and state Senator Gene Stipe.
All were at least investigated for possible criminal activity.
“I don’t think that a lot of the democratic leadership takes that seriously. I don’t think they realize that there’s an image problem of corruption here that’s really tainted the Democratic Party.”
That’s not an unreasonable theory for political scientist Keith Gaddie, but he adds corruption doesn’t belong to just one party.
Gaddie believes to make any form of comeback; the Democratic Party has to create a viable opposition not just run as Republican-Lite.
“The main thing the democrats have to get back is this idea that they’re an Oklahoma Democrat, and that is something different that they have to sell, because the swing voter isn’t buying that argument anymore. Given the choice of the real republican and the fake republican, they’ll take the real one every time.”
Another former Democratic lawmaker Ryan Kiesel says the party needs to take a strong stand on issues like gay rights and women’s reproductive issues.
Kiesel says it took almost a hundred years for the Republicans to take over the state, and they did it by not just looking at the next election.
“Political leadership requires a vision for the future, not just two years out, not just four years out. If you look at the strategy that led to republican majorities in the house that began a long time ago.”
All agree the future of the Democratic Party lies with the younger generation.
People like Annastacia Langthorn who says despite the seemingly quixotic task before her, she’s in this for the long term.
“I think we’re definitely making strides. We’ve seen special elections where we’ve had success. I think that going into general election we’ve got some really good shots at different elections. I think there’s still work to be done.”
While Democrats have won a couple of special elections this year, many Republicans in the upcoming general election didn’t get any opponents at all except in their party primary.
Nine Republicans Senators are returning without having to run a reelection campaign, along with 45 members of the GOP in the House.