NORMAN — Tuesday night, two state legislative seats formerly held by Republicans were won by Democrats in special elections. That's either the start of a fundamental change in state politics or a blip on the political radar, depending on who you talk to.
NORMAN — Tuesday night, two state legislative seats formerly held by Republicans were won by Democrats in special elections.
That’s either the start of a fundamental change in state politics or a blip on the political radar, depending on who you talk to.
Michael Brooks-Jimenez defeated Joe Griffin 1,975 votes to 1,644 (54.57 to 45.43 percent) for Senate District 44, the seat vacated by Republican Ralph Shortey after he was charged with three counts related to prostitution. Karen Gaddis beat Tressa Nunley for House District 75, 1,072 votes to 977 (52.32 to 47.68 percent). Former Rep. Dan Kirby resigned from HD 75 amid sexual harassment allegations.
“It’s a good sign for the Democratic Party,” Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Anna Langthorn said. “When Oklahomans have an opportunity to know the issues and get to know the candidates, and aren’t distracted by the background noise of national politics, they vote for Democrats. They vote for good health care, good schools, good infrastructure — what we’re fighting for as a party.”
OK GOP Chairman Pam Pollard disagreed, saying the low voter turnout and money spent by Democrats, not policy decisions, were behind the flips.
“We think this is an anomaly with the extremely low voter turnout, the tremendous amount of dollars spent on some of these races — Republicans were outspent 3-to-1 — and the fact that both of the Democrat candidates had run before in the last general election,” she said. “Special elections are different; they always are. This year, people are campaigned out, and the races were held during the summer when people are taking time off to be with their families.”
Pollard said the OK GOP would be very proactive in the race for Norman’s House District 46. Darin Chambers won the Republican primary for the seat Tuesday night over two opponents and will face Democrat Jacob Rosecrants in the fall. Rosecrants ran against former Rep. Scott Martin in 2016.
Martin, who won his sixth and final term that year, resigned after the 2017 legislative session to serve as CEO and president of the Norman Chamber of Commerce.
“We are going to be very proactive, the state and Cleveland County Republic Party are going to be very proactive in that race,” Pollard said. “Rep. Martin is a good man, now he’s leading the Chamber, and I think his reputation will be carrying good will for Republicans into that district. We’re going to be doing everything we can to turn the voters out and educate them on the importance of a general election.”
Chambers agreed with Pollard’s assertion the seat flips were an anomaly.
“HD 46 is and will continue to be conservative, and a special election won’t change that fact,” he said.
There will be a total of seven special elections this year, as seven Republicans are no longer in the legislature due to a variety of reasons, from Shortey’s arrest, to Kyle Loveless’ admission he used campaign funds for private use, to the death of David Brumbaugh.
“There have been six Republicans who have resigned this year. Two of them had major scandals, and the rest of them, including Scott Martin, failed to uphold their oath,” Langthorn said. “Congratulations on them getting a new job, but when you run for office and you get sworn in, you make an oath to serve your district for the next two years.
“Unless you have a crisis, you’re not supposed to leave, because then all those districts don’t have representation for a period of time, and that’s not how our representative democracy works.”
Pollard said there have historically been special elections in Oklahoma, and what the party is hearing “on the doorsteps” is a focus on the future, not the past. She said the OK GOP is planning to launch an “Oklahoma Solutions” program to elicit feedback state voters on prioritizing state issues and generating possible solutions.
A point of contention during the SD 44 race, according to both Langthorn and State Senate Minority Leader John Sparks, were negative campaign ads attacking Brooks-Jimenez for his Hispanic heritage, his support of Muslim-Americans and his job as a defense attorney.
“The election results repudiate these bigoted attacks on Brooks-Jimenez,” Sparks said.
Langthorn added the tactics weren’t surprising, because the “GOP and its candidates have relied on bigotry and hatred to motivate their base, rather than connecting with people to talk about issues.”
Pollard said she hadn’t seen the ads but said those types of attacks are not what the Republican Party is interested in.
Candidates need to campaign on what they can do for their constituents,” she said.
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