Dorman, Fallin In Close Race

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A new poll shows gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman, a Democrat and a term-limited state representative, in a surprisingly tight election with incumbent Gov. Mary Fallin.

Rasmussen Reports shows Fallin leads Dorman by a remarkably thin 45 percent to 40 percent advantage. Eight percent of those polled are undecided. Seven percent favor independent candidates.

The prevailing wisdom among pundits and political observers has been that Fallin would easily coast to victory in Oklahoma’s current conservative political environment, but that narrative has now been shattered by the Rasmussen Poll and an earlier poll by SoonerPoll, which showed a steep drop in Fallin’s approval ratings.

It’s difficult not to see the polls, given the dramatic drop in support for Fallin, as a seismic shift in the governor’s race. It appears Fallin is vulnerable at least partially because of her support of controversial and outgoing State Schools Superintendent Janet Barresi, a hardline, high-stakes testing advocate. Barresi came in a lowly third in her recent primary reelection bid and is now serving out the remainder of her lame duck term.

Rasmussen Reports points out that Dorman’s main problem is his lack of name recognition throughout the state, but there’s still time to deal with that issue as he travels around Oklahoma. It’s also interesting to note that what some pundits consider Dorman’s greatest liability in Oklahoma—he shares the same party affiliation as President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular here—has not manifested itself in any particular manner so far. Dorman is a centrist Oklahoma Democrat in the tradition of former Gov. Brad Henry. One reading of the Rasmussen Reports poll—admittedly one favorable for Dorman—is that voters recognize this is a local election with local repercussions that has very little to do with Washington.

Have voters here simply become numb or indifferent to the Obama-bashing among state Republican leaders, such as Fallin and Attorney General Scott Pruitt? Has the bashing become stale, in particular, because Obama only has two years left in his last term as president? What’s going to be the point in bashing Obama, for example, once the 2016 presidential campaign gets underway?

The Dorman campaign has greeted the new polling with aggressiveness, specifically attacking Fallin on education issues. Meanwhile, the Fallin campaign, in a defensive posture, had to deny rumors that if reelected Fallin might appoint Barresi as Secretary of Education.

Fallin’s recent campaign style in her political career as a former U.S. Representative and now governor has been to use at least some extreme Tea Party rhetoric and stylistics. How will voters respond if she now softens her approach and tacks to the center in response to the new poll numbers? It could be problematic for her.

I think it’s fair and bipartisan to say that overall Oklahoma could benefit greatly by a close governor’s race because local policy and issues could ultimately decide it. Just fully discussing the issues—like funding for education—might help the state find solutions to some of its pressing problems.

Texas, Oklahoma Face Fracking Fears

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Could recent protests against the oil and gas drilling process known as fracking trickle up I-35 to Oklahoma from the north Texas city of Denton?

A group of anti-fracking protestors in Denton has forced the city council there to take their concerns seriously after a petition drive calling for a ban on the process collected about 2,000 signatures. The council recently voted 5 to 2 against issuing the fracking ban, but the fact such a vote was even taken in a Texas city—just north of Dallas—has the oil and gas industry paying attention.

Those opposed to fracking in the area argue it can create heath problems. Environmentalists have long contended that fracking leads to water contamination. Wastewater disposal wells used in the fracking process have been linked to earthquakes here in Oklahoma and elsewhere.

In the hydraulic fracturing or fracking process, chemicals and water are injected by high pressure into rock formations to release gas and oil. The wastewater from the process is then often stored in underground wastewater disposal injection wells.

In the Denton case, government officials had to weigh the rights of mineral owners in the Barnett Shale area against the health and pollution concerns of the wider public. In Oklahoma, the issue has seemingly become narrower. A dramatic surge in earthquakes over the last three years or so has been tied by scientists to disposal wells. A recent town hall in Edmond about the issue attracted several hundred people concerned about their property and safety. Some people have suggested the state place a moratorium on injection wells.

The larger point is that these protests against the fracking process are most likely to continue as the oil and gas boom continues here in Oklahoma, Texas and elsewhere. The oil and gas industry, for now, has no motivation to admit any culpability when things go wrong and no amount of scientific evidence will probably convince it to do things differently. It’s going to take coordinated grassroots protest movements like the one in Denton and the town hall in Edmond to change things.

Fallin Approval Drop Opens Opportunity For Dorman

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Gov. Mary Fallin’s large drop in her voter approval level opens up a real opportunity for her Democratic opponent Joe Dorman in the November election.

Until now, the prevailing wisdom has been that Fallin and her Republican colleagues are virtually invincible given the unpopularity of President Barack Obama and the supposed trickle-down effect on the Democratic ticket in Oklahoma.

But a recent poll, conducted by SoonerPoll for the Tulsa World, shows Fallin’s approval rating has dropped by 19 points from last September to early June. What especially bodes well for Dorman is that her approval rating among registered Democrats has dropped approximately 14 points, from 56 percent to 42 percent during this time frame. Obviously, Dorman has to win his own party substantially to become governor.

In a short article accompanying the poll results SoonerPoll’s Bill Shapard said that Fallin’s decline in approval could be because of her refusal to expand Medicaid here under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and “revolt against important elements of the governor’s education agenda.”

These arguments ring true, although Fallin’s support for controversial and outgoing State School Superintendent Janet Barresi and her actions is probably more of a factor in terms of swaying political opinion. The ACA, of course, known as ObamaCare, is the president’s signature legislature, and other Oklahoma politicians, such as Attorney General Scott Pruitt, have seemingly used their criticism of it to their political advantage. Is that changing?

Another argument is that many voters here are recognizing that the Republican-dominated government is not serving their interests by cutting pensions, disallowing cities from setting their own minimum wage and giving huge tax breaks to the oil and gas industry, which scientists now argue are causing the dramatic surge in earthquakes here with their drilling processes.

After the November election, Obama will have only two more years in office. Is it possible that some Oklahoma voters are simply resigned to this now and are becoming more focused on a local level? What is going to be the point of denigrating lame duck Obama over and over once the 2016 presidential campaign begins in earnest and there are new punching bags to work over.

Dorman should continue to link Fallin to Barresi’s draconian approach to high-stakes testing in the state and the botched A-F assessment of schools. Fallin supported these initiatives. There’s no reason to use attack language to show the connection, which is clear and on record. A measured plan to develop new education standards would probably work well right now against the Fallin-Barresi, schools-are-failing hyperbole.

I also believe the staggering increase in earthquakes in the state has become an election-year issue. (Oklahoma now leads the nation in the number of earthquakes.) A recent earthquake in Harrah, for example, caused damage to some buildings. Scientists have tied the earthquakes to wastewater disposal wells used in the oil and gas fracking processes. Is this an opportunity for Dorman as well? How can we reconcile the interests of property owners with sensible drilling regulations?

There’s no doubt that Dorman, much like former Gov. Brad Henry, is a centrist Democrat in an extremely conservative state. I didn’t agree with every Henry policy, but as the conservative juggernaut swept into office, the former governor gave the state political balance. Dorman can do the same, and now he has an opponent sinking in the polls.

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