Recently on Okie Funk, I’ve lamented the dearth of serious Democratic candidates so far for major statewide offices in the 2014 election.
It’s shaping up to be another Republican sweep in 2014, except perhaps for the state Schools Superintendent race, which has drawn some solid Democratic interest.
So here’s an idea getting bandied about among some progressives: What if state Democrats opened up their primary and runoff elections to voters registered as Independents over the next two years?
Think that can’t happen? Well, I basically thought that, too, until someone brought to my attention a little-discussed or known statue in Oklahoma law that allows this to happen in odd-numbered years. Here’s the law:
The state chairman of the party shall, between November 1 and 30 of every oddnumbered year, notify the Secretary of the State Election Board as to whether or not the party intends to permit registered voters designated as Independents to vote in a Primary Election or Runoff Primary Election of the party. If the state chairman notifies the Secretary of the State Election Board of the party's intention to so permit, registered voters designated as Independents shall be permitted to vote in any Primary Election or Runoff Primary Election of the party held in the following two (2) calendar years. If the state chairman of one party notifies the Secretary of the State Election Board of the party's intent to so permit, the notification period specified in this paragraph shall be extended to December 15 for the state chairman of any other party to so notify or to change prior notification. A registered voter designated as Independent shall not be permitted to vote in a Primary Election or Runoff Primary Election of more than one party.
According to the law, all it takes is for the chairpersons of the Oklahoma Democratic Party or Oklahoma Republican Party to make this happen. If one party does allow Independents to vote in their elections, then the other party will be allowed the chance to do so as well. Independents could only vote in one party’s primary and runoff elections.
What Democrats could gain from such a move is to show Independent voters that they endorse a big-tent philosophy, which allows everyone to participate fully in elections. It also has the potential to create more votes for Democratic candidates in the general election as Independents get vested in certain candidates for whom they voted in the primary election.
Perhaps, most important, what else can Democrats do at this point to win statewide offices? This is an action the party could take to stir things up. If it adds up to nothing significant, then what have they lost? It’s only for two years, anyway. In 2015, the party could go back to the old system.
It would also force the Republican Party to consider doing the same thing. If the GOP did open up their primary elections to Independents, it might put pressure on well-funded incumbent candidates as their challengers sought out these new votes.
Of course, the downside to all this is that, at least theoretically, Independent votes could be used to sabotage the strongest candidates from each party in the primary, and that could include Democratic candidates. I’m unsure how that could be organized among a group of people that like to be known as independent, but non-statewide election races could conceivably be affected. The issue is whether the person elected in the primary would truly represent the views of the particular party, whatever they might be, especially when it comes to Democrats here.
Here’s some information about open primaries in the United States that outlines the constitutional arguments and other issues.
Opening their primary and runoff elections to Independents is at least an idea for Democrats. I think it deserves some discussion given the GOP dominance in the state right now, and we’re getting close to November when a decision would have to be made.
According to the Oklahoma Election Board, there are 962,072 registered Democrats, 897,663 registered Republicans and 256,450 registered Independents. That comes to around 2.1 million voters. Some political pundits speculate that Republicans will eventually surpass Democrats in voter registration and that Independent registrations will continue to grow, but that could change.
The fact that no prominent politician on the left has yet to step up to run against Gov. Mary Fallin in the 2014 election shows the somewhat precarious state of the Democratic Party in Oklahoma these day.
There’s no one Democrat or one segment of the party to necessarily blame for the circumstance. What I referred to as the “Obama effect” back in 2009 still applies today. President Barack Obama is wildly unpopular here, especially now because of misinformation and fear mongering doled out daily about the Affordable Care Act by Republican politicians and the conservative media here. It’s difficult for any Democrat to run for a statewide office given the party association with the president.
Republicans captured every statewide office in 2010 and remain on target to do so again in 2014. The GOP has super majorities in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Senate. The state’s entire Congressional delegation is now Republican. There’s been some interest among Democrats in the State Schools Superintendent race, but that just shows how irrelevant Democrats have become in a state where they once ruled supreme. Maybe Democrats have a shot at State Schools Superintendent. Maybe not.
For years now, some people have claimed that Democrats don’t have a message or a brand that resonates with voters, but that seems too simple. It’s just basically true that low-informed voters, manipulated by crafty GOP politicians and the conservative noise machine, have been seduced into voting against their own economic interests for visceral reasons related to wedge issues, such as abortion or prayer in school. This will not change anytime soon. When you look at Oklahoma’s low college graduate rate and the sheer size of the myopic religious right here, the picture becomes clearer and more depressing.
In other words, it’s not something that a Democratic political operative or party official can do much about. I’ve been guilty of it in the past, but I think it’s unfair to blame the state Democratic Party for the situation. Who in the world would want to run against Fallin given her approval rating, name recognition and campaign money? No amount of messaging or branding is going to make that reality go away.
Fallin, the state’s first female governor, announced her reelection bid last week at stops throughout the state, but there was no opponent to challenge her statements about what a great job she’s done for the state during her first term. Patrick, over at the popular The Lost Ogle blog, probably said it best:
. . . [Fallin] could cuss out Andrew Speno, dye her hair pink and get caught doing coke with Wayne Coyne in the Blue Note bathroom and still coast to an easy victory.
A conservative friend once told me a few years ago that the GOP will control Oklahoma politics for at least a generation. Political realities can change quickly under pressing circumstances, but I’ve come to accept the fact that this is a long-term issue and that there’s no magic candidate or message that can immediately change things on the state level here in Oklahoma. Democrats need to continue fighting, of course, but to say it’s a discouraging situation is, well, an understatement.
R.J. Harris, who describes himself as a Libertarian Democrat, has indicated he will run for governor, but is he really a serious candidate? Can he raise millions of dollars in campaign money to match Fallin? How do his political stances contrast with mainstream Democratic political views?
Progressives CAN make a difference, however, in local elections. For example, local physician and Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid is running for mayor on a platform that includes improving public transportation, making neighborhoods safer, citizen equality and government transparency, issues that progressives can absolutely support. We can continue to move our specific communities forward even as the conservative juggernaut continues unabated on a state level.
U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn’s vote against opening the government and raising the country debt limit is yet another example of his crass, bifurcated political style.
In an extremely bipartisan vote, the U.S. Senate voted 81-18 Wednesday to fund the government through Jan. 15 and raise the debt ceiling through Feb. 7. This came after a 16-day government shutdown.
Coburn was one of the 18 who voted against it, which might not seem unusual, unless you consider all his previous public statements railing against the Republican strategy to hold the government hostage in order to defund the Affordable Care Act. Coburn called that GOP strategy “intellectually dishonest.”
“But to create the impression that we can defund ObamaCare when the only thing we control — and barely — is the U.S. House of Representatives is not intellectually honest,” Coburn said on MSNBC days before the vote.
That statement seems reasonable enough coming from a politician who recently said, in perhaps a less lucid moment, that President Barack Obama was “getting perilously close” to impeachment, which was a bizarre, untruthful claim.
But when the time came to vote on the funding bill, Coburn chose to keep the government closed and destroy the nation’s economy. Fortunately, there were more than enough Senators who actually agreed with Coburn’s statements about the awful, senseless Republican strategy in the first place.
So, in other words, Coburn tries to have it both ways. On one hand, he seems like a rational moderate by opposing fringe elements in his party. On the other hand, he votes in unison with that fringe element. He gets away with it because the corporate media here won’t hold him accountable to his obvious contradiction.
Here was Coburn’s statement after his vote:
Washington doesn’t need short-term budget and debt limit extensions as much as we need a long-term spending addiction recovery plan. The American people should do what any responsible parent would do if their adolescent child couldn't handle the responsibility of a credit card. We should cut up the credit card and live within our means. With this agreement, the hard decisions we have to make have only been put off for another day, when our fiscal problems will be bigger and more painful to solve. It’s time to make tough choices now.
These are standard, hollow GOP talking points. Coburn, who claims for now that he’s not going to run for reelection in 2016, is simply appeasing his ill-informed base of supporters, which he purposely enrages with misinformation and presidential impeachment suggestions. It should make people wonder if he actually IS going to run for reelection.
U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe was unable to vote on Wednesday because he’s recovering from major heart surgery, but it’s a good bet he would have voted along with Coburn to keep the government closed and ruin the country’s credit by not raising the debt ceiling.
U.S. Rep. Tom Cole was the only politician in Oklahoma’s Congressional delegation that had the decency and common sense to stand up to the Tea Party radicals and vote in favor of the bill. Cole also stayed consistent with his earlier remarks criticizing the GOP strategy, which ultimately cost the country’s economy an estimated $24 billion.
But let’s get back to Coburn. As I’ve written again and again, Coburn likes to present himself as a dignified statesman championing government fiscal responsibility, but his actions often expose him as a Republican extremist and political opportunist. His vote to inflict further damage on the nation’s economy for what seems to be obvious personal political gain is yet another example of that.