Prominent Democrats with clear name recognition have yet to announce candidacies for major statewide offices, such as governor. People involved in our political scene point to the negative impact President Barack Obama’s sheer existence will have on his same-party candidates in Oklahoma. The GOP here has demonized the president to the point of absurdity, but it’s working as an election strategy.
Republicans control every statewide office. The state’s entire congressional delegation and its two U.S. senators, Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe, are Republicans. The GOP has supermajorities in both the Oklahoma House of Representatives and the Senate.
It’s a dilemma for Democrats, but it can be even more frustrating for die-hard progressives here, whether they align themselves with the official party apparatus or not.
So what are Oklahoma progressives to do? Obviously, they need to take care of those seats in the Legislature that have traditionally belonged to their candidates. That should be easy to do, but it’s not necessarily a given. They also should urge prominent progressives to run for office and support mainstream Democrats or even liberal independents.
But there are other actions liberals can take. One is to shift their political focus to local elections on the city, county and school district levels throughout the Oklahoma City area. Too often, in the heat of cantankerous political debate, people forget how daily lives are far more impacted by issues like trash collection or fire protection than the latest conservative outrage going on at the state Capitol. Local elections are often met with political apathy.
In their book, The Metropolitan Revolution, Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley argue for the political significance of major cities when contrasted with the political gridlock in Washington. The thesis is simple: Many cities across the country are getting things done to improve their citizens’ quality of life. That’s where the political action is now.
Oklahoma City and its suburban communities are inextricably linked in this political dynamic in a way that can render the view of the latest dogmatic state legislator irrelevant. By acting locally, liberals can help shape their communities in lasting, progressive ways. Let the conservatives at the Capitol rage against Obamacare; there’s meaningful work to be done in local communities.
Another, perhaps more controversial, suggestion is for Democrats to consider embracing registered independents in their primary and runoff elections, which is allowed under Oklahoma’s election statutes. Welcoming more people into the political process could be beneficial in the long run. It also could create more votes for Democrats in general elections. Take care of safe legislative seats. Act locally on a political level. Open the Democratic tent to independents. It’s not a panacea for liberals, but it’s a strategy.
Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and a political writer.