The people haven’t spoken, but they are starting to whisper.
Voters in Oklahoma are sending messages. If Republicans in the state aren’t seeing them, they aren’t paying attention.
In four of the last five special elections, Democrats have won new seats in the state legislature.
At one time, that was just Oklahoma politics. While the state has always supported Republican candidates for President, local politics used to be run by Democrats. When I first started in journalism, about two-thirds of the residents in Grady County were registered Democrats. There hadn’t even been a Republican run for county office in decades.
That was 25 years ago and a lot can happen in a quarter of a century. Now the registration numbers and party affiliation of county officers have flipped the other direction.
That story has played out across the state for the past couple of decades and Oklahoma is among the reddest states in the nation. The GOP still has a supermajority in both houses of the legislature and Mary Fallin in the Governor’s office.
But voters are starting to signal their displeasure with how things are going under the dome in Oklahoma City.
Sex scandals have created a handful of open seats. A couple more Republican lawmakers have decided to step away for personal reasons. Education funding seems to be an issue that is troubling to voters from both parties and the messaging used by House Speaker Charles McCall and others in the legislative leadership team from the far right side of the party isn’t doing the GOP any favors with voters.
They still have control, but warning sirens are going off that their grip on the state’s political steering wheel could be slipping.
In 2018, a new Governor will be elected. This is no time for a party to push voters to a breaking point, but that is the path they are on. Even as the GOP was losing a fourth seat in a special election this week, another Republican legislator was resigning due to sexual misconduct and a former aide in the Governor’s office was charged with destroying evidence related to allegations that he was taking upskirt photographs while a woman testified in a committee meeting.
I don’t know what is in the water in the GOP Caucus room, but somebody better change the filter.
The news isn’t all cataclysmic for Republicans.
They have lost four out of five seats and the embarrassing hits have kept coming since the session ended and before Gov. Fallin has to call a special session to fix some obviously unconstitutional revenue issues that made it through in May.
However, the losses have all been in special elections. As much as the Democrats will celebrate the wins, special elections with a few thousand voters heading to the polls tend to skew toward atypical results. Why do you think schools run bond issues when they are the only issue on the ballot? Voter apathy can be your friend.
These new Democrats will have an advantage in being incumbents next time around, but when the normal group of voters heads to the polls, those results could be a lot different.
In order to make the results different in 2018, the Republicans have to show that they can govern as well as they campaign. It’s nice that you got elected, but if you can’t deliver the kinds of policies that improve the state and stop the constant talk of budget cuts and revenue holes, voters will continue to look for options in other areas.
Those results have to start coming in a couple of weeks during the special session and continue into the 2018 legislative session.
The voters have fired warning shots. If the Republicans aren’t smart enough to duck, they’ll have no one to blame when they lose their legislative advantages in one of America’s reddest states.