Many of us have watched as Oklahoma voters changed from Democrats who voted Republican in Presidential races to Republicans who vote Republican in every race.
While others watched, Drew Edmondson lived it.
Edmondson is a Democrat who served as Oklahoma Attorney General from 1996-2011. Now he is fighting an uphill battle against a right-wing businessman who didn’t even bother to vote for governor for 20 years. Kevin Stitt has blamed his job and family for not allowing him time to vote, but if you check out his family photos, about half of his kids have been born while Mary Fallin was in office. He should have had time to vote before that, right? He did have the time while running his business and raising a half dozen kids to donate to and vote for President Trump in 2016 so maybe being busy wasn’t the only speed bump.
One candidate is a public servant who has a plan to work with a legislature that will be comprised of mostly brand new members. The other is the popular new “wealthy outsider” candidate who doesn’t believe in vaccinations for preventable diseases and wants to continue the work Mary Fallin has done to create a state with hospitals closing and teacher walkouts in the state’s education system.
It shouldn’t even be a close race, but Stitt leads in most recent polls, even though his projected margin is small and about 10 percent of the people taking most polls say they are still undecided. The website www.fivethirtyeight.com gives Stitt an 80 percent chance of winning based on poll aggregation.
Oklahoma has become so Republican red that voters would nominate and probably elect a man who has spent zero days governing and has promised to continue the policies that caused the self-inflicted wounds still plaguing the state.
I would never hire someone to work at my newspaper who had no experience or even interest in the news, but voters are willing to risk the fiscal and ethical stature of the state and nation taking those risks. It’s uncanny the logic that has to be applied to decide that someone with no working knowledge is the best person for the job.
It wasn’t always this way.
When Edmondson was first elected, Democrats were the majority party. By the time he left office, the trend was obvious. Now Republicans own a majority of voter registrations.
In 1996, Democrats made up 61 percent of the registered voters in Oklahoma. There were about 1.1 million Democrat voters then out of 1.8 million total. In 2017, there were 2.16 million total voters but only 850,000 were Democrats. Republicans have grown from 625,000 to 990,000 in the same period.
But the strangest thing in Oklahoma voting statistics is the number of independent and third party registrations that have been recorded over the past 20 years despite the fact that Oklahoma has closed primaries. In 1996, the total was about 85,000 and by 2017 more than 320,000 people were listed in third parties or as independents.
Democrats will let other parties and Independents vote in their primaries so I guess those people are Democrats for Primary voting purposes but I doubt many of them fall in line with party platforms.
The percentages are different but the trends remain for Pottawatomie County and for more urban Oklahoma County. Edmondson understands that this is an issue for his campaign but he said he knew that when he signed up to run.
“I served as Attorney General for 16 years,” Edmondson said this week. “Eight were under a Democrat governor. Eight were under a Republican. I understand how to work with both parties.”
Edmondson said the shift in party affiliation has demonstrated a willingness for voters to align with the Republican party. But he sees the 2018 election as a chance for a Democrat to win because many of the Republicans he has campaigned and worked with are less ideological or partisan and more willing to solve problems.
He points to the teacher pay raise last session – Edmonson supported it, Stitt opposed it because he didn’t like how it was funded – as an example of the legislature being more willing to work on good ideas instead of Republican or Democratic ideas.
“I have some good ideas,” Edmondson said. “But I don’t hold a monopoly on good ideas and I will work with anyone from any party if it means making the state better.”
Stitt is bringing out the big guns with endorsements from Donald Trump and a visit this week by Vice President Mike Pence because he knows that many registered Republicans are willing to consider a vote for the opposing party if there is a good candidate. Edmondson and Stitt couldn’t be more different.
Voters have a real choice. It will be interesting to see if party affiliation wins the day or if red voters are willing to check a blue box because they prefer that candidate.