Gains and Losses: A Reflection on the 2018 Oklahoma Midterm Election

by Lani Habrock, Government Affairs DirectorNov 15, 2018

This morning Oklahoma’s newly elected State Representatives all met up at the capitol to take an oath of office, promising to uphold Oklahoma’s Constitution and values. For many, the past few months have been arduous, as the journey to successful election is not a passive one.

Two narratives dominate the retelling of last week’s midterm elections.

One applauds Oklahoma’s steps toward diversity. With only 21 women elected, our current legislature sits at 49th in the nation in female representation. Post-midterm however, women gained 12 seats! Out of the 33 women going into next year’s 57th legislature, 17 are Republican (out of 108 total Republicans elected) and 16 are Democrat (out of 33 total Democrats elected).

It is also exciting to see diversity in backgrounds entering the capitol. After the teacher walkout, we saw an inspiring influx of teacher candidates. 19 newly-elected candidates come with strong ties to education. Two of these, John Waldron (D- House District 77) and Carri Hicks (D- Senate District 40) ran on platforms advocating the need to prioritize Oklahoma’s future by funding education.

However, this was not a winning message for all.

Many teachers ran, but failed to gain a seat at the table. One race in which this is particularly true was the fight for House District 12. During the teacher walkout, Republican incumbent Kevin McDugle, controversially criticized the protest by saying he wouldn’t “vote for another stinkin’ measure when they [teachers and walkout participants] are acting the way they are acting”. His opponent, Cyndi Ralston (D) gained internet fame when George Takei and several national news sources picked up on the story sending her campaign viral. However, the rural district, located just east of Tulsa, did not ride the teacher tide and instead reelected incumbent Kevin McDugle.

Which brings us to the second narrative of what happened November 6.

The Age-Old Rural V. Urban Clash Continues.

Although we experienced an incursion of fresh blood and inklings toward diversity, we also saw a deepening of partisanship with rural Oklahoma shading itself a deeper red and urban Oklahoma painting with hues of blue. A map of the gubernatorial vote by county clearly shows this trend.

Although Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Drew Edmonson, gained 42% of the vote, he only won a majority in 4 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties.

This election cycle we saw rural counties vote mostly Republican and urban counties voted mostly Democratic. However, a closer look can give us hope for consensus. Many hardline members, both Republican and Democrat, of the legislature were ousted.

Republicans, especially those opposing teacher pay raises, suffered during the primary. We saw Republican staples, such as Senator Ervin Yen and Representative Greg Babinec lose their primaries to disgruntled contenders.

While Democrats suffered more in the general election, losing a total of 7 House seats while only managing to flip 4 House seats and 1 Senate seat from Republican to Democratic control.

Although Republicans will now have an even larger supermajority in both chambers, both parties are optimistic, hoping the incoming freshmen legislators will be more willing than their previous counterparts to work across the aisle.

A Look Ahead to Activism, Engagement, and the 2020 Elections

With a brand new legislature and a presidential election on the horizon now is the perfect time to engage with our elected officials. Having a personal relationship with your representatives has a lot of influence over how they view and vote on issues. A handful of constituents, especially on the state and local level, can be far more powerful than any experienced lobbyist.

CAIR Oklahoma will continue to work across the aisle advocating for well-funded core services and schools, minorities and the Muslim community. However, your participation in the political process is what gives us our power. Without you, our voice can only reach so far. This coming year we will host another Muslim Day at the Capitol. This is an opportunity for you to meet your legislators, learn how to further get involved, and to be the face of Islam at the capitol.

Bigotry and Islamophobia are rooted in ignorance. The greatest most impactful thing we can do as a community to both advance social good and fight discrimination is to show up. Let your legislators be unable to say they do not know a Muslim. Let them not be able to fall back on misguided stereotypes about our community in their decision-making.

The culture of a society is not reformed by sweeping bold strokes of legislation or by the election of one powerful figure. Progress is made through changing hearts, one neighbor at a time. Our legislature is made up of people. People with their own biases and beliefs. Though our community is small, we are powerful when we show up and keep showing up.