Monday, November 17, 2014
It started in Stephens County on November 7, 2006!
Weekly Opinion Editorial
IT STARTED IN STEPHENS COUNTY!
by Steve Fair
On Tuesday, newly elected Oklahoma state legislators were sworn into office. The 2015 state legislature will be made up of 40 Republicans and 8 Democrats in the Senate and 72 Republicans and 29 Democrats in the House. That is amazing, especially if you consider that just 8 years ago the State Senate had 24 of each Party, and the House was 57, Rs and 44 Ds. On Monday night, Senator Anthony Sykes, (R-Moore) called to thank me for helping him get elected the first time. “You are the reason I was sworn in the first time,” Sykes said. That was a kind thing to say, but the truth is the reason was more involved than that.
Election night 2006, Republicans weren’t faring very well across Oklahoma or the country. Oklahoma’s incumbent Governor Brad Henry cruised to victory with over 60% of the vote, Jari Askins won a close race for Lt. Governor over former Speaker of the House Todd Hiett, and Lloyd Fields beat incumbent Labor Commissioner Brenda Reneau by less than 3,000 votes statewide. When the dust had settled, Democrats had won eight of the nine statewide races in Oklahoma. Nationally the Democrats picked up 6 seats in the Senate and 31 seats in the U.S. House. Congressman Tom Cole called the 2006 midterms, ‘a Democrat tsunami.’
In 2006, only three seats were picked up in the Oklahoma legislature- one in the Senate and two in the State House. Two were in tiny Stephens County, Oklahoma where Republicans were less than 30% of the registered voters. Anthony Sykes beat an incumbent state Senator and Dennis Johnson won an open seat for state House. In Muskogee County, George Faught won an open seat. Outside of Stephens County, Republicans in Oklahoma had little to celebrate.
Oklahoma is considered the reddest of the red states, because Oklahoma is the only state in America where every county in the state has voted for the Republican nominee for President the last three elections- 2004, 2008, 2012. Every statewide elected official is a Republican. Republicans have overwhelming majorities in the state legislature. Republicans are winning at the local level and dominated the 2014 election cycle, statewide, legislatively, and locally.
Interestingly, the growth of the Republican Party in Oklahoma hasn’t been in the large population centers in the state. In Oklahoma County and Tulsa County, voter affiliation percentage for Republicans is about the same as it was in 2006. The growth of the Republican Party in Oklahoma has been the smaller rural counties. In 2006, Republicans were the dominate Party in just nineteen counties, in 2014, it is 27 counties. Several other rural counties are rapidly trending Republican. But where did it start?
It all started in 2006 in Stephens County when two very qualified candidates for state legislature ran for office against incredible odds and won. They won because they worked hard, engaged voters and had great campaign teams helping them. They won because their volunteers were more concerned with changing their government than just changing who represented them. It wasn’t about the personalities- it was about the cause. These dedicated Republicans knocked doors, put out signs, made calls and encouraged their friends and neighbors to vote and on November 7th, Sykes and Johnson were elected. Sykes election knotted up the state Senate 24-24 and for two years, Republicans and Democrats shared control of the State Senate. That would not have happened if some dedicated people in Stephens County, Oklahoma didn’t think it was important enough to invest their time, talent and energy to get Sykes elected.
Today, it’s trendy to be a Republican in Oklahoma. It’s cool, but in 2006, having an R behind your name was a challenge for a candidate. There was no prominent Republican at the top of the ticket. Congressman Ernest Istook, the Republican candidate for Governor, got less than 35% of the vote. He was a drag on the ticket. So why did Sykes and Johnson win? They won because they were more qualified than their opponent and the voters recognized that. They won because they wanted the job more than their opponent, and they won because they had a volunteer base their opponents couldn’t match.
It’s important to remember how and a movement started. The Republican domination in Oklahoma didn’t start in the state’s urban areas. It didn’t start in the nineteen counties that were already predominately Republican. The Republican revolution in Oklahoma started in tiny Stephens County, Oklahoma when a handful of people believed they could make a difference in their little corner of the state by electing two very principled, ethical candidates and that movement spread statewide. Those Stephens County Republicans do more than just have an annual Fish Fry that draws a thousand people or a Chili Cook-off that attracts an equal amount. They change their government. Take a bow Stephens County Republicans- you changed and are changing Oklahoma for the better.