On being a pragmatic progressive joyful for Joy

I’ve written something like this so many times over the last two decades. But usually I don’t share it.

I know it will piss off a lot of my progressive friends. And I am a progressive, or liberal if you prefer, on most issues. When I’ve taken those quizzes every four years to see which Presidential candidate is my best fit, it’s been the Ralph Naders, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warrens that are my closest matches.

But I truly believe in the big tent. And I think that is the only way Democrats can ever win again in Oklahoma. At least until there are truly seismic changes in beliefs and attitudes and education of those who vote. We have to welcome liberal Democrats, and moderate Democrats, and conservative Democrats. And we have to work together to win.

Let me tell you a little story. Well it may be a bit longer than a little.

From February 1996 to July 1999 I worked for the Oklahoma Democratic Party. As an intern for a few months until I was promoted to political director. I came back later and helped out for a bit at the ODP in 2002 and again in 2006.

In 1996 Democrats had control of both the State House and the State Senate. We had the Attorney General, State Superintendent, State Treasurer and State Auditor. And we had the 3rd Congressional District.

That year, according to the professional predictors, we were supposed to lose control of the State House. We at the ODP were criticized by many in the party for focusing too much on the legislative seats and not enough on the Presidential race and congress. But we only lost one Democratic-held seat that year in the state house and two seats in the state senate. We retained control with 59 Democrats to 42 Republicans in the House and 29 Democrats to 19 Republicans in the Senate. We lost the 3rd Congressional District to former-Democrat-turned-Republican Wes Watkins.

1998 was a repeat of 1996. We were again supposed to lose control of the State House. Some of the seats shifted, but our numbers in the legislature were exactly the same. We kept the four statewide positions and picked up State Insurance Commissioner.

But at that time in the late 1990s and early 2000s many Oklahoma liberals and progressives were complaining loudly. And many decided they’d rather have Republicans elected than conservative Democrats. “At least then we would know what we’re getting,” I heard so many times from friends. They refused to vote for conservative and moderate Democrats.

I understood their frustration many times with some conservative to moderate Democrats on specific issues in the legislature. But I never agreed it would be better for Republicans to win instead of conservative Democrats.

When we had the majority in the state legislature, which was made up of liberal, moderate and conservative Democrats, we had the Speaker of the House and we had the President Pro Tem of the Senate. That is who sets the agenda. And the agenda back then was so much better than what it has been since Republicans took control of the legislature.

So I say again to my progressive friends, working to elect only Democratic candidates that you agree with on everything, only liberals or progressives, is not good for you, for me, for our schools, for our healthcare, for our state. It is not going to happen. Not in this decade. Not in Oklahoma. You may feel good about it, but you’re just going to keep having an Oklahoma controlled totally by the GOP.

I’ve already seen some activists in the Democratic Party saying it is because of racism that so many Democrats are jumping with joy about Joy Hofmeister switching from GOP to Democratic and running for Governor because there is an already announced Democrat running for Governor.

Former state Senator Connie Johnson announced several months ago she was running. Johnson is an African-American.

And I hate to admit that there could be and probably is some racism in it. I’ve seen racism first hand in some past Democratic campaigns. But by and large, most racist left the Democratic Party some time ago.

Johnson has run for statewide elections before. She was the Democratic nominee for US Senate in James Lankford’s first senate race in 2014. She received 29% of the vote. She ran for Governor in 2018. She received almost 39% in the Democratic primary against Drew Edmondson who won the primary with 61.4%. Of course we know when the general election arrived in November, Kevin Stitt won with 54.3% of the votes.

But when one looks at 2018 numbers Joy offers us some hope.

Stitt received 644,579 votes for Governor. Hofmeister received 687,468 for State Superintendent. She received 42,889 more votes than did Stitt. That’s a positive thing.

I do want to say here that for most of my life I have been more of a vote-for-the-person rather than a Yellow Dog Democrat. I just usually have believed that the Democrat is better than the Republican. There have been a few times where I left a race blank because I’ve known both candidates and I didn’t like either one. But I have voted for Republicans at every level previously at some point in my life (I’ll be 56 this coming Sunday). But since Trump (and Trumpism) took over the GOP I doubt I will ever vote for another Republican again.

I for one am joyful for Joy! It is a good thing she has left the GOP. More should follow her lead. I welcome her to the Democratic Party and look forward to kicking Stitt out of the Governor’s Mansion next year and ending his dreams of running for President of these United States.

Just a couple more points I would like to make. Some of the best Democrats today are former Republicans.

I feel honored and privileged to have been able to work on all of Jim Roth’s campaigns, both his 2002 and 2006 campaigns for Oklahoma County Commissioner and his statewide campaign in 2008 for Corporation Commissioner. He has been a favorite of progressive Oklahomans. Jim is a former Republican.

My good friend Calvin Rees is President of the Oklahoma Democratic Party Veterans Committee. He helped start that important organization. He’s served as a district and county officer in the Oklahoma Democratic Party. He is a far better Democrat than I. Calvin is a former Republican.

I made this point in a tweet but want to point it out here as well. Oklahoma had always been a Democratic-registered majority state. Until 2014. When Joy Hofmeister announced in 2014 that she was running for State Superintendent, thousands of educators switched parties so they could vote for her over the terrible, horrible incumbent Janet Baressi in the GOP primary.

After Joy’s entry into that race Oklahoma Republicans gained 30,463 registered voters. They surpassed registered Democrats for the first time in state history. On November 1, 2014 there were 963 more Republicans registered in the state than there were Democrats.

I’m hopeful many of those former Democrats-turned-Republicans will return home over the next few months and help to end the terrible reign of Kevin Stitt.

3 thoughts on “On being a pragmatic progressive joyful for Joy”

  1. Brent, truly an outstanding analysis of the past accomplishments of the ODP and current political reality! Red states like Kansas and Iowa have recently elected Democrat Governors, who have mad a difference. Oklahoma needs a Governor to be a check and balance on the radical agenda of the right and I believe Joy Hofmeister is that person. She would also allow moderate Republicans a place to go. President Biden attracted educated Republican women, even in Oklahoma, to vote for him Superintent Hofmeister can do that as well. Great job. I hope your editorial is spread far and wide by our friends.


  2. Excellent piece. Now I know I need to read you regularly.
    Regarding Joy, I see her as a 21st century Sandy Garrett; both picked their battles as they defended educators and public schools. The bipartisan corporate “reform” movement was devastating. I saw it turn my old John Marshall, an inner city school with great and awful things, into Centennial, the lowest performing mid-high in Oklahoma. But, Joy freed us from the worst corporate reforms. Unfortunately, many or most schools don’t yet dare to exercise the power to teach holistically that that she freed us to practice.


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