Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Anna Langthorne Speaks
Randy Krehbiel, Tulsa World, 11/15/17
Anna Langthorn says she didn’t really want to be Oklahoma Democratic Party chairwoman, but none of the people she did want in that position would run.
So she did. And she won.
Thus, at 24, Langthorn became the youngest person currently leading a state Democratic Party, and maybe the youngest ever. The Democratic National Committee is checking the records on that.
“The DNC is confident I’m the youngest woman ever,” Langthorn said during a telephone interview.
Langthorn will probably need all of the vigor of youth in her new job. The Oklahoma Democratic Party has been in decline for decades and, despite recent renewed enthusiasm, continues to dwindle in both percentage of voters and membership in the Legislature.
“There is a strong feeling that the party (structure) is irrelevant, that in the age of the super PACs (political action committees) everyone wants to organize outside of the party,” Langthorn said. “I recognized the truth of that, but also that we are so going to lose if we continue to proceed that way.”
For that reason, Langthorn says her first priority is rebuilding party infrastructure. It’s an old-fashioned idea, but one that paid off for Republicans in the last presidential election, when party organization helped carry a candidate with virtually no campaign team of his own to victory.
It has also enabled the GOP to build strong state parties and majorities in most legislatures.
“We have messaging problems, but more than that we have an infrastructure problem,” Langthorn said of the state Democratic Party. “It’s not that we don’t have a message, it’s that a lot of Oklahoma isn’t hearing it.”
Many observers, including some Democrats, believe the Democratic Party’s positions on social issues such as abortion, LGBT rights, education and poverty precludes it ever rising again in Oklahoma, particularly in rural Oklahoma, which has gone from mostly Democratic to mostly Republican in two generations.
Within the Democratic party is a fierce argument over whether it should relegate or even abandon those issues in favor of a blue-collar platform that attacks Republican tax policy and management of state government.
Langthorn seems to see it as all of one piece.
“Oklahomans are good and kind people who believe in fairness,” she said. “When we begin to communicate more effectively, I believe we’ll be able to reach them. There are women in all 77 counties. There are women in all 77 counties who need birth control. There are women in all 77 counties who are having abortions.
“We need to be speaking to economic issues and the Republican Party’s failure to deliver. Because of their policies, there aren’t jobs in rural Oklahoma,” she said.
“We need to communicate with rural Oklahoma. They need us probably more than ever.”
Oklahoma has a recent history of young political leadership. Chad Alexander was elected state GOP chairman at 27 a little over a decade ago. Matt Pinnell, now a candidate for lieutenant governor, was 30 when he took over the Oklahoma GOP in 2010.
Langthorn said she got involved in politics as a teenage volunteer and soon became a campaign worker and manager. Among others, she has worked for Cherokee Nation Chief Bill John Baker, former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor and state Sen. Kay Floyd of Oklahoma City.
As an experienced campaigner, Langthorn sees the unprecedented number of special elections this year — a total of six, with a seventh expected late this year or early in 2018, all involving Republican-held seats — as an opportunity to put the GOP on the defensive.
Only one of the vacancies was created by death. Langthorn plans to draw attention to Republicans leaving office early for higher pay or because of scandal and how much the special elections to replace them will cost.
“Oklahoma voters will take notice,” she said.