Oklahoma Republican leaders count on solid support outside Oklahoma City and Tulsa to maintain their power, push their agenda. Little matter that state and national Republican policies work mostly against the interests of those voters and everyone but the richest people in the state and country.
Rural and small town residents, still under the impression that Republican policies are conservative and not opportunistic, vote too many straight tickets without sizing up the options.
But, not always. With just enough rural support, Oklahoma expanded Medicaid coverage and legalized medical marijuana against the wishes of Republican leaders.
It was not overwhelming support. Counties which lost hospitals, leading to the deterioration of their own health care options due to previous state opposition to available but untapped Medicaid financing still saw majorities vote against that proposition.
Progressive political pundits express continued amazement that these voters “vote against their own interests.” Obviously, they are valuing other interests more than their own economic well-being.
I have speculated that this one-sided loyalty is a political version of the Stockholm Syndrome. If they identify with their oppressors, then they are not being oppressed.
Another, more generous, interpretation would say that rural Republican voters are repaying the disdain and disinterest of their leaders with love. They are taking the higher ground – even to their own detriment.
They face another such challenge Nov. 8. Republicans Gov. Kevin Stitt, running for re-election, and Ryan Walters, running for state superintendent, are both committed to defund public schools to the benefit of private schools.
The school voucher system they favor would reduce the public school funding reservoir. Less money overall would mean less money to allocate to each local district. A Republican state representative estimated this reduction at $132 million.
And, Walters has proposed refusing federal education funding, which would cut local school budgets by about ten percent.
Last spring rural Republican senators looked at what the local impacts would be and defeated Stitt’s money grab.
And it cost some of them their senate seats as out-of-state money from those hoping to get their claws into the public till flooded campaigns to elect more beholden candidates. Remember, too, that these are the same folks who favor the mass consolidations which would devastate small communities. Weakening local school budgets would make these schools more vulnerable to such actions.
It will be up to rural Republican voters to vote in the best economic interests of their schools and towns.
As I have observed, moderate Democrats control our state and local party. Joy Hofmeister, running for governor, was a Republican a year and two weeks ago. She defeated liberal Connie Johnson in our primary. Jena Nelson offers a moderate alternative for state superintendent to Walters’ predatory plotting.
Carme Vinyoles titled one of her recent columns in Barcelona’s El Punt Avui, “Rats voting for cats.” Well, the analogy is accurate, but in this case the rats are the ones who would wreak havoc on rural Oklahoma.
And, just as I wouldn’t call those I am trying to persuade “rats,” the similar example of “henhouse chickens voting for foxes” is unpalatable. Nobody wants to be called, “chicken.”
Besides, many rural red senators have already demonstrated the courage to stand up to the would-be burglars. It is time for their constituents to do the same.
(Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party: <scdpok.us> or <facebook.com/SCDPOK/>.)