Andrew W. Griffin, Red Dirt Report
OKLAHOMA CITY – As House District 93 candidate Mickey Dollens, a Democrat, settles into his seat at the offices of Red Dirt Report, he reaches for his smartphone, next to a to-go cup of coffee. He indicates he wants to play a phone message he just received from a staunch Republican who has been impressed with Dollens’ hard work on the campaign trail.
Hitting “play,” the woman tells Dollens in her message that she has never voted for a Democrat in her entire life, but that he made such a good impression on her that she is casting her vote for the young candidate, whom she called a “hard worker” and a “man of strength.”
“I hope we can work together to make this a better state,” the long-time GOP supporter tells Dollens in the message, before concluding that she is still “voting for Trump.”
Dollens smiles and humbly says his campaign is about winning over voters.
“That’s probably the best voicemail I’ve ever received,” he said. And looking at him, you get the sense that he is telling you the truth.
Affable and informed and exuding confidence, Dollens said he really had not considered going into politics until his brother committed suicide after a long battle with mental illness. Wanting to know what the state of Oklahoma was doing for people facing a similar situation, he began to do his own research.
“I found out we’re not doing much,” Dollens said. “We’re 49th in the country for mental health treatment and there are a lot of people, like my brother Joe, who are on a list that is just too long. And the wait time is too long. We need to be able to provide treatment for people immediately and not six months down the road.”
Providing those in need with comprehensive mental health treatment is critical, Dollens said, adding that his brother’s death made him realize that policy at the state level can directly affect his life and the lives of many others. It was then that he realized that taking a political path made sense, so he could bring these ideas to the legislature, if elected.
A fifth generation Oklahoman, Dollens, 29, is a professional athlete, having earned a football scholarship which sent him to Southern Methodist University (where he earned a degree in English), and later earning him a spot on the USA Bobsled team.
But in addition to athletics, and a desire to help young people better themselves through activities like sports and mentoring young entrepreneurs, Dollens has a passion for education and is a certified public school teacher, having taught at U.S. Grant High School until he was laid off earlier this year due to budget cuts.
“It was then that I realized just how badly education was being hit,” said Dollens, who also runs a small business called Tree Trunx, which provides equipment – knee sleeves – for weightlifters and other athletes. Prior to that, Dollens worked in the oilfield, before the recent energy downturn.
“For every [knee sleeve] sold, we plant a tree,” he said, as a way of giving back to the community.
So, having bought a home on the south side and investing in the community, Dollens said he saw a lot of potential in the area where he lives – an area of the city often overlooked amidst the revitalization projects going on in other, more affluent parts of Oklahoma City.
Seeing all this, Dollens felt that it was time to run for HD 93, which is represented by State Rep. Mike Christian, a Republican, who opted not to seek re-election and is currently running for sheriff of Oklahoma County.
As a resident of Oklahoma City’s south side, Dollens is looking for more community involvement and good relations between residents and police, as well as more opportunities for young people, particularly those who like athletics, but may not be drawn to team sports.
Noting the weightlifting club he started during his brief time teaching at U.S. Grant, Dollens said he could see positive results very quickly among the involved students, from better behavior in the classroom to an improved mental attitude.
Aside from his political aspirations which he hopes take him to the State Capitol, Dollens said he would eventually like to open a gym in the northern part of the district, “to offer a positive environment for the kids.”
More must be done to improve public education in our state, he said. And with his experience in the classroom, he includes the slogan “Elect a Teacher” on his campaign literature. Dollens is in good company, as many other Democrats running in the state are emphasizing their support for public education this election cycle.
Going out in the district, talking to folks door-to-door, he said there are a lot of “undecideds” out there. And a lot of folks in the district have fond memories of the late Keith Leftwich, a popular Democrat who represented the district in the 1980s.
“I’ll always hear, ‘You’re a hard worker like Keith,’” notes Dollens.
His Republican opponent, perennial candidate Jay Means, has not been very visible during this campaign, and has not responded to questionnaires nor has he expressed interest in a candidate forum or debate, Dollens said.
And so Dollens keeps walking the district, something he has done a total of three times.
Dollens is also passionate about nursing home reform and improving services for our veterans.“There are a lot of senior citizens in my district,” he said. “I’m very passionate about protecting Social Security and preventing abuse and neglect in our nursing homes.”
And while acknowledging the numerous problems facing our state, from infrastructure issues to an improved economy, Dollens said it is going to take real leadership to fix the state’s tax policy and “re-evaluate the corporate welfare.”
“We give away a third of our revenue and we can’t be putting our legislators failures on the backs of poor and working class Oklahomans,” Dollens said. “We have to not just sluff together a budget four days before the legislature votes on it. It has to be open to public debate, and we need to have online access and really be transparent with our tax dollars and how they’re spent.”
And if elected, Dollens said he is excited at the thought of bringing together reasonable voices from both sides of House to work on bettering Oklahoma – for every Oklahoman.
“I want to work across the aisle,” he said. “I want to create meaningful policy that actually helps people. That should be the whole point.”
Asked what keeps him going, Dollens notes a verse in the Bible’s Book of Matthew, which emphasizes helping the “least amongst us,” adding that his late brother was in that category, as are “underdogs” and “people who need help.” Thinking of those people helps him keep putting one foot in front of the other throughout House District 93.
“A lot of legislators are disconnected from the realities that their constituents may be facing and I get a dose of that every day when I’m out there talking to people,” he said.
And while Dollens said he was getting offers from Dallas ISD in Texas, to teach there for a lot more money, he felt he needed to remain in Oklahoma. This is home, he said, despite his time in Texas, while a student, and traveling the world as a professional bobsledder.
NOTE: This story is adapted from Griffin’s story for Red Dirt Report, and reposted with permission.