By Steven Vincent
OKLAHOMA CITY – As a lifelong Oklahoma Democrat, the reality of political life has been clear to me for decades. Oklahoma is one of the reddest states in our nation, I live in a district where Republican voters outnumber Democrats nearly two to one. Oklahoma Republicans have super majorities in the state senate, house, and Republican Mary Fallin has been our Governor since 2011. Although Democrats have lately seen a resurgence in winning special elections, the chance of winning in a gerrymandered red district, like mine, is slim. So why run?
I decided to become a candidate for state senate after watching years of budget failures and cuts to core services. I saw the state that I love slide ever further into last place in metrics that will determine, not only my future, but the future of my children and theirs. Oklahoma ranks last or second to last nationally in teacher pay. Our legislature has presided over the largest cuts to education in the country and teachers are leaving in droves to bordering states where their education and professionalism is compensated at a much higher rate.
The state has implemented deep cuts to core services that provide care for the elderly, veterans, mentally ill, physically disabled, and children. These are not simply political or fiscal failures, these are reprehensible moral failures and all the more damning in a state and legislature that touts its Christian bona fides from the pulpit of the capitol chamber and campaign mailers. Scandals have become commonplace with members of the majority party resigning in record numbers after being caught stealing, lying, cheating, and committing acts of sexually predatory behavior.
After years as a spectator watching the state I was born and raised in rapidly devolve, and after my own Senator pleaded guilty to multiple felony charges of embezzling campaign funds, I decided to run for office myself. The state was in crisis and my background as a first responder seemed ideally suited to handle these ongoing tragedies. In my career with the Oklahoma City Police Department 911 Division, I had taken over 100,000 calls from Oklahomans in crisis, surely, I reasoned, I couldn’t do any worse than the so called professionals who had gotten us into this mess.
The process of becoming a candidate is relatively simple. You register with the ethics commission, fill out a two page form and give the election board $200. That’s it. As we have seen by some of the outlandish behavior and comments from our legislators, almost anyone can run for office and, depending on the letter behind your name, probably win.
I decided on a slogan; Replace, restore, and rebuild. I argued we needed to replace the politicians who got us into this mess, restore billions in revenue given away to lobbyist backed special interests and rebuild Oklahoma’s schools, infrastructure and core services. This message seemed to resonate with Oklahomans across the political spectrum and my team of volunteers and I brought it to thousands of people across the district.
Ultimately, our efforts were in vain as we discovered on Election Day, the majority of Oklahomans in District 45 prefered the status quo to change. Losing a race in which you have a better message, better campaign, better accountability to voters, and more passionate supporters is very similar to experiencing a death. My supporters and I are going through the stages of grief; denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance . But I still have hope…
As Oklahomans face, yet another year, of political gridlock, budgetary failure, and cuts to core services, I believe they will experience the same stages of grief as we slowly watch our state perish from these self inflicted wounds. My hope is we never reach the final stage grief and never accept this deeply flawed governance as normal or okay. The irony is, we wouldn’t have to grieve at all if we could find a way to bring new life to the state and people of Oklahoma. The only way to begin to revive this critically ill state is to transfuse new blood into the heart of our system of government.
Oklahomans must embrace change, new ideas, and new people or prepare for last rites and the burial of a once grand land.
I’m not done fighting for a better Oklahoma. …
EDITOR’S NOTE: Vincent was the Democratic candidate in state Senate District 45’s special election held on December 14 to replace Kyle Loveless, the Republican incumbent who admitted to a range of campaign ethics violations. Republican Paul Rosino won the seat.