J.J. Dossett became a state senator in January 2016 by winning a special election with 56.3 percent of the vote. A Democrat elected in a Republican-leaning district, Dossett had taught history and coached at his alma mater, Owasso High School, since 2006.
Since state law prohibits citizens from holding two state jobs at once, Dossett had to put his education career on hold to assume his Senate post.
Dossett is one of seven Democrats serving in the Oklahoma State Senate, which unsuccessfully pushed the Oklahoma House of Representatives to pass a compromise revenue plan in 2017.
Heading into 2018, NonDoc asked Dossett about a series of topics for this Q&A, similar to the piece published about Sen. AJ Griffin (R-Guthrie) in September. Answers have been edited lightly for style and grammar.
Before your election to the Oklahoma State Senate, you were a high school teacher. Your wife is also an educator. What is one piece of #oklaed perspective that you try to make sure your non-educator colleagues in the Legislature realize?
I’ve seen the positive results that are possible when young people from all socioeconomic backgrounds have an opportunity at a quality education. Investing in our future workforce and future leaders is vital to the long-term quality of life for any society. We must not only reach the regional average for educator compensation, we must make investments in keeping class sizes lower and providing enough support personnel to ensure teachers can do their job. Our future depends on our educators’ ability to do their job. Give teachers the tools, and they’ll finish the job.
Owasso’s population has essentially tripled since 1990. What excitement has that offered to the town, and what challenges does the town face owing to such growth?
Growing benefits and pains have essentially been the definition of my community throughout my lifetime. Owasso and our surrounding communities are different in their growth because we have been able to increase our population while holding onto the small-town atmosphere and feel. To me, our biggest challenges have been filling up our schools and roads faster than we can accommodate. But growth is a good thing, and we always manage while maintaining a high quality of life.
You are currently serving with the Oklahoma National Guard. What have you learned through your guard service, particularly during your deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan?
The military is best at teaching its members to serve something bigger than themselves. The “one team one fight” motto comes to mind. To effectively achieve positive outcomes for the group and those that you serve, everyone must get on the same page and make sure we are all pulling in the same direction. Our communities and our state is bigger than any individual, so everyone must get involved and play their part if we want our kids and grandkids to have a quality of life that is equal to or better than what we have now.
As one of only seven Democrats in the Oklahoma State Senate, you are serving in a small caucus that has limited power to stop or dramatically alter the plans of GOP leaders. If you were Pro Tempore for a day, what would you do?
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I would make everything done at the State House fully transparent, and I would make sure the public has the opportunity to fully engage. As an educator, I have a natural instinct to share information and teach others what is going on in Oklahoma City. Our government of the people, by the people keeps the public in the dark on everything unless they want them to know something. Too many important decisions for the state are decided behind closed doors in caucus meetings. If I were Pro Tempore for a day, I would fill that day full of Senate floor work of tough votes so the public knows exactly where their legislators stand on the tough issues.
You are also a Democrat who won a special election in a traditionally Republican seat in 2016. After two more years of budget cuts, what is the mood in your district? How much partisanship do you encounter from your constituents, and what do they want to see you do at the Capitol?
I hear the same thing on doorsteps, chamber meetings and community events. People want a common sense plan for our future. They want revenue to be raised fairly, and they want a stronger investment by our state in our core services like education and transportation. I will continue to advocate for these things as long as this message comes so clearly from my people I speak for.
What are the most rewarding and stressful parts of serving Senate District 34?
The most rewarding aspect of this job is I am able to interact with so many different people and understand what they do for a living and how they make ends meet. Most people have a profession they fully understand but have limited knowledge about what people in other professions do. As a legislator, you get to dig deeper into what all people you represent do and what they need and don’t need out of government. The stressful parts always come with interacting with politicians and trying to accomplish things in a political realm. Dealing with my people is a pleasure, dealing with other people’s elected folks is the hard part.
What sport or sports did you coach at Owasso High School, and if you had a chance for your team captains to give the entire Legislature a pep-talk, what do you think they would say? How rowdy would that pep talk get?
I coached football and basketball at Owasso High School for 10 years. I think my players would simply discuss courage to make a play, toughness to fight through temporary pain and being a good teammate by following the rules and caring about the community you represent. No need for rowdiness until game time — the best players let the pads do the talking.