big tent

More than 180 candidates submitted their paperwork to run for the Oklahoma Legislature on the first of three days of 2018 candidate filing. As political hopefuls lined up in the recently renovated west wing of the State Capitol, teachers wandered past, filling the building for the eighth legislative day after shutting down schools to advocate for education funding.

Working the lines were the leaders of the state Republican Party and Democratic Party. Asked about their organizations, Oklahoma GOP chairwoman Pam Pollard and Oklahoma Democrat chairwoman Anna Langthorn confirmed that both believe in a “big tent” approach to party membership. (Traditionally, the “big tent” label had been applied more to Democrats than Republicans.)

“Our core values are fairness, equality, opportunity,” Langthorn said. “But how that looks is going to change depending upon what part of the state you are in, and we respect that.”

Pollard’s party is also seeing competing factions within its ranks.

“When I was running for chairman, I ran specifically on that theme: We are a ‘big tent’ party,” Pollard said. “We are the Ronald Reagan party. We have people on all sides of these issues, but we need to agree on our core foundations. The Republican Party has 12 statements of principle. That’s the main item we all agree on as Republicans.”

GOP moderates clash with hardliners

But Republicans in the state Legislature have been less than agreeable on the best way to improve education funding, a battle between anti-tax hardliners and moderates willing to raise revenue. Tensions boiled over at the end of March when former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn appeared with a group called Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite to recruit anti-tax candidates for GOP primary campaigns against moderates.

The conservative blog reported a verbal altercation between hardliner Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow) and revenue-supporting Rep. Josh West (R-Grove). West has changed his Twitter profile picture to say “Civil War,” and Ritze has been traveling Capitol hallways — between his office and committee meetings — with an Oklahoma Highway Patrol escort.

Wednesday, Pollard said the phrase “Civil War” should not be used to describe the rift between GOP lawmaker factions.

“I don’t approve of that phrase or see that phrase whatsoever,” Pollard said. “What we have is, since we are the leading party, of course we have all kinds of people of different persuasions.

“I just say to remember we are competitors and not enemies. It makes for good competition.”

Langthorn: ‘Failing infrastructure affects people all over’

For her part, Langthorn said she is trying to keep Democrats focused on messages that resonate among conservative and liberal voters alike.

“I don’t think that we have dual messages because we are a ‘big tent’ party, and we try to have a broad message. Right now, the big issues that are affecting Oklahoma can be pretty broadly discussed,” Langthorn said. “We don’t necessarily need to get into the nitty gritty of social issues when the bottom line is that 20 percent of schools in Oklahoma are only open four days a week.”

An Oklahoma City resident, Langthorn said the topics Democrats are concerned about affect rural and urban areas.

“Our failing infrastructure affects people all over the state. Our failing medical industry affects people all over the state,” she said. “So those are the issues we are focusing on in this election cycle: education, health care, infrastructure and jobs. Whether you’re living in Oklahoma City, Idabel or Guymon, that’s an issue in your hometown.”

Party leaders outline strategies

Pollard said GOP lawmakers seeking re-election must focus on communicating with voters.

“I just see that people are going to have to give a message directly to their voters and talk to them about why they voted for things and why they voted against things,” Pollard said of current Republican legislators. “I think it’s just two different philosophical ways to approach a problem. We just ask everybody to talk about the facts. That’s the good thing about a democracy is you get to elect who you want to represent you.”

Langthorn, meanwhile, is tasked with leading a comeback of the once-dominant Oklahoma Democratic Party, which in recent election cycles has seen poor results and a limited number of candidates.

“We’ve had steady growth over the last election cycle in terms of the number of Democrats who have filed,” Langthorn said. “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to file a Democrat in every single seat, but we’re certainly going to try, and I think we’re going to give Republicans a run for their money this year.”

Asked how Democrats can return to political prominence in Oklahoma, Langthorn said, “It’s going to take some time.”

“But we’ve got to be running candidates, and we’ve got to be talking to voters,” she said. “We’ve been losing because we haven’t been adequately communicating with voters across the state about what our values are, and this year is the perfect opportunity to do that.”

Results from day one of candidate filing

For more details about 2018 candidate filing in Oklahoma, see this article posted Wednesday on NonDoc.