Mike Masters and Beverly Atteberry are competing against each other in a runoff this August, but you would hardly know it from their campaigns. The two have already set their sights on defeating a woman only one of them will run against in the general election.
Republicans Atteberry and Masters are vying to challenge incumbent Rep. Denise Brewer (D-Tulsa), who flipped the Tulsa-area House District 71 blue in 2018. The seat was held by Republican Rep. Katie Henke from 2012 until 2018, when she chose not to run again for the traditionally Republican district.
That year, Brewer won HD 71, defeating Cheryl Baber (who is currently running for Senate District 35) by 13 percentage points. Atteberry also ran in 2018, making it to a Republican runoff that she lost to Baber by 750 votes. This year, she has turned her attention to her potential opponent, condemning her tenure in the Legislature.
“Nobody knows what’s going on down there, and they don’t have any communication and I want to have that communication with the voters of the district,” Atteberry said. “They deserve it. It’s their right to have that communication.”
Masters said he also believes HD 71 could feature better communication about what’s going on at the Capitol.
“Just representing Brookside, I don’t feel that the people I talk to feel like they are being represented at Capitol Hill currently,” he said.
Brewer, meanwhile, characterized her 2018 win as the culmination of frustration from residents with Republican leadership in the district. Her vision for the next two years, she said, differs greatly from what Atteberry and Masters have put forward, especially when it comes to working with state and national leadership.
“We’re very different because the two Republicans that have a runoff at the end of August are very much President Trump supporters, very much Gov. Stitt supporters, and they believe in the far-right-wing tenets,” Brewer said. “I’m of the mindset that the president that we have right now is unfit for office, Gov. Stitt has been completely ineffective and has even ignored the law during his tenure so far. He can’t even get along with his own party. The Republican party has been suing him up at the Capitol.”
Brewer said she believes she has represented the residents of her district well.
“I love what I do. When we flipped District 71 from red to blue in 2018 and during my first session, I felt like a puzzle piece that had found its puzzle,” Brewer said. “I love the work, I love the interaction with the constituents, I love helping people and fighting for what’s right.”
However, both Masters and Atteberry are hoping that puzzle will get a little redder — and that they’ll be the one to make it happen.
Though neither garnered a majority of the vote in the primary election, triggering the runoff, Masters was closer to the 50 percent mark with almost 49 percent support. Atteberry came in 117 votes behind at 44.5 percent. The runoff will take place Aug. 25.
Meet the challengers
Atteberry, a lawyer with her own practice, feels her familiarity with the law will make her a more effective legislator than other HD 71 candidates. She referenced a learning curve she has heard about from past legislators, who said it took them a while to understand the language and technicalities in many of the bills.
“I don’t have that hurdle, which Mr. Masters and Ms. Brewer still have,” Atteberry said. “We need somebody who can pick up the ball who doesn’t have the learning curve.”
As part of her practice, she has participated in Expungement Expos, where those with nonviolent offenses on their criminal records can consult area lawyers for free about whether they qualify for expungement of the offense from their official record, which makes it easier to secure a job or housing.
Masters is a history and government teacher with real estate aspirations who serves on the boards of Brookside neighborhood and business associations, leading to the campaign slogan of “Family, Work, Neighborhood” on his website. On his Facebook, he mainly features pictures of his four children helping his campaign.
For Masters, running for office is an expression of patriotism he has felt his whole life.
“Running for office has always been something I’d wanted to do. I didn’t serve in the military when I was younger. I kinda got married at a young age,” Masters said. “I had some guilt about having not served my country that way, and I’m just a very patriotic person and wanted to serve in some shape, way, form or fashion.”
He began this service as a teacher, though he said he was interested in political science, and slowly realized he hoped to run for public office. Masters participated in the 2018 teacher walkout and toyed with the idea of running that cycle. As record numbers of teachers filed declarations of candidacy, he said he was approached about adding his name to the list.
“Me being a career teacher, they liked the idea of having some Republican representation in the form of an educator who was part of the movement,” he said.
But when he looked at the districts he lived in, he saw two Republican incumbent legislators he respected and didn’t want to challenge. Had he known Henke was stepping away, he said, he would have run in 2018.
“At the end of the day, I was on the outside looking in as the Republicans lost the seat to Denise Brewer,” Masters said. “I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t in the race and that we had lost the seat.”
A general election in August?
Though Brewer’s name will not be on the ballot until November, she has already become a focus of both campaigns, who leveled criticisms at Brewer’s brief tenure during their interviews.
Both Atteberry and Masters alleged Brewer was doing a poor job at communicating with the residents of her district and making herself available to constituents.
To this effect, Atteberry promised that her cell phone number, which is currently on her campaign materials, will remain accessible to constituents if she is elected. She also promised to have weekly meetings at different areas in the district while the Legislature is in session to allow constituents to voice their concerns.
Masters took it one step further, arguing Brewer not only wasn’t communicating with her constituents but wasn’t representing their wishes. Following the will of the voters, Masters said, was his top policy priority if elected.
“I want to be their true representative,” he said.
To Brewer, those criticisms seem disingenuous. The communication and transparency her potential opponents are asking for, she says, is already there.
“I’ve been working and helping hundreds of people with their [Oklahoma Employment Security Commission] claims and issues there. I respond to every email, text, phone call, message of any sort that I get,” she said. “I have from the very beginning made my personal cell phone, email (available). Even my address is public, and they’re on every communication I have sent out to the district.”
Brewer pointed to her Facebook page, which features posts almost daily, as another way she stays in touch.
“I regularly send out updates on what’s going on and invite anyone who has an issue or needs help with anything to never hesitate to call me,” Brewer said. “I also communicate with thousands of people on social media, keeping people up to date with what’s going on in Oklahoma and District 71.”
When it comes to representing her voters, Brewer once again maintained she has done far better than her critics allege, pointing to her legislative record, which includes bills focused on preventing domestic violence, protecting women and diversifying the Oklahoma economy.
“I have authored or co-authored almost 50 bills, three interim studies, and again, I’ll let my record speak for itself. I received great support from District 71 constituents,” she said.
Atteberry offered a second, more personal condemnation of Brewer on her website, where she promises she will be a change from the liberal politicians who “are more concerned about staying in office and keeping their paycheck than representing their districts and working to improve our state.”
When speaking to NonDoc, Atteberry stressed she did not see the position as a job she is looking to earn an income from, pointing out with her time off from law during the session, she could actually lose money.
“I’m not doing this to have a job. I have a job, I have a successful practice, and my practice will continue to be successful,” she said.
In this vein, she condemned the $12,000 pay raise the Oklahoma Legislative Compensation Board voted for in 2019. The raise would take effect the next session, but Atteberry said legislators should refuse the extra money.
“I am donating that raise to the Tulsa Food Bank,” she added.
That pay raise, as Brewer pointed out, was the first in 20 years and came after a pay cut in 2017. Any family relying on a legislative salary only would still face a tight budget.
“Being a state representative is a full-time job,” Brewer said. “And to choose to be a public servant, you have to have a passion for it. No one is in public service to get rich or to get a paycheck.”
Atteberry’s implication that Brewer is only in it for the money? Entirely false, according to Brewer.
“I am passionate about making Oklahoma a better place, making District 71 a better place, and I’m passionate about public service. So that’s why I ran,” she said.
Though Brewer clearly elucidated her differences with Masters and Atteberry, she said she didn’t want to turn the race negative, as she feels the other two candidates are beginning to do.
“I think it’s a shame that they are trying to throw mud and create baseless accusations,” Brewer said. “We’ll take the high road.”
Three visions for Tulsa
In addition to his promise of representing his potential constituents, Masters’ other campaign priorities are largely informed by his own experience, both in education and local businesses.
Owing to the pandemic, he said, many schools have had to change the way they operate. While this is clearly not the way he would have hoped for it to happen, he thinks this temporary fix may lead to a broader reckoning over modern education and how it can utilize ever-improving technology in the curriculum.
“I know the education change is coming, and in the 21st century — finally after 20 years — education is going to look like the 21st century instead of how it has in the 20th century when I was in school,” Masters said. “After being in education the last 20 years, I’d sure like to be on that education committee that makes decisions about how education looks moving forward.”
After he got his real estate license. Masters said, he began looking into opening a small practice. That experience, combined with his time in the Brookside Business Association, has made protecting small businesses another of his priorities.
“I think the small businesses, the unique businesses on Brookside, there are only so many small unique businesses there,” he said, citing resident preferences for frequenting these businesses over national chains. “I want to make sure they are my constituents and they are protected.”
Atteberry, for her part, said she hopes to focus on ensuring stable jobs for everyone in her district, regardless of their education level or age. She also has a few specific sectors — engineering and health care — that she hopes can grow in HD 71.
Though the district educates a fair amount of engineers, according to Atteberry, most of them don’t end up living there. By retaining more engineers, she hopes companies such as Tesla (which recently chose Austin over Tulsa for a CyberTruck plant) will be drawn to the area.
She also wants to encourage more people to enter the nursing profession, to combat what she sees as a possible impending shortage. In this vein, she is also working on plans to bring doctors and nurses to live in rural areas and provide health care to underserved residents.
Underlying many of these hopes to grow industry is also a hope to grow the population of the state to ensure continued representation in the U.S. House of Representatives, Atteberry said. Oklahoma lost one House seat in 1990, and though the population of the state is growing, Atteberry worries it isn’t growing quickly enough.
“In 10 years’ time, it is possible we could lose another House seat,” she said. “As you lose House seats, that means you also lose voting ability in the House of Representatives which means Oklahoma receives less things and less assistance from the federal government.”
To combat this, Atteverry said she hopes to bring new residents to Tulsa who live elsewhere but routinely work remotely, meaning they can live anywhere. She plans to suggest the city and state create advertisements enticing people to move.
She also spoke extensively about education and ensuring students who face interruptions in their education are able to return and earn a high school diploma. As COVID-19 continues to force schools online, Atteberry said she is concerned about kids, especially whose parents are working or who do not have an adult who is fluent in English at home, getting behind or lost entirely.
For Brewer, who was a journalist prior to her run for office, top priorities include ensuring access to health care, including mental health care, improving education and supporting small businesses.
‘It’s time for mental health to stop being pulled out on its own, I believe mental health is health care, so health care is number one,” Brewer said.
She believes education should be fully funded and takes issue with the coming year’s budget, which does not increase the money put towards public schools. This increase in funding, Brewer believes, will be key to creating an education system Oklahomans can be proud of and that isn’t a “national embarrassment.”
“We cannot afford to go backward or even stay stagnant,” Brewer said.
She also said she recognizes small businesses are struggling due to the ongoing pandemic, and that many have had to cut staff. Brewer wants to support both the “job-makers and job-seekers” in her district and ensure high employment numbers and benefits.
No matter who wins the primary, Brewer said she feels her experience will make her a better candidate for the district in November.
“Either one of them, they have no experience in legislating. They have no experience at the Capitol,” Brewer said. “I just think experience and a deep understanding of the legislative process is important so you can serve the people well.”
Entering the runoff as the second vote-getter in the primary, Atteberry said she is knocking more doors while being respectful of the safety of voters. She’s continuing what she sees as a decade of relative improvement in the district by focusing on community relations and relationships between local and state governments.
“How can we assist and make those things even better for our community, for the people that live here?” she asked.
Masters, for his part, is fairly confident entering the runoff following his performance in the June primary.
“At the end of the day, I won,” he said. “We expect the same results from June 30 and that we will move on and be the candidate that can beat Denise Brewer.”