The past two years have been pretty busy for JoBeth Hamon. In 2019, she won election to OKC’s Ward 6 council seat.
Since then, she has become a controversial figure in the city: championed on social media by many on the political left and derided by some on the political right who call her a communist, among other things, for her embrace of progressive ideas she believes will make OKC a better and more equitable place to live. She has also drawn the ire of the local police union for her criticisms of law enforcement, including a social media post equating “the continued violent murder of Black lives by police” to the 1995 Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing.
Hamon grew up in Washington and Oregon before moving to Oklahoma to attend college at Oklahoma Baptist University. She later joined the Episcopal Service Corps in Chicago, where she worked at a homeless shelter.
Hamon answered questions recently about what led her to seek elected office, how she balances her personal and public life and what she sees as OKC’s biggest challenges.
The following telephone conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What made you decide to get involved in politics?
I think sort of the core of it was that I’ve been interested in issues related to homelessness, mental health and poverty since I was going to college. For a lot of people, you start to do that and you start to ask why this is the case and why is this affecting people’s lives. They don’t have access to affordable housing or healthy food. Typically, that leads to policy. The simplest version is I wanted to be involved in addressing the structure and help support people who are facing these problems.
You’ve shared a lot of personal information on social media. What’s the balance for you when it comes to what you decide to share and what you keep private?
I think a lot about why I do it. For so long, I’ve heard my peers say that I’m younger, and sharing your life on social media is just something I came of age with. I suppose, to a certain extent, I have continued to do it. I think it helps humanize politicians and reminds people we’re not in a different category of person. Just because I ran for office and won doesn’t mean I have days where I don’t struggle or get mad about things.
You’ve been the target of social media attacks most reasonable people would agree have been vicious and deeply personal. Is dealing with that just a matter of having a thick skin, or is there more to it?
I think I’ve had to grow a new type of skin. I have thick skin when it comes to certain things — the name-calling or the nastiness online. I think when it was really bad this past summer and fall — and it crops up when I show up on the news for saying something — it goes back to that balance of how much time do I need to spend mulling over negativity that people are typing and sending out into the world. But there is also legitimate criticism that we can talk through. Maybe you don’t agree with my perspective, but we can have a conversation about it. And I’ve had a few conversations like that on social media, believe it or not.
What do you see as OKC’s single biggest problem?
I think that structurally there’s so much inequity baked into our system. That’s one of the biggest core problems that I see. Even when we do things like increasing parks or transit funding, we’re still relying on sales tax, which disproportionately affects people who don’t have a lot of money, and what they do have they’re spending on things that are subject to sales tax. And we’re structurally locked into that as a city. That’s the core of our funding. I feel like we’re starting at a negative, and then finding ways to help people on the margins, and that can be difficult.
When it comes to city government, what’s one thing that keeps you up at night?
Honestly, to me, we’re sort of at an inflection point of asking what public safety means. Are we going to rethink what public safety means and develop more effective strategies in responding to community problems? We lean quite hard on police as our go-to in those types of things. I hear about cities doing pilot programs around mental health response, and it seems like any time that’s brought up there’s an underlying assumption that you’re sending hippies in a van to deal with things. So I’m not sure at what point the city leadership will engage with that in a serious way.
What kind of music and TV do you watch and listen to?
Pretty much anything Star Trek. I started watching Next Generation last year, and I have a lot to go with Deep Space Nine and the other one with Kate Mulgrew. The Decemberists are one of my favorite bands. The last few years I’ve been listening to Lizzo.
You played golf competitively in high school and college. What did taking part in sports teach you?
I feel like I learned a lot. The main thing I remember, and I think this is unique in particular to golf, is that you have so much time to think. It’s not a fast sport. But just addressing what’s in front of you. Focusing on that. I learned not to focus on the shot that got me into the position for this shot. Living in the moment and addressing the next thing in front of you. You have to be able to let things roll off your back and do it better on the next hole, or the next round.
What gives you hope?
I see in times of crisis people doing things to help each other, and I wish it would translate to our policymakers. With the winter storm, just seeing people who saw a need and tried to fill it. There was a bookstore on the east side that became a warming shelter. There was a gym on Classen that took people in because they knew there were people in that area who couldn’t travel far to a shelter. People just coming together and meeting needs.