(Update: On Tuesday, June 28, Jared Deck won the Democratic primary in House District 44.)
Kate Bierman and Jared Deck, the two candidates in the Democratic primary for House District 44, keep coming back to one word: “community.”
Bierman used the word to call for representation that caters to the needs of local constituents. Deck used the word to call for unity, especially after the past two and a half years, which he says divided people on a “human level.”
House District 44 covers the core of Norman, including the University of Oklahoma. Its previous representative was Rep. Emily Virgin (D-Norman). For the past four years, Virgin has been the House Minority Leader, but she has reached her term limit after 12 years in the State Legislature.
The two Democratic candidates recently spoke with NonDoc about their reasons for running and the policies they would promote in the Legislature.
The winner of the primary will face RJ Harris, the lone Republican in the race, in November.
Polls will be open on Election Day, June 28, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Bierman served on the Norman City Council from 2017 until 2021, when she moved out of the ward she had represented. As a city councilwoman, Bierman says she learned the importance of advocating for issues regardless of whether or not they fit into her party’s standard talking points.
“Because we run in nonpartisan elections, we learn how to speak our values, even to people who disagree with us, simply by using very community-focused language,” Bierman said. “I firmly believe that we need more local leaders … to take those community-focused issues and those community-focused talking points to the Capitol.”
When asked about the initiatives she was most proud of undertaking during her time on the City Council, two immediately came to Bierman’s mind. The first was an ordinance requiring new or remodeled buildings to have changing tables in both men’s and women’s restrooms. The other was an ordinance incentivizing builders to construct houses with accessible features for disabled people.
Accessibility is one of Bierman’s central concerns, and she mentioned transportation and health care as two particular areas where she believes the state could improve.
“We have very segmented and individualized public transit systems that make it difficult for someone who can’t operate a vehicle to navigate between communities,” she said. As an example, Bierman noted the difficulty of traveling from Norman to Oklahoma City without a personal car.
“Another way that we failed Oklahomans is in how we structure our health care services,” Bierman said. “Individuals with disabilities are on Medicaid waiver programs, and even the recent Medicaid expansion effort didn’t adequately solve the problems that they are seeing within their programs.”
Bierman is also a small business owner, running two coffee shops and a dog boarding facility. Her love of animals is what drew her to politics in the first place; as a volunteer at Norman’s animal shelter, she saw animals living in poor conditions and joined an initiative to get a public vote for a new shelter. After that, she decided to run for the council.
Bierman hopes to continue advocating for animal welfare at the Capitol by undoing a state law from 1959 which prevents counties with a population under 250,000 people from opening animal shelter services.
“How we treat our animals is a reflection of how we treat each other as well,” Bierman said.
Other aspects of Bierman’s campaign platform can be found on her website.
‘Rebuilding our sense of community’
Deck is a professional musician. He is also involved with political organizing in Norman and has served on the ACLU of Oklahoma’s board of directors. He cites the conflicts that have broken out since 2020, both locally and nationally, as one of his reasons for running for House District 44.
“I think the events of the last two and a half years have further divided us, not merely politically, but on the human level,” Deck said. “Rebuilding our sense of community and our basic trust in humanity is an imperative part of the process in healing the economic, health and racial wounds of our past.”
Although the past few years have concerned Deck, he was inspired to get involved in politics much longer ago. Deck worked at a factory while he was in college, at Southwestern Oklahoma State University. In 2007, he and 275 coworkers learned their jobs had been outsourced overseas.
“That moment in my life was when I realized how personal a systemic problem can be, when you are the person it directly affects,” Deck said. “That was the catalyst moment for me to get involved politically as an organizer and an advocate.”
Deck ran the next year to represent House District 57. He lost that election, but he has continued to volunteer and organize in grassroots advocacy ever since.
One of the causes Deck is involved in is organizing Norman’s Transgender Day of Remembrance. Even in light of recent legislation restricting the participation of trans youth in school sports, he says that there are still protections that the State Legislature could provide to transgender people.
“I think the first step is medical rights for our trans community, health-related benefits and workplace protections,” Deck said. “These are the sorts of things that should not only be provided to trans people, but everyone.”
Another issue important to Deck is improving tenant rights in Oklahoma. He mentioned recent revisions to the Landlord Tenant Act of 1978 as “very nice improvements,” pointing particularly to a change that raised the amount tenants could deduct from their rent for property improvements their landlords had failed to pay for.
“But we still have a ways to go,” Deck said. “Our laws overwhelmingly favor landlords, and the market has increasingly seen property owners purchasing apartment complexes from out of state. We need to make sure that out-of-state interests in particular are accountable to the people they serve.”
Other aspects of Deck’s campaign platform can be found on his website.