Two Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination in the special primary election to succeed former GOP Sen. John Michael Montgomery in Senate District 32.
Former University of Oklahoma defensive back Larry Bush and certified nurse’s aide Johnny Jernigan are hoping to flip SD 32 from red to blue. Prior to Montgomery’s election, the seat was held by former Democratic Sen. Randy Bass from 2006 through 2018.
Jernigan was the Oklahoma Democratic Party’s nominee for SD 32 in 2022, receiving 32.58 percent support in a head-to-head matchup against Montgomery. Bush has run for the Oklahoma Legislature twice before in House District 62, losing in both the 2018 and 2020 general elections.
The winner of the Oct. 10 special SD 32 Democratic primary election will advance to face the first-place finisher of the four-candidate Republican primary in the Dec. 12 general election.
SD 32 covers more than half of Comanche County, including the northern and western halves of Lawton, as well as the towns of Apache, Elgin, Indiahoma and Cache. The district is also home to Fort Sill, a key artillery training base and proving ground for artillery and armored units in the U.S. Army. Cameron University, the largest university in southwest Oklahoma, is also located within the district.
The following cheat sheet for the SD 32 Democratic primary features information compiled from publicly available sources. Candidates appear in alphabetical order.
Profession/background: Bush is a former football standout at the University of Oklahoma where he played defensive back in the 1990s. He is the current owner and founder of Larry Bush Insurance in Lawton, and he also operates a real estate business with “a lot of property to lease out,” according to his personal Facebook page. According to his campaign website, Bush is a longtime volunteer for Lawton Public Schools, reading to students, donating school supplies and running booster clubs.
Platform: Bush writes that education funding, the state’s economy, reducing crime, criminal justice reform and broader access to health services are some of the biggest issues that need to be tackled if he is elected.
“All those issues link back to education,” he says on his website.
Bush writes that he “believes in teamwork that unites and serves all Oklahomans.”
“When my son was very young, I drove my son to school and went to his classroom,” Bush writes. “There were 40 kids in there, and I thought, ‘There is no way someone could learn in here, or that a teacher could teach.’ I decided to get involved and asked how I could help.”
Profession/background: A Southwestern Oklahoma State University graduate with a degree in music, Jernigan is a guitarist and former substitute teacher who currently works as a certified nurse aide. According to a June 2022 story in the Southwest Ledger, Jernigan was escorted off Lawton Public Schools property by a police officer. The circumstances of that incident were not entirely clear, but in subsequent Facebook posts Jernigan said the district had paid him $65 per day in the pandemic against his wishes and that the paycheck prevented him from collecting significantly higher unemployment benefits.
Platform: Jernigan is a supporter of campaign finance reform to reduce the amount of money in politics. He also supports improving access to health care for all Oklahomans, as well as reducing the cost of prescription drugs, according to his campaign page.
Jernigan, who announced his campaign by saying he holds “a profound belief in the power of community,” opposes the use of public tax dollars to help fund private schools and favors legislative term limits. Jernigan describes himself as a devout Christian on Facebook.
Earlier this month, Jernigan tagged former Democratic House Speaker Steve Lewis in a Facebook post expressing concern about a “lack of due diligence exhibited in the coverage of my campaign by the Oklahoma Policy Institute,” for which Lewis is a lobbyist and author.
On his campaign Facebook page, Jernigan has also posted various analyses of civic and political processes, including a poem about patriotism and an essay about “protecting the richness of every culture.”
“Cultural sovereignty recognizes that each culture has its own unique traditions, values, languages, arts, and practices that contribute to the richness of human civilization,” he writes. “It emphasizes the importance of preserving and revitalizing these traditions, ensuring their transmission to future generations. This includes protecting cultural artifacts, promoting language revitalization efforts, and supporting cultural educational programs.”