House District 72
Democrats Adam Martin, left, and Michelle McCane, right, are the only candidates running for the open Oklahoma House District 72 seat in 2024. (NonDoc)

Democratic candidates Michelle McCane and Adam Martin are seeking the open seat in House District 72 currently held by Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa), who was the first African American to represent the district and who is now running for mayor of Tulsa. This election cycle, two African Americans are the only candidates on the ballot as Nichols is not seeking re-election after his fourth term.

McCane works as an English teacher and library media specialist at Traice Acadamy, an alternative school within Tulsa Public Schools. She said she would soon transfer to Central High School to fill a full-time library position, unless she wins HD 72 and is prevented from doing so by the state’s dual office-holding prohibition. McCane specified her candidacy values in an interview ahead of Tuesday’s Democratic primary.

Adam Martin, the 2022 Democratic nominee for Oklahoma’s 1st Congressional District, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview. On his website, Martin said his motivation to run for House District 72 is “to be an advocate for hard-working Oklahomans led by his faith and love for our community.”

Although McCane originally laughed off the idea of running for office, she said it was Nichols who first suggested that she pursue HD 72.

“A few years ago, I reached out to Rep. Nichols about wanting to do more within the community,” McCane said. “I wanted to get more engaged in a broader way, and so we met for coffee. He mentioned that he was going to be running for mayor and it would be an open seat and kind of lightly suggested it.”

An oddly shaped district, House District 72 runs east from north Tulsa all the way south around the city to much of its west side, encompassing some of Owasso and covering the unincorporated community of Turley.

With no other candidates running, the winner of House District 72 will be decided at the Tuesday, June 18, Democratic primary. Polls are set to be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Candidates focus on education, housing

While trying to be more accessible to her community, McCane said she has campaigned by knocking on people’s doors and listening to public concerns for a better understanding of the district’s needs and wants.

“I think education and a livable wage are two big ones that have come up just from people at the doors,” McCane said.

Working in education, McCane said she has detailed awareness into the issues facing Tulsa County students.

“Some are being homeschooled, some may be in charters, but predominantly they’re in public school, and so the failure of public school would mean the failure of my community,” McCane said. “It’s the foundational education for most people. And so that’s been one that has come up regularly, is the state superintendent, just the quality of education, and I work for TPS, but I absolutely agree that TPS has room for improvement, and we need to do better and be innovative in order to get there — whatever we need to do to improve student outcomes.”

Martin also lists education as an issue he would like to tackle if elected. On Martin’s website, he characterizes his plans, including:

  • Provide equitable funding for public schools;
  • Provide year-round, free universal school meals;
  • Incentivize locally sourced food for school cafeterias;
  • End “unaccountable profit-motive of charter schools”;
  • Expand early childhood education;
  • Guarantee tuition for two-year universities and trade schools.

McCane said she would like to see more safeguards around how State Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters can use state funding. She said she hoped Gov. Kevin Stitt would sign a bill prohibiting Walters’ contracts with PR firms aimed at raising his national profile, although Stitt made a slightly different decision Friday.

“I think that that’s important not just to address our current superintendent who absolutely needs to be held accountable, but also all of our policies and our procedures and our safeguards and our checks and balances,” McCane said. “They should be set up in a way that no matter who is in a seat, they are held to the same high standard and held accountable for the things that they do.”

McCane said community members have also mentioned their struggles with increased rent prices and the current cost of living.

“I’ve actually spoken to two people this week who have lost their jobs and are now trying to find other jobs, and they’re facing the fact that jobs aren’t paying a wage that allows them to be able to pay their bills,” McCane said. “And so that’s a concern.”

On McCane’s website, she explains that the median income in HD 72 is $29,000 per year and that, comparatively, the income needed for a one-bedroom living space is $29,790. As a lifelong resident of north Tulsa, she advocates for sustainable and affordable housing in the area, which has long been under-resourced in terms of infrastructure such as sidewalks, parks, housing and commercial development, and animal control.

“In the northern part of my district, we’ve talked several times with voters about infrastructure, which is not necessarily a state issue,” McCane said. “So that’s why I look forward to collaborating with the City Council.”

Martin’s website notes he grew up in a lower-income household and came from “humble beginnings,” working two jobs to pay his way through college. He also spent time living out of his car, which offered firsthand experience regarding Oklahoma’s living wage and housing issues.

As part of Martin’s priorities listed on his website, he hopes to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and adopt equal pay for equal work laws. His website states that he wants to crack down on discrimination against low-income renters, stop unjust evictions and curb rent increases.

McCane: ‘I’ve always been able to work with people’

Asked if she would have concerns about working across party lines if she is elected as a member of the Democratic Party to the Oklahoma Legislature, McCane said she collaborates well.

“I’m in the minority party, but I’ve been in minority populations my entire life,” McCane said. “I’m a woman, I’m Black, I’m Indigenous and queer. Those are all things that have always put me into the minority in a lot of places, and I’ve always been able to work with people.”

McCane said having those different perspectives will be helpful serving in a House seat and that she is not easily discouraged being a Democrat in a majority Republican state.

“I’ve talked to people about this on the doors. I am going in as the minority party, and so I will not have the ability to, you know, just run through every single bill that I want. It will be a challenge to get things passed,” McCane said. “With some of the legislation that’s presented that is not helpful, it’s people misunderstanding or not being aware or not having experience. And so all of those marginalized or minority identities that I bring to the table are helpful in that.”

According to his website, Martin is an advocate for women’s and LGBTQ rights in Oklahoma. Martin writes that he wants to remain an “informed ally” and says “men should not make decisions about women’s bodies” on the topic of abortion.

McCane said she has been researching and working on her campaign for two years.

“I’m somebody who really values honesty, integrity and initiative. I am also not entitled to this seat. It’s why I have been working so hard,” McCane said. “It’s why I started in 2022, because I knew that it’s not something that you just get to go, you know, put your name on and you deserve it. It’s something that you have to earn, and I’m very much about that.”