In the midst of the longest teacher walkout in Oklahoma history, dissatisfaction with the state legislature is rampant but many lawmakers are currently unopposed in the upcoming midterm elections.
Oklahoma has a history of allowing incumbents to run without challenge.
According to the non-partisan group Let’s Fix This, between 2006 and 2018, 52 members of the state legislature have run unopposed at some point and seven have never had an opponent. Currently, 28 members are in office because they did not face a challenger this term. According to data from the Oklahoma Ethics Commission, nearly three-quarters of the House remains without an opponent.
“If we’re never bringing in hat fresh perspective and trying new things, were never going to come up from 49th in the nation. It’s just not going to happen,” Tristen Black with the group Brand New State said.
Black, 28, started the new social media based group with two other women under 30. Brand New State was started to help teachers and other education-minded candidates run against their legislators after the historic teacher walkout. So far, the group has partnered with 50 different other businesses and organizations all willing to aid incumbent challenges.
The 2016 election saw a similar push from teachers looking to loosen the incumbency’s strangle hold on Oklahoma politics.
“You need about $60,000 to run,” Black said. “When our teachers are making under $40,000, how can we expect them to get there? I mean, that seems like and insurmountable obstacle.”
Some have also put themselves in vulnerable positions after being seen in viral videos complaining, belittling and spreading misinformation to teachers. All of it compounding on already high levels of dissatisfaction.
“Typically in politics, we have a very short memory,” SoonerPoll founder Bil Shapard said. “Being so close to the election, I can’t help but feel like it’s going to have a detrimental impact at this time.”
Oklahoma’s midterm elections were already predicted to be somewhat more volatile. With an abnormal amount of special elections and vacant seats stemming from scandals and resignations during the 2017 session, Democrats have taken several seats away from districts that were solidly in favor of Republicans.
According to the polling website FiveThirtyEight, Oklahoma was one of the state’s to watch in the upcoming midterm election cycle. Most of the focus comes after eight special elections at the state level. The polling site has netted a 32 point swing in favor of Democrats. No other state has had a higher swing other than Kentucky.
Candidate filing begins on Wednesday at the Capitol and ends on Friday. Information about the filing process can be found here on the state election board's website.