Oklahoma Educators Running For State Office
OKLAHOMA CITY - A record number of education candidates filed for political office this year. Following Tuesday's election 25 were elected.
Over the past several months leading up to the election, we followed four of those candidates on the campaign trail.
Former teacher Beverly Adams, school administrator Sherrie Conley, retired science teacher Bryan O'Brien and high school teacher Becki Maldonado were among the 101 educators and school leaders vying for a seat at the state capitol, a political journey fueled by what happened in April.
Thousands of Oklahoma teachers rallied at the state capitol demanding change.
"The walkout was very important," said Sherrie Conley, a candidate for House District 20. "It was the pivotal time in the history of Oklahoma."
While most lawmakers were supportive, ultimately approving an average pay increase of $6,180 for teachers, many of them felt the teachers went too far.
"They come into this house and want to act this way. I'm not voting for another sticking measure," Rep. Kevin McDugle, (R) Broken Arrow had said during a rant on Facebook.
"Even though we kept trying to explain to them 'no it's not about us, it's about our students, they were again ignoring and not listening to us," recalled Becki Maldonado, who ran for State Senate 16.
"They were hired to teach. They need to be in the classroom," Rep. Bobby Cleveland had said during a live phone interview with News 9 during the walkout.
"It really upset me," Conley remembers when hearing Cleveland's comment. "I thought 'you know what? It's time for me to step up and do what I can to make a difference.'"
The tensions at the capitol motivated Conley, not only to vote current legislators out, but instead take their place. So, she hit the campaign trail.
"I feel like I'll be able to be an advocate or a voice for the teachers in the schools," she said.
It's the same reason Oklahoma City High School teacher Becki Maldonado decided to run for State Senate 16.
"We have to keep the movement going all the way through until we have our classrooms fully funded," Maldonado said.
After nine days of walking for change, these candidates spent the next several months walking door to door.
"I mean it's morning to night, every day," said Bryan O'Brien. "It's a lot of walking we've hit about 9,000 doors."
O'Brien, a retired science teacher, drummed up votes for his run in State Senate 36.
"Education is opportunity for our youth, it's the solution to most of our problems," he said. "We're gonna keep getting better but there are some issues right now that if they don't get better fast there's not gonna be a tomorrow."
Beverly Adams, a former PE teacher turned business woman, knocked on her share of door too, trying to reach out to voters during her run for House District 47.
"You could knock on doors all day and not feel like you've made a dent in your list," she said. "It's just listening to people, when I had a student who had an issue, if you never listen to the problem, you're never gonna know what it is and you're never gonna fix it."
"I think that really developing relationships are key and not getting in there and insisting on my way but saying 'hey, how can we work together to make this better,'" Maldonado said.
These candidates were hoping six months of campaigning would earn them the opportunity to be a voice for Oklahomans and to teach yet another lesson, this one, in determination.
"I see the names on the desks and to know that I could walk in here in February and they'll be a spot for me, it's very emotional," Conley said.
"Oklahoma is broken, has been for a while," Adams said. "If we can get new people and new blood in there and the people that aren't politicians and are the common folk, the business people the teachers, if we can get them in there, we can all make a difference, we just have to listen to each other."
Beverly Adams lost in the primary runoff. Becki Maldonado and Bryan O'Brien both lost their race for the state senate. However, Sherrie Conley won by a landslide against her opponent for House District 20.