The Oklahoma Democratic Party decided Saturday to allow Independents to vote in its primaries. It’s the smartest move for a state political party I’ve witnessed in a while.
Independents are growing in numbers in Oklahoma. Allowed to participate with the Democratic Party in June and August primaries and runoffs, the GOP could find it difficult to bring this key voter block back by November.
Republicans would be foolish to take their Obama-era years of unchallenged electoral invincibility for granted.
A Republican president in the White House in 2016 (yes, it’s a remote possibility), and suddenly the GOP is to blame for society’s ills two years later.
While Oklahoma will certainly be a blood red state for many years, Democrats could start winning a few key races. It likely won’t happen in a presidential year when national liberals continue to drive a wedge between the Democratic Party and most Oklahomans, but state issues could take center stage again in 2018.
What if voters tire of driving daily across those potholes and perceive that transportation promises were not kept? What if Oklahoma’s student achievement remains at the bottom nationally even as the state’s teacher shortage continues to be an unaddressed crisis?
What if the divide widens between the old-fashioned Reagan conservatives and the more extreme Libertarian wings of the party. Democrats could gain relevance in legislative battles, deciding which faction on what issue to side with.
What if the unspeakable happened and a Boren ran for governor in 2018?
I’m not making predictions, just laying out a doomsday scenario, that while full of ifs, is still a possibility.
What if the Democratic Party actually garnered a third of the seats in the Legislature and could sustain a veto? It could give Democrats momentum and that could get out of hand in a hurry.
Before Obama took office, it took a good campaign and a quality candidate to convince “swing voters” to choose a Republican locally, just as they had voted nationally for decades. It took candidates like longtime Lawton school Principal Ann Coody who was elected to the House, and oil and gas businessman Brian Bingman who ended up as the leader of the state Senate, to win formerly-held Democrat seats.
Like many other legislators from that era, they had impressive resumes and were highly regarded in their communities, but still had to wage aggressive campaigns to flip a seat from Democrat to Republican. Back then, the GOP had to field a solid crop of candidates to harvest results in the November general elections.
So now that the Democratic Party has welcomed Independents into their little cottage, it can feel real cozy to those pesky Independents snubbed by the GOP in that big palatial home on the other side of town.
Here is the best part for state Democrats:
It’s a safe bet that Republicans won’t follow suit.
We now want our candidates to be ideologically pure; to be those Fox News-watching red-meat conservatives who pray over the U.S. Constitution before sending their kids off to school. Independents could dilute the partisan purity. And at least for now, Oklahoma Republicans can afford to be pure, because it’s just very difficult to lose in November no matter how hard we sometimes try.
There is no question the state’s Democratic Party in Oklahoma made this move out of desperation, a last gasp of breath to find life again.
But if winning campaigns matters to political parties, then it was a clear, smart and historic move for the loyal opposition.