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Capitol Insider: Oklahoma Democratic Party Seeks Rebound Based On Values

Oklahoma Democratic Party
Alicia Andrews

New voter registrations in 2020 show the Republican Party out-pacing the Democratic Party by a large margin in Oklahoma. The party that held a firm group on Oklahoma politics for a century now faces an uphill battle to grow its influence in what has become a deep red state. As our Oklahoma Engaged election project continues and with election day nearing, KGOU's Dick Pryor and eCapitol's Shawn Ashley talk to Oklahoma Democratic Party Chair Alicia Andrews about Democrats' approach to the 2020 election. 


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider, and we're again talking politics with Election Day quickly coming toward us. I'm Dick Pryor with eCapitol news director Shawn Ashley. We continue our Oklahoma Engaged coverage with the chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, Alicia Andrews. Thanks for joining us.

Alicia Andrews: Thanks for having me.

Shawn Ashley: Alicia, as of January, Democrats trailed Republicans in registrations in Oklahoma by about a quarter million registered voters. Republicans have far outpaced Democrats in new registrations. Why is the Democratic Party not attracting more new voters in Oklahoma?

Alicia Andrews: I think there's a combination of things that are happening in a lot of parts of the state. There were people who were traditionally registered as Democrats but continued to vote as Republicans and so I think what's happened since January to present is that a lot of that has been cleaned up. Additionally, we, the Democrats haven't been out doing as much voter registration as we typically do due to COVID concerns and those kinds of things whereas Republicans have been out and newly registered folks are newly engaged folks, even if they don't really know that much about politics, they either register however, the group that's registering them leads into an in default of that, they register with the party who is currently in power. And sadly, that is what's going on in Oklahoma. with registrations, logging.

Shawn Ashley: With registrations lagging you have to rely on turnout to carry your candidates. What is the Democratic message to get out your voters in Oklahoma this year?

Alicia Andrews: So, we've made a big push about educating voters. I like to say that my passion is making sure that everyone has free access to the ballot and are educated when they get there. And so we've done a big push on education and talking about our values with true Oklahoma values, looking out for our brother, making sure I have a livable wage and access to health care. And so just honing in on our message, because, frankly, Oklahoma is a nonvoting state. Republicans don't show up at a percentage basis any more than Democrats do. But it's more of them. So, their percentages are more. And so it's truly just a matter of getting out more than our average 30 percent, 33 percent.

Dick Pryor: Can Democrats push an anti-Trump message in a state that will likely vote overwhelmingly for him?

Alicia Andrews: I don't think that anti-Trump is the message. That's not enough of a message. Right?

Dick Pryor: So when someone asks, what do Democrats stand for? Why should I vote for a Democrat this year? What do you tell them?

Alicia Andrews: Well, I tell them that Democrats actually stand for something, ‘cause right now in Oklahoma Republicans are just the party of Trump. But we are the party of our fellow man. We believe that a rising tide raises all ships. And so a livable wage and access to health care and criminal justice reform and education reform and making sure that all kids have access to education regardless of their zip code. Everybody wants their kids to have access to health care. Everybody wants a livable wage. When we just talk issues, you know, you can get people, no matter how they're registered to listen to your message. And once they hear your message, if they're inclined to vote based on their values and not just by the letter by a person's name, we can usually sway them.

Shawn Ashley: Two high-profile races we’re watching this year, and for that matter, most of the state and even some of the country are in the U.S. Senate where Democrat Abby Broyles is squaring off against Oklahoma's senior senator Jim Inhofe and the Fifth Congressional District race where Democratic incumbent Kendra Horn is being challenged by Republican State Senator Stephanie Bice. Let's take that last race first. There's a lot of fear messaging coming from supporters of both candidates. Groups supporting Kendra Horn have attacked State Senator Bice by trying to tie her to former Governor Mary Fallin. Why do Democrats think that message will work and who will it appeal to?

Alicia Andrews: That's one message. And it's not a matter of our side trying to tie state Senator Bice to former governor. She absolutely aligned her faults with the former governor. And so, it's factual. And why do we think that message will work is until our current administration in recent memory Mary Fallin was the worst governor we've had. Under her direction education spending tanked and ended up in a crisis where we had teachers of all stripes, you know, at the capitol. And it is important to remind people of who a person really is, not what they say they are when they're campaigning or who they really are and she has a record that she has to defend. And so that's why we think that's important, because, again, everyone wants their children to have a decent education. And Senator Bice repeatedly voted against that.

Shawn Ashley: In the Senate race, Abby Broyles, a former TV news reporter and lawyer, is challenging Jim Inhofe who is seeking his fifth full term. He's been in the Senate for 26 years, and in fact, will turn 86 two weeks after the election. As the challenger, what is Abby Broyles’ argument that should resonate in Oklahoma among both Republicans and Democrats, as well as independents and libertarians?

Alicia Andrews: Firstly, I want to make sure that I'm not on record speaking of his age, because I'm not an ageist, I don't want that message to get out there. The message that people should understand and why I find myself voting for Abby Broyles is not just because she has a D behind her name, but because she is accessible, that she has a grasp of the issues and she understands that should she be elected for U.S. Senate from Oklahoma, that she actually represents Oklahomans and that we deserve to hear from our representation and not just see our representation on TV when they're embarrassing us. She believes in climate change and she understands that there are multiple factors that contribute to climate change. She believes in the rights for all of our citizens, including our LGBTQIA, plus our underrepresented areas of the state. She believes in that. And those are the kinds of things that are American values, are Oklahoma values.

Dick Pryor: Outside groups have spent a lot of money and messaging time in Oklahoma this year. You have asked district attorneys in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties to investigate dark money groups that are opposing two Democrats, one in The Village and the other in Tulsa. What are you objecting to and what's the status of that?

Alicia Andrews: First, I want to say I use the two candidates I mentioned in my press conference as evidence, but they're attacking in a couple of different races , as well. My issue with that one in particular isn't just the false and lazy accusations against those candidates. It's that that organization is not legally registered anywhere. That makes it illegal. And if we don't insist on integrity in our process, it goes further off the rails than what it is, and that's really what it's about. The attacks against the candidates, again, they're lazy. I mean, literally, they use the exact same template mailer. They just took one face off the other for a house candidate in The Village and a Senate candidate in South Tulsa. Those aren't the same kinds of neighborhoods. They're not the same chamber. I mean, it's just lazy. But in addition to lazy, it's illegal.

Dick Pryor: Republicans hold big majorities in the state Senate and House. What key races do you think that we should be focusing on?

Alicia Andrews: In the State Senate, Senate District 35 being vacated by Stanislawski because he's termed out that was a really highly contested race. I think there were six or seven folks in the primary going after that seat. And it's down now to Baber as a Republican and Jo Anna Dossett as the Democrat. And we believe she's going to win that one. Chelsey Branham in The Village - she is an incumbent, but they are coming after that seat pretty hot and heavy and I think that's one to watch. And then Larry Bush down in Lawton. He's run for that seat before and he's lost it by less than one hundred votes. We think we have a really good chance of flipping that one.

Shawn Ashley: Democrats seem to be stronger in urban areas. You mentioned Oklahoma City, The Village and Tulsa, just a moment ago, while Republicans hold a bigger advantage in rural counties. What does the Democratic Party offer that appeals to rural voters?

Alicia Andrews: That was one of the things when I was running for chair that I focused on. We have not been giving…the Democratic Party has not been given our rural neighbors enough attention, enough energy and effort. And so we've stepped up our effort because it's important that we just don't take the urban model and just dump it in and rural communities. And so we started listening to our rural communities and, you know, kind of tailoring our message…not tailoring our message…our messages is really the same message, but making sure that they understand our message isn't just about the divisive issues.

Dick Pryor: Oklahoma Democratic Party chair Alicia Andrews, thanks for joining us.

Alicia Andrews: Thank you for having me.

Dick Pryor: Good to have you with us on Capitol Insider. If you have questions, e-mail us at news@kgou.org or contact us on Twitter @kgounews and @ecapitol. You can also find us at kgou.org and ecapitol.net. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I'm Dick Pryor.

Dick Pryor has more than 25 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November, 2016.
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