With just a year until the 2020 general election, the fight over balance of power in Oklahoma’s Legislature is starting to intensify.
Recently released campaign finance reports show the 93 Republicans in the Legislature who are up for re-election next year have built a total campaign war chest of over $2 million, or an average of about $22,800 each, as of Sept. 30.
Their 24 Democratic counterparts, meanwhile, reported a total of about $263,000 cash on hand, or an average of nearly $11,000 each.
The 2020 presidential campaign, along with congressional races such as the heated contest expected in the U.S. House seat won by Democrat Kendra Horn in 2018, figure to be the main draws when Oklahomans head to the polls next year.
At the one-year countdown to Election Day, the fundraising numbers offer a sneak peek into legislative races that will determine the party makeup of the Legislature for the next two years.
Will Republicans Extend Dominance?
Although there will be plenty on the line, don’t expect a shift in which party controls the Oklahoma Legislature.
Republicans now control about 78% of the seats, holding 39 of the 48 Senate seats and 77 of the 101 House seats.
If Democrats want to gain ground, they must break a streak dating back to the 1980s.
Democrats have failed to pick up seats in every general election since 1988 , when Democrats controlled about 70% of the House andSenate.
Since then, Republicans have either picked up seats or held their ground in each general election.
Although the party’s control is not in question, the extent of its dominance could be.
A key number for both parties is 76 – the number of lawmakers in the House needed to clear the 75% threshold in order to approve tax hikes. Until this year, Republicans weren’t able to meet that threshold without help from Democrats, which gave the minority party negotiating leverage when Republicans proposed raising taxes.
Will Fewer Retirements Mean Less Changeover?
Last year’s election was a watershed, with the election of 56 new House members and 10 new senators bringing in one of the largest freshman classes in state history.
Don’t expect that level of change next year.
Going into the 2018 election, 20 of the 149 sitting lawmakers, or 13.5%, were prevented from running for re-election because they had reached their term limit of 12 years.
By comparison, only five incumbents will be term-limited from running in 2020. Those five lawmakers – Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa; Rep. Harold Wright, R-Weatherford; Rep. Charles Ortega, R-Altus; Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, and Rep. Lewis Moore, R-Arcadia – are all Republicans.
Joining that group are Sen. Joseph Silk, R-Broken Bow; Rep. Shane Stone, D-Oklahoma City, and Rep. David Perryman, D-Chickasha, who announced they won’t seek re-election.
The number of incumbents retiring could increase when lawmakers and other candidates formally file for office during the April 8-10 filing period.
Several challengers are not waiting until then to launch their campaigns.
Ethics Commissions filings show 39 non-incumbent candidates have filed paperwork with the state to be able to start fundraising – and some of them candidates are taking in big money.
Nine of the non-incumbents already have raised more than $10,000. Republican Kyden Creekpaum, who is is running for Stanislawski’s Senate District 35 seat, has raised $88,000, and Jenks resident Chris Emerson, also a Republican, has raised more than $60,000 in a bid for the seat held by Allison Ikley-Freeman, D-Tulsa.