With walkouts over, Oklahoma teachers run for office

At least a dozen teachers from Oklahoma have filed to run for office in the November midterm elections. Many of these activists are first-time candidates who feel their representatives failed to secure better funding for public schools and higher wages.

Nate Billings/The Oklahoman
Carri Hicks (l.) gets a hug from other teachers after filing for Oklahoma Senate District 40 on April 11 in Oklahoma City. The statewide teacher walkouts here overlapped with a three day filing period for candidacy in the upcoming midterm elections.

When Oklahoma second-grade teacher Cyndi Ralston heard her state representative berate teachers for walking out of the classroom and marching on the Capitol, she knew she'd be running against him in November.

State Rep. Kevin McDugle (R), an ex-Marine Corps drill instructor, chastised teachers in a video he posted on Facebook for failing to thank lawmakers after he and other Republicans voted in favor of tax hikes to fund a teacher raise.

"I'm not voting for another stinking measure when they're acting the way they're acting," state Representative McDugle said.

The walkout that shuttered schools in many of Oklahoma's largest districts for two straight weeks came to an end on Thursday, although some districts already had planned to close on Friday, including Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

The largest teachers union is calling for its members to shift their focus to electing pro-education candidates in November. Ms. Ralston is among at least a dozen teachers, most of them first-time candidates, who are taking heed.

"There are so many parents, community members, and students up here seeing what's going on and how they [lawmakers] are not responding to the voices of the people they represent," Ralston said after filing her candidacy papers. "I think it's going to grow."

The teacher-led rebellion over low wages and funding cuts has spread from its genesis in West Virginia to Arizona, Kentucky, and Oklahoma. Oklahoma's teacher walkout coincided with the three days when Oklahoma allows candidates to file for elective offices, giving frustrated educators an outlet for their enthusiasm. And as Kentucky's legislative session wound down this year after a fight over teacher pensions, teachers mobilized to support legislative candidates, and the influential Kentucky Education Association signaled it would turn its attention to the ballot box.

Amanda Jeffers, a Democrat and a high school English teacher in Oklahoma, said she was spurred by the teacher movement to run against a Republican incumbent, even though she acknowledges an uphill battle in a district with a 2-to-1 GOP registration advantage.

"Looking at my district, there really hasn't been anyone stepping up to the plate, so I thought: 'Well, how about me?' " Ms. Jeffers said.

Despite the disadvantage on paper, Jeffers said she thinks the teacher movement could put some wind in her sails in an election where Democrats already are energized.

A similar effort by dozens of Oklahoma teachers in the 2016 election, most of them Democrats, was largely unsuccessful, but the Oklahoma Democratic Party's chairwoman, Anna Langthorn, said she senses this cycle is different.

"Voters are more receptive, engaged, and aware about what the issues actually are, and there's not a presidential election at the top of the ticket," Ms. Langthorn said, "so we're focusing on Oklahoma issues, and I think that will give everybody a head start."

Democrats also are emboldened by a string of four special election pickups from Republicans since 2016, including two victories by Democratic public school teachers. Republicans hold a 72-28 advantage in the House and a 39-8 edge in the Senate, but Democrats hope to chip away at that and have their eyes on an even bigger prize – the open governor's seat.

Langthorn said the party has been overwhelmed in recent weeks with potential candidates seeking guidance on how to run for office. She spent Wednesday and Thursday greeting state House and Senate candidates with a packet that included details about free training, templates for literature and websites, and contact names of Democratic political consultants.

While many of the teacher candidates were Democrats, some Republican educators also threw their hat in the ring against GOP incumbents they felt weren't supportive enough of public schools.

Republican Tammie Reynolds, an assistant superintendent from the southwest Oklahoma town of Elgin, said she decided to run against the GOP incumbent in large part because of his vote against a tax-hike plan that funded teacher pay and public schools.

"Regardless of Democrat or Republican, I think your representative should represent you, and if he doesn't then I think it's time to go and say: 'You're not representing me, and I'm either going to vote someone in who does or I'm going to file myself,' " Ms. Reynolds said.

Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Pam Pollard acknowledged many GOP incumbents were faced with a difficult decision this session on whether to approve a tax hike and anger anti-tax conservatives to their right, or vote against it and upset teachers and educators in their district.

"It's going to make them talk to their voters and explain their votes on both sides, either why did they raise taxes or why did they not vote for more taxes," Ms. Pollard said.

Trebor Worthen, a former House member and now a GOP campaign consultant, said the political winds have clearly shifted since 2016 and many incumbents are feeling the pressure.

"I think that anyone running against incumbents will likely experience more success this year than they did in 2016," Mr. Worthen said. "And teachers are certainly contributing to that anti-incumbent mood."

This story was reported by The Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to With walkouts over, Oklahoma teachers run for office
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today