After the terrible midterm results in Oklahoma in 2022, we need a plan and actionable steps to take to move forward.
We've long since passed the definition of insanity with regard to electoral politics in Oklahoma. For years, Dems in Oklahoma have tried to be Republican lite or pretend like the other side has a point or platform we need to adopt some aspect of to win them back. That is false. It hasn't worked, it will never work, people will always support their team and in the state that is near 50th for voter turnout, we should engage our vast untapped reserve of nonvoters, not keep fighting to convince terrible people to be less terrible.
Build Strategic Messages, Issues and Frames, Not Egocentric Candidates
If every election is effectively nationalized. Maybe we need to run on a more national message and spend resources winning folks over to that. Trying to pretend to be something else, clearly convinces nobody and hasn't in more than a decade.
Ballot measures are picking up steam but they are expensive, time consuming, limited to a single subject and since we don't connect them to any longer term political party, project or strategy, they are easily coopted or manipulated by the legislature or people with structural power. They should be a tool in the tool chest of change but running over to them and abandoning structural political organizing is a huge and expensive mistake. We're working on a piece about that later this month.
If we want things to change, we need to try new strategies. We've advocated for years for people to invest in local races, including recruiting a fantastic slate in Oklahoma County, only for all the campaigns, including State House seats, to raise less than $40,000 per race. Meanwhile, incumbents and those chosen by the elite (namely Vicki) raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to win easily. It is easy to blame candidates for not raising millions of dollars, saying they didn't work hard or had such and such personal flaw but that’s not a critique that’s grounded in reality. Also, politics isn't about candidates. It is about how we hash things out in our society and decide what to do. Are we a nation that welcomes immigrants or bans them? Do we believe women have reproductive rights or not?
Think Local, Fund Local and Start Winning
Dems need to analyze their opponents. How many Republicans run incompetent, underfunded or even downright embarrassing campaigns and still win? They aren't winning because they are the better candidate, they win because of some structural issue in the electorate. Take Oklahoma County, for example. Brandon Kirkpatrick ran against Butch Freeman, who is 78 years old, raised basically zero dollars, didn't campaign publicly anywhere, was running for his 9TH TERM and he did about as well as Larry Stein who raised somewhere around $100,000, is a super conservative nutjob, whose most notable media appearances are about his public posts attacking Muslims or weighing in on racism. He ran some of the weirdest campaign ads I've ever seen and attacked his opponent (me) relentlessly on social media for being an atheist on a bunch of posts nobody saw based on engagement numbers. Brandon and I won and lost all the same precincts and got within a few votes of each other. Nobody was deciding this based on our respective campaigns, issues, or personal beliefs. Incumbency bias, some vague sense of name ID, and a lack of interest probably did the work. That's a shame.
These sorts of wins happen all the time though for R's. You could argue most of the Republican State House candidates in OK County were rarely caught campaigning. A few gross mailers from the GOP House PAC and they called it good. Meanwhile, the down ballot Dems had few resources and little help but generally knocked a lot of doors and campaigned aggressively. Mostly, it doesn't make any sense voters would pick Joy/Jena/Vicki at the top and then vote against legislators aligned with them, especially given the high quality of the Dem candidates and the relatively poor quality of the Republican ones.
The first step to getting some things moved in the right direction is winning fights you should already be winning. Dem candidates have won Oklahoma County a bunch of times in recent electoral history. We shouldn't keep having these bad down-ballot results. As Dem party operatives have recently announced, they'll now start looking at local races! While that is welcome news, we should remain skeptical. Large races at the top out raise down-ballot races 100 to 1. Anyone who has done a minute of call time knows that. We need a culture shift if this is to be a reality.
Build Dem, Left and Progressive Infrastructure Between Elections
Mostly though the change that needs to happen is around messaging and infrastructure. It feels like every cycle Dems complain about the message and everyone starts blaming each other. I've evolved on this. The message is rarely coming from the political parties on either side. Messages come from the issues on the ground, real or imagined. The Republicans are great, with the aid of Fox News, Newsmax, a vast network of conservative "think tanks" and interest groups as well as a rapidly growing array of large online operations at manufacturing issues from nowhere. We need to organize against that but in similarly sticky and holistic ways. Oklahoma has so many problems and a government that is wildly underfunded to address them. Pick three to five that we really want to see change and that address the widest swath of potential Dem voters and start repping it hard BEFORE ELECTION TIME!
This will not happen by magic. We have a ton of ideas, aligned groups, and infrastructure ready to go to work but we lack the resources to take action on it. Ballot measures ideas, better messaging around issues that really resonate with the electorate and set Dems on the offensive, instead of constantly reacting to the newest insanity from the right. There are voter registration campaigns and turnout ideas that have worked elsewhere but get little love and virtually no money here. We've got all of it in drafts, but we need the resources to make it fly.
Our current budget is woefully inadequate. Content creation is time-consuming and expensive. To do it right, you need to research it, script it, edit it and really try to dial it into what the audience wants. It needs to be simplified and streamlined for folks who are busy and lack the time, energy, or resources to do hours of research or read a 5,000-word blog to verify something. It needs to be authentic and honest. If you do it right, in a couple of years, it’s what every news station, candidate, and campaign will be talking about. There are clear action steps that people are ready to take to solve it. It's a process that starts with funding.
So with all this said, OPN is at a crossroads. First, we are taking some time off. We spent the final weeks of the election releasing our deeply researched piece on securitization and producing a video explainer with it. It did fairly well on social media, pretty well in earned media (local news), but we had no resources to get it to a wider audience. We are no longer capable of doing this work on a shoestring budget.
We recently launched a merch store with progressive themed items. Head on over and buy yourself or your favorite activist something good.
We are also launching a Patreon. We need to hit a certain goal and then a monthly recurring amount to build sustainable progressive infrastructure in Oklahoma. If we don't, we can't say we didn't try. As it exists currently, Oklahoma Progress Now cannot continue our current work without the necessary resources. Check out our Patreon, it will give a brief history of the organization, our biggest efforts, and what we will do in the future. If you want to see this organization continue and grow, we need your support. Please give generously.