Are Oklahoma Democrats About To Flip Another State Seat?
Since Donald Trump was elected President in November 2016, no state has been more surprising than Oklahoma.
Oklahoma is one of the reddest states in the country, but in 2017 Oklahoma Democrats picked up four seats that were previously held by Republicans in state special elections.
Amber Jensen, a businesswoman from Woodward, Oklahoma, hopes to be the next Democrat to score an upset victory in the state. Jensen established the Woodward County Democratic Party, the first of its kind in 30 years, which she chaired. She is running for Oklahoma State Senate in SD-27, a rural district in West Oklahoma.
Jensen will face off against Republican Casey Murdock in the special election, which takes place on Tuesday, February 13.
A special election was called after the Republican incumbent Bryce Marlatt resigned in September. Marlatt resigned after he was accused of sexually assaulting an Uber driver and arrested for sexual battery.
In Oklahoma’s most recent State Senate election, 26-year old Democrat Allison Ikley-Freeman won an upset victory in West Tulsa’s Senate District 37. Ikley-Freeman won the traditionally conservative district by just 31 votes.
Oklahoma Democrats hope to keep building on their surprising momentum and want Jensen to begin 2018 the same way Ikley-Freeman ended 2017.
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Read Rantt Media’s interview with Chairwoman Jensen below. It is lightly edited for clarity.
Rantt: What are Oklahoma Democrats getting right in 2017 and 2018, that national Democrats got wrong in 2016?
Jensen: First of all, this started way earlier than 2016. What happened on the national level is that Oklahoma wasn’t taken seriously except when it was time for a [Democratic National Convention] fundraiser. No money, time, and minimal effort was put into supporting progressives in this state.
Secondly, Oklahomans are good at calling out bullshit, and that’s what’s been going on at the state-level. We are tired of seeing national priorities being pushed down our throats when the issues that affect our daily lives — access to healthcare in rural areas, public education, and quality of our roads and bridges — are at stake. Social issues matter deeply to me, but I know that we can’t move forward if the ground below us is literally crumbling.
Rantt: If elected to the Oklahoma State Senate, you’d be in the minority party. How would you work around that to get stuff done?
Jensen: Like everything I do — I listen. There is always a way to find common ground, so long as everyone is willing to sit and listen. This has been a huge issue here. We have politicians choosing party over people, and it needs to be the other way around. Attitudes start from the top. The current leadership needs to stop being politicians and start acting more statesperson-like.
Rantt: You established the Woodward County Democratic Party, the first of its kind in 30 years. How important is it for Democrats to have party infrastructure or “boots on the ground” in every part of the country?
Jensen: ESSENTIAL! We have 77 counties in Oklahoma with a third of them considered rural. That’s 1.5 million people that matter just as much as the other two million citizens living in urban and suburban areas. A Democrat in Laverne or Colcord should matter just as much to the Democratic Party as one in Tulsa or Oklahoma City. Representation matters. Having someone who can be a representative of a viable and principled alternative to the current rhetoric from the White House is essential to a well informed and equipped voter base.
Rantt: Do Democratic victories in Oklahoma in 2017 have more to do with how scandal plagued the Oklahoma GOP has been, or is it about something different that Democrats are doing?
Jensen: Both. Even without the 2016 election, our state legislature was plagued with corruption, selfishness, and deceit. It was only a matter of time before it all came to the surface as it has. This has nothing to do with party and everything to do with elected officials’ lack of accountability. Since the scandals have broke on the state and national scale, the voters’ apathy has receded significantly, making way for transparent practices and moral fortitude to gain a sizeable foothold. Oklahomans want better for themselves, and they deserve better. Now, they’re getting better.
Rantt: You face tough odds in your district. How do you plan to close the gap as you approach Election Day?
Jensen: This campaign has gained a lot of local, state, and national attention. People from the district have taken ownership on what kind of leadership they want to have representing them in Oklahoma City and it has taken the form of door knocking, phone banking, and donating to this campaign. The enthusiasm for this race has reached even the central and eastern parts of Oklahoma. On a national scale, I have had volunteers with Postcards to Voters write voters in my district thousands of postcards, more than 20,000. We’ve had teams knocking doors, phone banking, posting to their social media, and just generally doing whatever it takes to Get Out The Vote. Our message is definitely getting out there!
Rantt: What are your policy priorities in District 27?
Jensen: First, we have to address the budget. The budget affects nearly all issues we face, including public education, access to health care, criminal justice, roads and bridges, senior citizen care, veterans, the economy, and several other issues. Once we have tackled the revenue and budget failures, we can begin to fix the mess our state is in. We can give teacher pay raises, state workers can have better benefits, the overcrowded prisons can be reformed, the roads and bridges can be fixed. It all hinges on the budget!