As the U.S. and the rest of the world sat patiently awaiting election results, Oklahoma was one of the first states called for President Donald Trump.
Major victories followed for the Oklahoma GOP. More specifically, multiple Democratic-held state house and senate seats were flipped by Republican challengers.
However, in the midst of the state’s red wave, Democratic candidate Mauree Turner won their race for House District 88’s seat.
Turner’s victory garnered national and international attention with coverage from CNN, Washington Post, USA Today, and BBC as they will be the first non-binary person to hold office in the U.S. and the first Muslim in Oklahoma to be elected.
Just weeks before the election, Free Press wrote a rundown of their race against Republican candidate Kelly Barlean with a layout of each candidate’s positions.
The following is from an interview with Turner that Free Press conducted over the phone just a few days after their victory.
We went beyond the headlines to get a solid look into how Turner plans to implement a progressive, community-oriented agenda being only one of the nearly 20 Democrats in the house.
Turner was in a way running in two races as they were deeply involved in State Question 805’s campaign. Only 38.9% of Oklahoma voters supported the ballot measure, and there were many debates on whether it would do more harm than good if passed.
“The hope is that going forward we will be able to do holistic justice reform and…get people to understand that it’s never okay to lean on a system that praises revenge rather than rehabilitation,” Turner said.
The main pushback on SQ 805 was its wording.
The measure, which would have prohibited prosecutors from using someone’s non-violent criminal history as a means to increase a current sentence they are facing for a non-violent crime, only applied to the Constitution’s 2020 list of non-violent crimes.
However, some non-violent crimes include domestic violence, child trafficking, and animal cruelty, which raised red flags for many.
“State Question 805 (SQ805) will create a culture where crime is okay in Oklahoma by reducing penalties for career criminals. With SQ805, habitual offenders of serious crimes will spend less time in prison,” Oklahomans United Against 805 wrote on their website.
Advocates for the state question believe that it can be easily fixed through work at the legislative level, but the ballot measure still did not pass.
Bills to achieve 805 goals
Turner mentioned that there was a misunderstanding of what the ballot measure would actually accomplish and said that many were concerned about repeated domestic abusers.
“A good portion of women that are sitting in Oklahoma’s prisons right now are survivors of domestic violence,” Turner said.
They went on to say that most non-violent crimes are tied to issues like property theft and drug possession.
The Oklahoma Bureau of Investigations found that there were six times as many people incarcerated for non-violent crimes than violent crimes, which was the reason why the ballot measure was created, to decrease Oklahoma’s large prison population.
“What 805 could do really got overshadowed. I think we could’ve gone a little bit harder on what we really messaged to the people and what we should have been doing because 805 was also something that I helped build,” Turner explained.
They plan on trying to author bills that will tackle issues that 805 would have addressed.
Originally, when Turner and other community members tried to get the legislature to enact prison reform there was actually little done, which is why State Question 805 was created.
Turner cited State Question 780 and 781 as examples of how community advocacy works. The measures reclassified simple possession of some substances and other non-violent crimes as misdemeanors and made a public mental health and addiction fund.
“We can’t get [criminal justice reform] in the legislature. So that’s why we often put those choices in the hands of communities,” they said.
Community-based mentality on issues
When asked about education, Turner tied the issue to criminal justice reform.
“We have continuously funded a justice system that doesn’t help people while defunding public education,” Turner claimed. “So the hope is that we will start funding community resources so that those things are priorities rather than leaning on a justice system.”
Turner wants to work with the Oklahoma Policy Institute to reconfigure the state budget in a way that focuses on providing public resources for Oklahoma communities.
In terms of environmental regulations, Turner represents a district whose residents are at higher risk of danger during an earthquake due to socioeconomic circumstances that prevent them from being fully prepared for one, according to one recent study.
In the political landscape of Oklahoma, expressing pro-environmental views can be considered being anti-oil and gas as well.
And in the recent U.S. Congressional District race between Kendra Horn and Stephanie Bice, many argue that Horn’s pro-environmental history cost her the win.
We asked about that in our interview.
Turner said, “I think we do a disservice to the people when we neglect the things in our community that cause issues…when it comes to earthquakes and [other environmental issues].”
“And I get it, I know that a lot of people make their livelihood off of oil and gas, especially here in Oklahoma…but caring for a community and their well being…and the racial and economic justice that is also tied into climate justice are things that we can’t neglect.”
On Turner’s campaign website, they want to raise the minimum wage in Oklahoma to $12, and eventually $15, because they see people in their community barely getting by and living paycheck-to-paycheck.
Turner explained that their mother used to work three jobs just to get by and that many Oklahomans are having to choose between which basic necessities they need.
“The number of folks who are one paycheck away from living on the street is unbearable. In order to make sure that Oklahomans are cared for, then we have to make sure that [the government is] investing in them.”
These stances fall under the progressive mindset and Turner has said in multiple interviews that they do not mind the label of being progressive just as long as people know that it means that they stand for supporting the overall well-being of a community.
“I know that I am something that the folks at the legislature on both sides of the aisle have never seen and experienced before and I think it’s hard for people to grapple with that.”