To follow Michael Brooks-Jimenez from door to door in Oklahoma Senate District 44, it seems that he intuitively senses whether to use English or Spanish as soon as he begins to shake hands.
But that’s not surprising.
He grew up on the south side of the city in the district where Spanish and English languages have freely intermingled since right after statehood.
Spanish and English were spoken in his childhood home and as they are now in his home with his wife and two children.
“I’ve been in the district all of my life,” Brooks-Jimenez told Free Press. “I’ve been here. I’ve been involved. It’s where my heart is. I love this place.”
We talked in his law office on the south side of the city and then later followed him through a part of his door knocking one afternoon to get a sense of what it’s like to run once again in that district.
He said that he knocked doors completely across the expansive district twice in the 2014 campaign and so has a good feel for what it will take to have that level of contact with voters in the district again.
“Last time my goal every day was 100 doors per day,” said Brooks-Jimenez. “Just go and talk to people. They need to know who I am, and I need to know what they think.”
In 2014, he ran against Republican incumbent Ralph Shortey and lost by 10 percentage points.
The count in the race was 5,418 for Shortey and 4,384 for Brooks-Jimenez. Independent Constance Fawcett received the remainder 680 votes for a total of 10,482 voting.
The turnout was only about 13 percent in the district that covers over 79,000 voters. (See map at the bottom.)
But now, the race is a different one and comes unexpectedly.
Shortey resigned his Senate seat March 22 after being charged by the Cleveland County District Attorney with engaging in prostitution, engaging in prostitution within 1,000 feet of a church, and transporting a minor for prostitution.
Even though Brooks-Jimenez has deep name recognition and many close ties from his childhood he knows the district has a tradition of low voter turnout.
And there is no general election to whip up interest for this one.
Even more than usual, it could mean that this will be a race to see who can turn out the vote.
His Republican opponent, Joe Griffith, is back in another political race only months after being soundly defeated by Democrat Forrest Bennett for the House District 92 seat in November. Bennett won by 20 percentage points.
Griffith’s strength is that he has already campaigned in a part of the district since House District 92 shares much of its territory with Senate District 44.
Brooks-Jimenez is very clear about his focus. It’s on the people he grew up around in his district.
He believes that they were ignored during Shortey’s time in the seat.
“Being out on the doors, I can’t tell you how many times I talk to people that were frustrated because they called his office looking for direction or looking for help with whatever issue they had, and they never got a call back,” said Brooks-Jimenez.
He thinks the main issue is if their senator will be focused on the people of the district or a larger political agenda at the Capitol.
“Sometimes when people spend too much time out at the Capitol and not enough time in their district they lose touch,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to remember who it is you represent, and why they sent you there.”
He said he is engaged in the community and has been all his life.
“We’ve got to have someone who will be there for the right reasons,” Brooks-Jimenez said.
Ralph Shortey’s packed, stormy town hall meeting in February revealed a lot about what was wrong with representation in the district according to Brooks-Jimenez.
“When Sen Shortey decided that the voters in his district weren’t smart enough to know what they were voting for when it came to criminal justice reform, it was disrespectful.”
He identified larger issues that he wants to see addressed by the Oklahoma Legislature, too.
They are to raise education funding, provide a livable and competitive wage for teachers and regain access to quality jobs.
Governor Mary Fallin has set the filing period for the special election is May 1-3.
The special primary election is set for July 11, with the special general election September 12.
If there is no need for a special primary, the special general election will be July 11.