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This guest opinion piece is from Nick Singer. He has been a candidate for office and worked as an organizer, activist, consultant, lobbyist, and volunteer for a range of progressive causes. He is based in OKC.

OPINION (Free Press) — Joy Hofmeister has announced her run for Governor of Oklahoma as a Democrat. Currently, she’ll have to get through a Democratic primary against Sen. Connie Johnson to face Stitt in the general election.

Dem party leaders, former Governors, and liberals far and wide are overjoyed to have what is expected to be a credible, statewide elected leader challenging Gov Stitt in 2022. Progressives, some Black and indigenous leaders, and some Dem party operatives are concerned that the recent switch in parties suggests her change of heart is only surface deep as well as casting aside a well-liked Black woman who announced months ago.

There are really two ways to look at this, the pragmatic take or the problematic take if you are a supporter of progressive or even particularly liberal values.  

The problematic take acknowledges the deep cynicism of our time and assumes Hofmeister is mostly interested in her own personal power, will play to the do-nothing middle, and govern as a Republican who isn’t Stitt. She’ll sell out Dems on abortion, LGBTQ rights, racial justice, and other social issues along with giveaways to oil and gas companies. She’ll constantly try to find the line to attempt to appease conservatives and give up the rights, freedom, and safety of large swaths of the Democratic base.

The pragmatic take is that Joy ran for State Superintendent initially as a challenger to a deeply ideological conservative and unpopular Janet Barresi and won. She has governed moderately while staying staunchly in the pro-public education camp and opposing vouchers and defunding of schools at every turn. She’s stayed out of the right-wing culture wars (outside of a disastrous weighing in against the transgender bathroom rule during the Obama years) and in recent years, even stood up to her former party on critical race theory, masks and vaccines. 

All this to say, she’s never been a far-right Republican in any meaningful sense of the term. Conservatives already know who they are voting for in 2022. It’s COVID’s greatest ally, Kevin Stitt. Hofmeister has the incredibly tall order of cobbling together a coalition of Dems, independents, disaffected Republicans, and a wide spectrum of people to the left of the greed, fear-mongering, conspiracy theories, and racial animus that drives the modern Republican party and which has deep support in Oklahoma.

It seems unlikely she does that by being Republican-lite. While liberals are embarrassing themselves with how willing they are to ignore the Black woman (Sen Connie Johnson) who announced months ago to challenge Stitt, they aren’t the folks that need convincing. Hofmeister has to convince progressives, BIPOC communities, LGBTQ citizens, and others that she will work for them as well. In an age of hyper-polarization, the center is what it is, it’s the rest of us you need to convince to show up to win.

Hofmeister can make a decent case. She can speak to her radical centrist roots and moderation with her governing record but she can demonstrate to progressives and marginalized communities that the Republican party is wrong on just about all of their current rhetoric. She can lean into her party switch, show she has learned something, and capture a base that hasn’t had much to get excited about. If she doesn’t, what’s the point in rolling out for her?   

Sen Johnson is a fantastic public servant, a tireless advocate for many worthy causes, and would make a fine Governor (or Lieutenant Governor, Labor Commissioner, etc). The challenge so far is her campaign has struggled to achieve lift-off. With a months-long head start, currently filed reports suggest anemic fundraising and there has been a lack of attack against our caviar eating, COVID ignoring, border watching Governor. It hasn’t inspired much support. 

If Democrats are going to get excited about this one race, they need to start looking at all the others. Hofmeister has spent years in the snake pit with a State Board of Education that routinely undermined and sabotaged her. Leaving her as the sole statewide elected Dem or with disastrous minorities in the legislature doesn’t yield much hope for progress on healthcare, criminal justice reform, education, or a myriad of other issues. Dems need to think bigger.

If Joy’s not your deal, fine. Plenty of other races need help and affect our lives much more directly. The circular firing squad likely gets folks nowhere and only creates dysfunction. Look at the current primary between Lahmeyer and Lankford! Lankford, who is already one of the most conservative Senators in the US, probably still pulls this out but the ultra far right will have spent countless hours, rallies and treasure just to get put back in their place. Who wants to be those guys?   

The only comeback Kevin Stitt has led is one where COVID has ravaged us, our government has failed to meet its obligations and businesses have ever more precarious workers to force back into the mines. We have too many fights to overwork ourselves on a Democratic primary in a state with almost zero Dems. Let’s look forward to a spirited primary and hopefully a general election the likes we haven’t seen in some time. 

— Nick Singer

Last Updated October 8, 2021, 8:29 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor