Wave of Teachers Surges Ahead in Oklahoma Legislative Races
Oklahoma's teachers aiming to make their mark on elected office took a major step forward with Tuesday's primary, in which more than half the teachers who were running advanced to the next phase of this year's electoral contests.
An Education Week analysis of the 67 teachers running for office this year found that 35 survived Tuesday's primary, some of them advancing to a runoff in August and others headed straight to the general election in November.
The wave of teachers seeking office follows the two-week walkout by educators this past spring over teacher pay and school funding after state legislators refused to accede to all of their their demands.
Leaders of the teachers' cause promise that their supporters, a bipartisan coalition of parents, teachers and public school employees, will show up in force at the polls this fall in order to oust incumbents.
"There are so many really strong, really passionate educators and education advocates who won Tuesday that I can't help but feel that where we're headed in the right direction," said Michael Ross, a high school journalism teacher and Democrat running for the state House of Representatives. He will face a runoff for the Democratic nomination in that district against fellow teacher Angela Statum. "It's not a novelty or a fluke. This is a serious campaign to reshape the state for our kids," he said.
Two teachers who were running for the Republican nomination in that same district, Karen Wright and Christopher Brobst, were knocked out in the GOP primary Tuesday.
All the teachers still in the race face a steep uphill battle this summer.
Oklahoma teachers, who on average are paid $42,000, lack the sorts of financial and political resources many of their opponents have. And while teachers pitching for more public school funding can be an effective political ploy, Oklahomans despise taxes. The teachers' opponents have described the teacher caucus to voters as greedy and impossible to satisfy.
It could prove an unpredictable election season overall in Oklahoma.
"It's a horrible year to be on the ballot if you're associated with state government," State Auditor Gary Jones, who finished fifth in the 10-man Republican primary for governor with about 6 percent of the vote said to the Associated Press. "There are problems out there, and they think the way to fix it is to throw everybody out and vote in someone new."