Happy Election Year! Voters may moan and groan at the long list of elections, but pollsters, campaign consultants, sales reps for broadcast and print media, and printers of yard signs and push cards are rejoicing at what should be a bountiful year for political professionals.
In 2008, Tulsans will be voting for a new President and deciding whether to keep or replace U. S. Senator Jim Inhofe and our city's two Republican congressmen, John Sullivan and Frank Lucas.
This is the year when we don't vote for mayor or for governor, but we'll still be choosing school board members, city councilors, a city auditor, and a couple of state corporation commissioners. Half of the county officials, half of the State Senate seats, and all of the State House will be on the ballot.
As in every leap year, the big story is the presidential election, made bigger this year by the lack of a clear heir apparent in either party. This is the first presidential election since 1952 when we haven't had either a sitting President or Vice President seeking the White House. The nominating process is wide open in both parties. As of New Year's Day, there are still three viable candidates for the Democratic nomination and five competitive Republican candidates.
The road to the nomination begins this week with Iowa's Thursday night precinct caucuses and Tuesday's New Hampshire primary. As states like Michigan, South Carolina and Florida moved their primaries earlier to increase their influence, Iowa and New Hampshire backed up to the beginning of the year to maintain their first-in-the-nation status.
Last year, Oklahoma briefly considered joining the rush to the front of the line. The legislature considered moving the Sooner State presidential primary from the first Tuesday in February to the last Tuesday in January, but balked when state party leaders warned of penalties imposed by the national party organizations for holding primaries before February 5. As a tradeoff for early attention from the presidential candidates and the national media, the too-early states will lose half their delegates to the Republican National Convention and all their delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
In 2004, holding a primary on the first Tuesday in February was enough to attract Democratic candidates to a debate at OSU's Stillwater campus. This time around, Oklahoma is one of 22 states holding a primary on what is now known as Super Duper Tuesday, and other than raising money here, campaigns are skipping the state.
The presidential race isn't the only thing on that Tuesday's ballot. It's also the first round of the annual school board election for all Oklahoma public school districts. Most districts elect one of five board members each year on a rotating basis. Tulsa, because of its size, has a seven-member board, with two seats up each year.
Only one candidate filed in nine of the school board seats up for election in Tulsa County, and the remainder drew only two candidates each, which means there won't be any need for an April 1 runoff.
Given the amount of controversy in the Tulsa district, particularly over the board's hostility to charter schools and more educational options for children and their parents, you might expect to see a couple of hotly contested races in which the future of the district could be debated. We had such a race last year when former Washington High School teacher Brenda Barre challenged incumbent Gary Percefull.
This year long-time Tulsa school board member Cathy Newsome decided not to run for re-election, but didn't announce the fact before the filing period opened. Radious Y. Guess, president of the Tulsa Council of PTAs, and commercial real estate executive Brian T. Hunt and were the only two to file to replace Newsome for District 5.
Ruth Ann Fate, in office since 1996, drew no opponent, despite her opposition to the expansion of charter school education in Tulsa.
The school board filing period is easily overlooked, falling as it does in the busy post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas period when our minds are on anything but politics. That, and the fact that the political parties don't concern themselves with these non-partisan races, may explain why so few file for these seats.
Also on the February 5 ballot is a three-way race between incumbent Beatrice Cramer, Tim Bradley, and Mitchell Garrett for a seven-year term on the Tulsa Technology Center board.
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Next up are Tulsa city elections, with the primary election on March 4 and the general election on April 1. Candidates for city auditor and all nine city council seats will file at the Tulsa County Election Board on January 14, 15 and 16. City Auditor Phil Wood and eight of the nine incumbent councilors are expected to run for re-election.
District 9 Councilor Cason Carter will step aside to focus on a run for State Senate District 35. Developer Jeff Stava, who lost to Carter in the 2006 GOP primary, is expected to run again. Already announced for the seat is G.T. Bynum, a former aide to Sens. Don Nickles and Tom Coburn. It's a heavily Republican district, and the winner is likely to be decided in the primary.
Two Republicans have announced plans to challenge incumbent Democratic District 4 councilor Maria Barnes: Jay Matlock, a portfolio manager and a TYPros board member, and Rocky Frisco, a local music legend and a candidate for the seat in 1998 and 2002.
District 3 has been a battleground for the last 10 years, with incumbent Councilor Roscoe Turner usually facing former Councilor David Patrick in the Democratic primary. Because of Turner's leading role in the defeat of the Tulsa County sales tax for river projects, it wouldn't be surprising to see him draw a well-funded challenger. So far, however, only 2006 Republican nominee Gerald Rapson has announced plans to run against Turner. Turner beat Rapson 64 percent to 36 percent last time.
Two city charter amendments will be on the April 1 general election ballot: moving city elections to the fall of odd-numbered years and a housekeeping amendment dealing with eligibility to vote and run for office, bringing Tulsa in line with state law.
Not yet scheduled but almost certain to happen in 2008: A combination city bond issue and sales tax vote to fund street repair and improvements.
The fall election season begins with the June 2-4 filing period for county, state, and federal offices. July 29 is the primary, August 26 the runoff. The finalists will appear on the November 4 ballot.
National leftist groups have targeted Sen. Jim Inhofe for defeat because of his views on global warming, which defy the conventional wisdom but have the support of a growing number of climate scientists. Rookie Democratic State Sen. Andrew Rice is running against Inhofe, but it remains to be seen whether he can raise the funds for a viable challenge.
So far, no candidates have emerged to challenge U.S. Reps. John Sullivan (who represents most of Tulsa) or Frank Lucas (who represents the Osage County portion of the city).
The most interesting local race may be Tulsa County District 2 Commissioner Randi Miller's run for re-election. Between her successful push to expel Bell's Amusement Park from Expo Square and her enthusiastic support for sales tax increases, Miller has alienated much of her original base of support. Perceived as easily manipulated by special interest groups, she may not even survive the Republican primary, much less a strong Democratic challenge in the general election.
County Clerk Earlene Wilson, Sheriff Stanley Glanz, and Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith are also up for re-election this year. It's been a long time since any of them have faced a difficult election, and there's no indication that 2008 will be any different.
Most of Tulsa's state senate seats are odd-numbered, for some odd reason, which means that they'll be up for re-election this year. Two races, in Districts 35 and 37, should be especially worth watching.
District 35 Republican Sen. Jim Williamson will be leaving because of term limits. Jenks school board member Gary Stanislawski, Tulsa city councilor Cason Carter, and former lobbyist Jeff Applekamp, all Tulsa residents, are seeking the Republican nomination in this heavily Republican district, a narrow strip of land covering the southwestern part of midtown and the western part of south Tulsa.
Sen. Nancy Riley should have had an easy re-election campaign for District 37 in west Tulsa County. Instead, the race will be a key battle in the war to control the State Senate, now split 24-24 between the two major parties.
Riley was re-elected as a Republican by a wide margin in 2004. But she quit the GOP in a snit in 2006, following a third-place finish in the Republican primary for Lieutenant Governor. The newly Democratic Sen. Riley is being targeted by mortgage broker Dan Newberry and former Tulsa City Council staffer Jan Megee, who are seeking the Republican nomination.
Term limits have created an open seat in north Tulsa's heavily Democratic District 72, currently held by Darrell Gilbert. Christie Breedlove, Seneca Scott, Monroe Nichols IV, and John Slater, Democrats all, have announced plans to seek the seat.
It's also rumored that Tulsa Police public affairs officer Jesse Guardiola, a Republican, will try again to unseat incumbent Democratic District 78 Rep. Jeannie McDaniel.
A seat on the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is the only state office on the ballot across the state. Last May, Republican Denise Bode resigned from the commission, and Gov. Brad Henry appointed fellow Democrat and Oklahoma County Commissioner Jim Roth to replace her.
Prior to his election as a county commissioner, Roth worked as an attorney in county government. He is notable for being Oklahoma's first openly homosexual state elected official.
Republican Dana Murphy, an attorney and a petroleum geologist from Edmond, worked at the Corporation Commission as an administrative law judge for five years, resigning to seek an open seat on the commission in 2002. She finished first in the Republican primary that year, but lost the runoff to Jeff Cloud. Murphy also served two terms as Vice Chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party.
Politics may seem a bother, but it's a privilege to live in a country where ordinary citizens can have so much say over the direction of government. Make sure you're registered to vote, and then learn all you can about the people who seek your vote. Here at Urban Tulsa Weekly, we'll do what we can to keep you informed this election year.
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