This Tuesday, February 5th, Republicans and Democrats across Oklahoma will vote in a presidential preference primary. All voters will be eligible to participate in school board and vo-tech board elections -- there's a race for an open seat right here in midtown Tulsa.
This is the last issue before the election, and normally this is where I'd be confidently telling you how I'm voting and why and trying to persuade you to vote the same way.
I can't do that this time. The options are underwhelming.
In the presidential race, those options continue to dwindle. In the short eight weeks since the presidential candidates filed to be on Oklahoma's ballot, six candidates -- three of the eleven Republican candidates (Thompson, Tancredo, and Hunter) and three of the seven Democratic candidates (Kucinich, Richardson, and Dodd) -- have formally ended their campaigns.
Their names will remain on the ballot, but they have been persuaded by the primary results so far that they don't have a chance of winning the nomination.
By the time you read this, Florida will have voted on January 29th, and results there are likely to persuade two or three more candidates that it's time to throw in the towel.
In an ideal world, voters in one state wouldn't care how well a candidate did in earlier states or whether a candidate has a local campaign office and money to run local TV ads. They wouldn't pay attention to who's up and who's down in the polls but would cast their ballots purely on the merits of the candidates.
That ideal system would either allocate delegates proportionately or use instant runoff voting, so that a voter could vote his conscience with the assurance that, if his number one pick isn't viable, his vote can still help an acceptable candidate win.
But we have to reckon with the rules that are in place, and we ought to weigh how those rules translate our votes into results.
Oklahoma's Republican delegates will go to whichever candidate finishes first in each congressional district and statewide. A close second place is as useless as finishing dead last. That's why I'll be watching the Florida vote and its aftermath and any last minute polls in Oklahoma to see who is still competitive here.
Fred Thompson was my pick. He was the only major candidate to be consistently conservative on national security, economic policy, and social issues. Thompson had enthusiastic support among conservative activists, but he didn't have the organization capable of using that grassroots support. Each of the Republicans still in the race has either serious policy deficiencies or a record inconsistent with his current stated positions.
The most recent public polls showed Mike Huckabee and John McCain in a statistical tie for first here. But who's winning nationally seems to change the minds of Oklahoma Republicans. When Rudy Giuliani was leading nationally, he was ahead here, too, but he's fallen to the back of the pack. Huckabee was in the single digits in most polls until he began surging in Iowa in December. Romney was in fifth place in the last poll, but a win in Florida would make him competitive here.
Only Huckabee and Ron Paul seem to have a solid core of enthusiastic, unwavering support. Most of us will cast our February 5th ballots with a shrug and a sigh.
At the moment, I'd rank Mitt Romney first among the remaining candidates -- he's at least saying the right things now, even if he hasn't been saying them for long -- followed by Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain. The highest ranking of those four with a chance of winning Oklahoma will get my vote.
A Democratic candidate doesn't have to finish first to gain delegates, but under national party rules 15% is the threshold for receiving a proportional share. Given that John Edwards barely managed 17% in South Carolina, the state of his birth, and is polling below the threshold in Florida, I doubt he'll win any delegates in Oklahoma. True, Edwards was in second in the last poll, taken in mid-January, but poor showings since then are likely to have eroded his support here.
As a Republican, I'd rather our nominee face Hillary and Slick Willie and all their baggage in November. If you're a Democrat and your aim is to purge your party of the Clinton cancer, Barack Obama looks like your best bet.
I'm still undecided on the Tulsa Public Schools race. I'm happy to be rid at long last of Cathy Newsome, a staunch opponent of school choice, but so far neither candidate gives me confidence that they would push aggressively for a positive change of direction for TPS.
To be sure, both Radious Y. Guess (guessyes08.com) and Brian T. Hunt (hunt4schools.com) are accomplished individuals, and you have to respect their willingness to step forward as candidates.
Both are active volunteers in the school system. Ms. Guess is president of the Tulsa Council of PTAs and was the founding president of Zarrow's PTA. Mr. Hunt is head of the Zarrow School Education Foundation. Both have master's degrees -- Hunt's is in regional and city planning, Guess's in adult education. Both are registered Republicans. Both have children currently enrolled in TPS.
From their websites and their responses to various questionnaires, neither one appears to be driven to fix what's broken with TPS. Do they see the shortcomings of the system's curriculum and teaching methods? If they do, they aren't saying.
Do Guess and Hunt disagree with the school board's misguided effort to get the charter school law declared unconstitutional? They aren't saying anything about that either.
Hunt, a commercial real estate executive, has some sensible things to say about the board's role in accountability. But he has one very serious black mark against him. Back in 2006, he was head of the Tulsa Real Estate Coalition. TREC is a collection of metro-area real estate and development special interest groups, including several that funded the 2005 recall effort against then-Councilors Chris Medlock and Jim Mautino.
As chairman of TREC, Hunt made the decision to exclude Medlock from a mayoral candidate forum. Medlock's "Tulsa first" approach to policy was offensive to suburban developers who wanted to see the City of Tulsa continue to put the suburbs' prosperity ahead of its own. By banning Medlock, Hunt made sure that TREC members didn't have to hear any opinions that might displease them. As a school board member, would he give the same treatment to the dissenting opinions of TPS parents and taxpayers?
I have some reservations about Guess as well. Her questionnaire responses are predominantly about process and dialogue rather than substance. That's not surprising, given her professional background as a facilitator and a multicultural policy consultant. When she does get specific, it's to echo the concerns of the local teachers' union.
The turnout next Tuesday will be much higher than that of a typical school board election. It's likely that the election will be decided by voters who come to the polls to vote for President, voters who know nothing about these two candidates. Perhaps they'll flip a coin. Perhaps they'll think the name Radious Guess sounds uncomfortably like what they used to do on high school geometry tests.
Before you vote, I hope you'll take the time to read the candidate's responses to the League of Women's Voters questionnaire (lwvtulsa.org) and check out their campaign websites. If you have questions, phone or e-mail the candidates.
And feel free to use the comments section on this column at urbantulsa.com to tell your fellow voters what you like and dislike about each of the candidates.
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