Rural Democrats become extinct species in Oklahoma
November 5, 2020
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — For nearly 100 years in Oklahoma, Democrats controlled the Legislature in large part with lawmakers from rural parts of the state.
But like much of the nation, the number of rural Democrats in Oklahoma has been declining steadily over the past 20 years as a rural-urban political divide grew deeper and Republicans took a firmer grasp on middle America.
On Tuesday the party transition in Oklahoma became complete when the last Democrat from a rural district lost his reelection bid while the GOP picked up five more House seats to extend its advantage over Democrats to 82-19.
"I got tied into the national politics, just like a lot of my colleagues have had happen to them over the last several years," said Rep. Matt Meredith, a two-term Democrat from Tahlequah, who lost to a Republican challenger by more than 10 percentage points. "There were mailers sent out with me and (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi and me and (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer.
"I've never even met Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer."
With fellow Democratic state Reps. David Perryman of Chickasha and Ben Loring of Miami not seeking reelection this year, all of the 19 House Democrats and nine Senate Democrats now represent urban areas.
The Democratic Party's increasing competitiveness in the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas has provided some encouragement to party leaders, but its metropolitan gains so far have not kept up with rural losses. About three quarters of Oklahoma's 4 million residents live outside the state's two largest metropolitan areas.
"Oklahomans want growth, freedom and conservative government, and their election of the biggest Republican majority in state House history will deliver it," Oklahoma House Speaker Charles McCall, a Republican from Atoka, said in a statement. "It was encouraging to make gains statewide, from picking up all rural seats for the first time in state history to adding representation in the Oklahoma City area."
While it was a bad night for Oklahoma Democrats, who also saw the lone Democrat in the state's congressional delegation lose a close race, progressives cheered the election of Democrat Mauree Turner, the first openly nonbinary and Muslim person elected to state office in Oklahoma.
Turner, elected to a district in Oklahoma City where Democrats enjoy a 2-to-1 registration advantage, acknowledges concerns about the shrinking size of the Democratic caucus in the Oklahoma, but doesn't seem deterred.
"I have continuously lived a life where folks doubt my voice or the power that I have, or I go into systems where the cards are stacked against me. That is just part of being Black, queer, Muslim and gender diverse in Oklahoma of all places," Turner said. "I wouldn't have gotten far if I'd let something like that debilitate me."