While Boren will be missed, his retirement has set the stage for the horses to start entering the election gates for what likely will be a referendum on what it means to be a conservative in Oklahoma. It is clear from the rhetoric already circulating that the main issue of the coming campaign for Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District will be which brand of conservatism is superior and more “Oklahoman.”
The names that have been floating around as possible candidates to replace Boren include state Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee; state Sen. Josh Brecheen, R-Coalgate; former state Rep. Tad Jones, R-Claremore; Boren’s predecessor, former U.S. Rep. Brad Carson, D-Claremore; and former state Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Howe.
I think it’s fair to say that all of these potential candidates are on the conservative side of Washington; however, the winner of this congressional race likely will have to “out-conservative” the others in some way to break out of the pack.
As for the idea of a conservative Democrat being elected, the talking points are already drafted: Shortly after a Twitter announcement on June 7 following Boren’s press conference, Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Matt Pinnell commented in a prepared statement that “Brad Carson’s brand of conservatism is like Barack Obama’s brand of conservatism: just plain liberal.”
Pinnell also said “Oklahoma has never been more commonsense conservative.” Although that may be true, we’re also sometimes willing to cut off our nose to spite our face in the name of conservatism. And although conservative rhetoric is often used to attack political enemies in this state, a finger likely could be pointed at every elected official at some time for not adhering to “Republican” or “conservative” values.
The classic governing principles of conservative thought are sound and superior, so long as those tenants are not used to create deficiencies of justice and equity in our state and society. When we begin branding individuals because of their version of conservatism, we run the risk of stifling the momentum of the movement itself. It is imperative the debate be waged on specific issues facing the state within the context of a conservative paradigm, and that we not simply rely on stereotype. A well-principled argument will trump a dogmatic statement any day.
The campaign for the state’s 2nd Congressional District will start a conversation about what it means to be a conservative. The stage is set for us all to have a substantive dialogue about what it means to share “Oklahoma conservative values.” The question remains whether a worthwhile debate will be possible with the roar of the politics in the background. For all of our sake, let’s hope so.
Smith, a Republican, is an attorney living in Oklahoma City.