For some time now, one narrative has been that the Democrats here have been splintered by differences and lacked a central message that resonated with voters. No one can deny that after the Republican statewide sweep in 2010, things looked particularly bleak for progressives.
But that was before the 2012 legislative session, when progressives rallied around two major issues and actually won.
The anti-abortion personhood movement, which aims to grant civil rights to fertilized eggs in women’s wombs, was met with an intense protest by progressives, many of whom were young women concerned about reproductive rights, including access to birth control.
The protest culminated in a large, rowdy rally at the state Capitol that included biting humor as well as serious argumentation. The energy level there was palpable as some state leaders looked on from Capitol windows and in person. For some, it definitely felt like something new was happening.
Guess what? The personhood bill died in the Legislature, and an initiative petition drive to put it on the ballot was ruled invalid by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Score one for the progressives.
Progressives also opposed the Republican push to cut the state income tax. Led by the Oklahoma Policy Institute, a Tulsa-based think tank, progressives and others spread educational information across the state that showed how vital the income tax remains to core government services. Chipping away at Republican tax-cut arguments about making the state better for business, progressives managed to coalesce around a theme of responsible budgeting.
A forum to discuss the proposed tax cut, organized by OK Policy, was a tremendously unique event widely covered by Oklahoma media. Not all of the forum’s participants were progressives, of course, but it was primarily a progressive view of government and taxation that brought them together.
Again, it felt like something new was happening.
In the end, the Legislature adjourned without passing a tax cut. Score another one for state progressives.
No progressive would argue that these victories add up to a panacea for the state’s problems. But these and other recent political events have demonstrated the deep organizing capabilities and renewed enthusiasm of Oklahoma’s progressives. New social media groups have emerged. Ward 2 Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid, an independent, and David Ocamb, the new director of the state’s Sierra Club chapter, are bringing even more progressive energy to the area.
Obviously, Democrats — progressive or otherwise — remain in a defensive position, and the state’s overall anti-President Barack Obama sentiment is a significant obstacle for the party on the local level.
But the minority party did do its honorable duty last session by offering cogent arguments that even some Republicans had to accept. It was more than just petulant opposition.
Hochenauer is an English professor at the University of Central Oklahoma and a political writer.