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Minority candidates show strength in primary


Ben Felder June 25th, 2014

Sí se puede. That was the chant from inside La Oaxaqueña Bakery on Oklahoma City’s south side.

marysosawins1Mary Sosa celebrates. - Ben Felder

Mary Sosa, a candidate for House District 89, started the chant among her supporters moments after learning she had advanced to an Aug. 26 runoff as the Democratic primary’s top vote getter.
That was the chant from inside La Oaxaqueña Bakery on Oklahoma City’s south side.

Mary Sosa, a candidate for House District 89, started the chant among her supporters moments after learning she had advanced to an Aug. 26 runoff as the Democratic primary’s top candidate.

“Yes we can,” was the cry from Sosa’s supporters who seemed determined to give the House of Representatives its first female Hispanic member.

“This is the beginning for their voices to be heard,” said Sosa, who received 42 percent of the vote in Tuesday night’s primary election, 10 points higher than Shane Stone, who also advanced to the runoff. “The community is out here supporting me, and I believe they will continue to support me.”

Hear Mary Sosa's speech here.

Across the Oklahoma River and a few miles north, another member of the city’s fast-growing minority population showed election day success.

Ervin Yen, a Republican candidate for Senate District 40, received the most votes (39 percent) in a crowded field. Yen will face Steve Kern in a runoff.

A native of Taiwan, Yen beat out five other candidates in a district that is home to Oklahoma City’s largest community of Asian Americans.

“As a general rule, I think in the past, the Asian population has not been very active politically,” Yen said. “But I think they are trying to become more active.”

Like Sosa, Yen said the runoff would be about turning out his base of voters and trying to pick off some voters from other candidates.

“If they don’t show up again, yeah, we could be in trouble,” Yen said about the 2,741 voters who backed him Tuesday.

While both Yen and Sosa say they would be legislators that serve their entire district, not just one demographic, their strong showings on Tuesday and a win in August could say a lot about the city’s changing demographics and its power to mobilize.

“A win could show that lawmaking in Oklahoma is not monopolized by white candidates,” said Akash Patel, founder of Aspiring Americans Initiative, an organization that works with local immigrants. “Good results show that [public office] is really open to anybody.”

Hispanics account for 17 percent of OKC residents, and Sosa’s district is 60 percent Latino. Hispanics represent the city’s largest minority group, but there has also been rapid growth in recent years in the Asian community, which accounts for 4 percent of residents, according to U.S. Census data.

“Because our districts are becoming much more diverse, there is a key shift we are seeing towards diverse candidates,” Patel added.

Sosa said her goal was to become a representative for all residents in her district, but she was mindful of the fact that her election in August would be historic.

“It is very much in the back of my mind because I believe it is a door that we [have to] open,” Sosa said. “It’s long overdue, and once we have opened that door, we are not going to close it.”


Kory Oswald contributed to this report.

 
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