Oklahoma’s June 24 primary vote is especially important for the state superintendent of public instruction. 

click to enlarge Poling place at Highland Park Elementary School, with officials within, Clara Blakes,  Jane Lowrey, and Barbara Hamon.  mh
  • Poling place at Highland Park Elementary School, with officials within, Clara Blakes, Jane Lowrey, and Barbara Hamon. mh

As Joy Hofmeister discussed her views on high-stakes testing and the need for more school funding, Joe Dorman sat several feet away and politely clapped.

As the Democratic candidate for Oklahoma governor in 2014, Dorman isn’t likely to be a vocal backer of Hofmeister, who is running for state superintendent of public instruction as a Republican.

However, her ability to beat incumbent Janet Barresi in next week’s primary could be reason to celebrate for Dorman and his underdog campaign to become Oklahoma’s next governor.

“We are certainly not counting on any one [Republican primary] candidate to win or lose,” said Dorman following a candidate forum last week hosted by VOICE, for which Hofmeister was the only Republican candidate to show up.

“But education is the No. 1 issue in my campaign,” Dorman added.

A Barresi victory could show the current Republican leadership’s ability to weather an attack on education. A loss might indicate Dorman is right to focus on education when it comes to battling Gov. Mary Fallin in November.

Dorman’s campaign might have already shifted Fallin’s stance on some key issues, such as Common Core. Earlier this year, Dorman was vocal in his opposition to the controversial education initiative, which was dumped by Fallin months after she — and Barresi — had expressed support for it.

“We hope Oklahomans will select the best candidate,” Dorman said when asked who he wanted to see win next week’s primary.

For Dorman’s campaign, a Hofmeister victory could give his team a boost. He might have clapped politely last week as Hofmeister spoke, but inside, it’s possible Dorman is loudly cheering her on.

Crowded superintendent field 

The crowded field of candidates for state superintendent will be whittled down from seven to two following the June 24 election, unless a candidate fails to receive at least 50 percent of the vote, which would trigger an August runoff.

Democrats will choose between four candidates: John Cox, Freda Deskin, Jack Herron and Ivan Holmes. Democrats hope to take back the superintendent seat in November, after Barresi ended a 20-year run of Democratic control in 2010.

All four candidates have said they would work to end high-stakes testing.

“What we’ve done with testing is make our children hate school,” Cox said.

In a recent candidate forum, Deskin called the current practice of standardized tests “child abuse” and pledged to end the practice if elected.

Two Republicans are challenging Barresi in the primary. A Sooner Poll published last May had all three Republican candidates locked in a close race with Hofmeister leading Barresi and Brian Kelly.

“We need an advocate, not an adversary at the state capitol,” Hofmeister said, attempting to paint Barresi’s administration as one that is hostile toward educators.

Barresi has said she will push for a $2,000 raise for all teachers in her second term. By reconfiguring administrative costs and school district carryover funds, Barresi said there would be enough to pay for raises without raising taxes.

GOP young guns  Next week’s primary will also produce the favorite to win Oklahoma’s Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Muskogee. Rep. T.W. Shannon, R-Lawton, and Congressman James Lankford are two of seven Republicans vying for the seat and are the frontrunners in the race.

The Shannon and Lankford battle was recently pegged by The Washington Post as the fourth most interesting primary battle in the nation.

“The question from here is whether establishment Republicans rally around either candidate ... or just let it play out,” Washington Post writer Aaron Blake wrote. “Given Democrats aren’t really contesting this race, there’s really no reason for Republicans to pick sides.”

Shannon gave up his position as Oklahoma House Speaker to seek the Senate seat, and Lankford forewent another run for U.S. Congress, where he was considered by many to be a rising star for the GOP.

Shannon has attempted to peg Lankford as a Washington insider and believes his record as speaker shows a stark contrast to the tax-and-spend nature of the U.S. Congress.

Lankford has developed a reputation for pushing back against most of President Barack Obama’s policies.

Both Shannon and Lankford have been backed by organizations not required to reveal the name of donors, which was highlighted this month when Shannon’s campaign began running negative ads against Lankford. One ad accuses Lankford of being a Washington insider, even using Lankford’s own commercial footage in the television spot.

Shannon and Lankford have fought for endorsements from key Republican personalities. Sarah Palin and Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, wrote a letter of support for Shannon earlier this month. However, Coburn, whose decision to retire this year turned the election season upsidedown, expressed support for Lankford, calling him a “man of absolute integrity.” Despite the words of praise, Coburn has not officially endorsed Lankford’s campaign.

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