Oklahoma Women Find Common Ground In Unease With Political Parties And Education Issues

Jul 17, 2018

Women are a key constituency for both of Oklahoma’s major political parties, and an increasing number of women are running for office. But data suggest a majority of Oklahoma women are disappointed with both major political parties.

About 55 percent of women who responded to a political attitudes survey commissioned on behalf of stations for the Oklahoma Engaged project viewed the Democratic party unfavorably compared to about 60 percent for Republicans. That trend is reversed for men, who viewed Democrats more unfavorably.

Republican Patrice Douglas, a former mayor of Edmond and a former Corporation Commissioner who describes herself as a fiscal conservative, said Oklahoma’s GOP is doing a good job appealing to voters during the 2018 election cycle, but she thinks the party can do a better job in one area critical to women: education.

“I think that women tend to pay a lot of attention to education,” she said in an interview. “That has always frustrated me… that it’s always been considered something that the Democrats have embraced and the Republicans haven’t."

The survey data suggests Oklahoma women are paying attention to education when they evaluate candidates and political platforms. Statewide, 32 percent of women who responded to the survey listed education as the No. 1 political problem facing Oklahoma. Men listed education as the third-biggest political problem behind government bureaucracy and jobs/economy.

Emma Alexander, a young conservative voter who goes to Oklahoma State University, said education is also her biggest concern. She backs Republican Kevin Stitt in the gubernatorial race — which is headed for a GOP run-off on Aug. 28 — but she supported the Oklahoma teacher walkout in the Spring and educators’ demands for more funding.

“I’d really like the education system to get better, so where I know I’m OK with staying here and letting my kids go to school in Oklahoma,” she said in an interview at a coffee shop in Tulsa.

Alexander says she’s also unhappy her tuition bill set to increase next semester.

“Eventually I’m going to have to start paying that,” she said, adding that she couldn’t bring herself to read a news story about the new tuition rate.

‘Cut, cut, cut’

Oklahoma Democrats also see Education — and the support of women voters — as a top priority for their party.

Kendra Horn, a political newcomer who is gearing up for a run-off election against fellow Democrat Tom Guild, said she is not surprised education is a top political concern for Oklahoma women.

“Part of it is a funding issue in that we’ve cut, cut, cut,” she said.

On a hot and humid Saturday in July, Democratic candidates gathered at a courtyard in Oklahoma City’s Wheeler District for the Unity Picnic, an event where candidates came out to meet and talk with each other and local constituents.

Eighteen-year-old Emily Andrews came to support her dad, William, who is running for state Senate District 22. Andrews said education is also her top political concern, but she thinks there’s another reason both of Oklahoma’s major political parties have lost a lot of support of women.

“I think that the division of the political parties has made it to where our government doesn’t work like it’s supposed to,” she said. “It’s supposed to be about compromise.”

Moderates matter

Women who responded to the Oklahoma Engaged survey ranked jobs and the economy as their second-biggest political concern. And while both of the state’s major parties are trying to appeal to their bases during the 2018 election, the women interviewed for this story said moderate voters matter, too.

Patrice Douglas, the former mayor and Corporation Commissioner, said political parties often alienate women who agree with most of the platform — but not all of the party’s positions.

“What I’ve heard women say is, ‘I don’t agree with the Republicans in every aspect,’ or ‘I don’t agree with the ideology of the Democrats in every aspect,’” she said. “I think what happens with that dissatisfaction is you find those one or two issues you might not agree on, even if there’s 20 you do.”

The women interviewed for this story — Republicans and Democrats — agreed on another big political problem: the lack of women in office.