StateImpact Oklahoma reporters react to midterm election results
Unlike some other states, Oklahoma’s midterm election results are in the books. The results have big implications for education, health, and the environment in our state. Managing editor Logan Layden discussed what the outcome means with the StateImpact Oklahoma reporters.
(LOGAN LAYDEN): Education reporter Robby Korth - we have a new state superintendent in Republican Ryan Walters. What does the result mean for education here in Oklahoma?
(ROBBY KORTH): I do think that Ryan Walters resounding victory, as well as Governor Kevin State's resounding victory, will mean that the legislative session will be filled with school voucher talks. And for those who don't know, school vouchers are basically private school scholarships that pay families to put their K-12 students in a private school rather than a traditional public school. Last year, we saw a bill defeated by a group of rural Republicans and Democrats to greatly expand Oklahoma's school voucher program. It remains to be seen what rural Republicans will do this time around. Governor Stitt and Ryan Walters were both basically put into office by a majority of rural Republicans as their opponents won Oklahoma, Tulsa and Cleveland counties. So that will be the big issue in education.
(LOGAN LAYDEN): Well, health reporter Catherine Sweeney - two of the big things you've been reporting about managed Medicaid and abortion rights. A red wave didn't materialize nationally, but Oklahoma is solidly red still. What's your interpretation of the results?
(CATHERINE SWEENEY): There's a pretty big split. And members who support Kevin State's plan to bring in these private health insurance companies to help manage Medicaid. Just a reminder, there are about a million people in Oklahoma who get their health care from Medicaid or SoonerCare, as it's called here. That includes most of the children in the state, about two thirds of them. So that's definitely going to be contentious. Joy Hofmeister opposed managed care. Obviously, she did not win. So I can see them taking that as a mandate to move forward with this plan. Similarly, and I don't think this will be as contentious at the state house, abortion was a huge issue in this election cycle. Joy Hofmeister was not a huge abortion advocate, but she did take the more moderate position of, you know, the politics need to stay out of the doctor's office, that these decisions should be made between patients and their doctors and that there shouldn't be government intervention - and she lost. Stitt, you know, pushed for very strict abortion regulations, including a bill that bans it with no exceptions for victims of sexual assault or incest. I would also see that as a mandate from Oklahoma voters that that is something they support these these harsh restrictions.
(LOGAN LAYDEN): For science and environment reporter Beth Wallis, who serves on the corporation commission, is very important. How did that end up and what does it mean?
(BETH WALLIS): Yeah, so the Oklahoma Corporation Commission regulates utilities and so telecommunications, electricity, oil and gas drilling - so a very influential body. Senator Kim David took that open Corporation Commission seat over Democrat Warigia Bowman. And so just a little bit about David - she's been on the Senate for over a decade. She describes herself as a conservative. And something of note is that she did support the Corporation Commission's passage of the utility securitization plan that allowed some Oklahoma energy companies to surcharge consumers monthly bills to make up for that 2021 winter storm. And she said that plan prevented the costs from being passed on to the consumer. It would have bankrupted families as well as energy companies. So she's very supportive of that plan. I think going forward, that conversation about how energy companies are going to react to more extreme weather events because we know it's going to get more extreme. And whether or not they can do these rate hikes, I think is going to be a key focus for the corporation commission going forward.
(LOGAN LAYDEN): And we'll have another election coming up in just a few months here, right?
(BETH WALLIS): Yes, there will be a special election on March 7th. And this is for State Question 820, which would legalize cannabis use and purchasing for adults over 21. It would also allow some people with drug convictions the chance to have those cannabis related convictions reversed and criminal records expunged. This was an issue that was for a while thought was going to be on the November ballot. But due to some issues with counting those petition signatures, that didn't happen. So it will be on the ballot in March instead.
(LOGAN LAYDEN): Science and Environment Reporter Beth Wallis, Health Reporter Catherine Sweeney and Education Reporter Robby Korth - thank you. For StateImpact, I'm Logan Layden.