OKLAHOMA CITY — Democrats have flipped another statehouse seat in deeply conservative Oklahoma amid growing frustration over years of state budget shortfalls and recent scandals that led to the resignation of Republican incumbents.
Democrat Allison Ikley-Freeman defeated Republican Brian O’Hara in Tuesday’s special election for a state Senate seat representing parts of Tulsa. Complete but unofficial election results show that Ikley-Freeman, who is a therapist at a nonprofit mental health agency, won by 31 votes.
That seat was vacated after Republican Sen. Dan Newberry said he would step down early to focus on his career in banking.
Ikley-Freeman’s win marks the fourth pickup for state Democrats in special elections this year in Oklahoma, where Republicans have dominated state politics in recent years. The GOP still has a 39-8 advantage over Democrats in the Senate, a 72-28 edge in the House and controls every statewide and congressional office.
The 26-year-old said Oklahoma’s continuing state budget problems were a big concern of voters she spoke with during the campaign.
“Everyone I was engaging with depends in some way or another on basic needs that are provided through the state budget,” Ikley-Freeman said. “People started to feel scared.”
Republicans held on to two other legislative seats in Tuesday’s election. The Legislature’s controlling party has failed during an ongoing special legislative session to push through tax increase plans that would bring new revenue to state coffers. Lawmakers now are considering bills that would balance the budget by raiding savings accounts and imposing cuts of about 2.5 percent to most state agencies.
The special elections in Oklahoma also followed last week’s sweeping Democratic victories in Virginia, in which the party comfortably won the governor’s race and fielded challengers who unseated several Republican incumbents in state House races. The Democrats’ success in Virginia has them hoping for even bigger wins in next year’s nationwide midterm elections.
Michael Whelan is a Democratic consultant who helped manage Ikley-Freeman’s campaign and the races of Democratic Reps. Karen Gaddis in Tulsa and Jacob Rosecrants in Norman, who both won Republican-held seats in special elections this year.
He attributes the Democrats’ success to a combination of factors that includes the state’s budget woes, voter dissatisfaction with President Trump and a series of scandals that have led to the resignation of four GOP incumbents this year.
“The formula has been very similar for each of these races,” Whelan said “There are a lot of Republicans out there with buyer’s remorse with President Trump, which naturally suppresses turnout.
“Then you’ve got scandal after scandal happening locally, and I think Republicans are losing faith in their brand a little bit.”
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