Policy issues can take center stage in election year (Capitol Update)

This is the first week of election year 2022. The filing period for statewide and legislative offices will be April 13-15. Election years always provide a fascinating dynamic for the legislative session. A few legislators will already have announced opponents, so their attention will be divided between legislative work and campaigning, especially for the June 29 primary which is only a month after the end of session. The others, no matter how secure their district, are nervously watching back home for any signs of opposition. Then there’s the excruciating three-day filing period, where invariably, some will draw surprise last-minute opponents on the third day of filing.

At the national level, media analysts predict that little happens during an election year, but in states like Oklahoma with overwhelming one-party rule, that’s not always the case. Primary elections these days seem to be about which candidate is the most ideologically pure, so you can expect plenty of gun, abortion, anti-science, and culture-oriented education bills. Many early headline-grabbing bills don’t make it to the finish line, but you can never tell which ones will be revived toward the end of session and find their way to the governor’s desk where they’re likely to be signed. We citizens seem to tolerate this, either because we agree with it or because we lack the stamina to resist the loud voices of fellow citizens who do.   

Then there are the substantive issues. On the budget, the governor has already signaled that the state government will pass on what could be a golden opportunity for Oklahoma to make progress toward moving off near-bottom for funding education and other social services. No one expects our legislature to use one-time money for ongoing programs. But with the cash reserves the state already has, partially due to policies like Medicaid expansion and criminal justice reforms passed by vote of the people, and federal funding taking up the slack on one-time needs, they hopefully will appropriate the recurring funds available. Some important legislators have already expressed the need for increases in funding for the developmentally disabled. No doubt others have worthy priorities.   

Education is another issue that could take front and center, with State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister challenging Governor Stitt. There may be plenty of political punches and counter punches on education policy. I’ve seen some commentary to the effect that the last thing education needs is to be politicized, but in fact education is already politicized. The question is whether Hofmeister will be able to shift the discussion away from political wedge issues and toward delivering a quality education to Oklahoma students. It’s probably the only way she can win. Either way, it’s worth the struggle to demonstrate to beleaguered teachers, administrators, students, and parents that someone is willing to make the fight.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

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