Goodbye Oklahoma GOP
By Craig Dawkins
I can remember my first vote for president like it was yesterday. It was my senior year in high school and I became eligible to vote, less than a month before Election Day. I was told that I could go to our counselor’s office and register to vote.
So I walk into the office and inform the secretary working there that I’d like to register to vote. She opened up her drawer and pulled out a voter registration form. She asked me what political party I wanted to register with. Of course, there were only two in which choose. I answered, “The Republican Party.” With a bit of concerned look she said, “Well you know, if you want to vote in meaningful primaries, you should consider registering in the Democratic Party.” I looked her right in the eye and said, “No mam, I want to register Republican and I plan on voting for Ronald Reagan.” With a shrug she took my registration.
In 1980, Oklahoma was predominately Democrat and it was not even close. Roughly 76% of registered voters were Democrats in 1980. Only 23% were Republican. The Republican Party was a much different political party in 1980. It was just trying to get candidates to run for office and was trying to demonstrate the “big tent” narrative that it was trying to be.
But I was proud to be a Republican and viewed Ronald Reagan and the GOP as a real advocate for freedom. Yeah, I had it wrong, but I meant well anyway. Today the GOP is the dominant political party in Oklahoma, controlling all three branches of state government. Unfortunately, the “big tent” ideals of inclusiveness have been replaced by narrow-mindedness and anti-intellectualism. As the religious right came into the party in large numbers, the OK GOP became more hateful, more intolerant of personal liberties and more favorable towards “big government conservatism.” The OK GOP is an anathema for anyone wanting equal rights for all people.
Today’s OK GOP is lost. Somewhere along the way, the OK GOP took down the “big tent” and started building a wall. And those who are gay, immigrant, atheist, Muslim, anti-war, libertarian, anti-drug war, anti-police state, and pro-marriage equality are increasingly forced to stroll back and forth outside the wall. Sure they can peak over the wall to see what is happening, but if they want to be inside the wall, they better tow the party line or they will find themselves outside the wall living in the ‘tent’ of their own making. That’s where the OK GOP liberty movement is at this point.
In January of 2014, as a member of the Oklahoma County GOP Executive Committee, I crafted a resolution condemning Governor Mary Fallin for issuing executive orders banning eCigarettes from state properties and for ordering the denial of federally funded benefits to LGBT U.S. military men and women. I felt a measure of responsibility to speak out. I thought of my granddaughter asking me, twenty years from now, what I did when the OK GOP leadership was so hateful and bigoted towards the LGBT community. Speaking out was the right thing to do. I wanted to simply have the resolution voted up or down by the committee. That did not happen. Rather than allow my resolution to be heard, I was informed that my appointment to the committee had been revoked. I was kicked off the committee. So be it. At least I no longer had to lend my credibility to it.
Today’s Oklahoma GOP is steadfastly against the issues of our time. Whether its immigration reform, marriage equality, ending the drug war, pushing against the police state, or freedom of religion, the OK GOP is on the wrong side of history. And in the last two weeks, the OK GOP has been a parade of intolerance, not only from elected politicians, but from the very top of the Oklahoma Republican Party. It’s not just the politicians, but the leadership and a majority of the activist base who agree with the horrible bigotry expressed against a tiny Muslim minority in Oklahoma. Perhaps it’s just the culture of Oklahoma that is the problem here? I don’t know.
So what are the options? Oklahoma will not legalize the party in which I wish to register, the Libertarian Party. Both major parties have determined to keep third parties at bay. So that leaves Independent or Democratic Party. Independents cannot participate in the primary system we have in Oklahoma because our laws prohibit it. So that leaves the Oklahoma Democratic Party if I wish to be involved in the selection process of candidates.
The case for joining the Democratic Party was hard to make a few years ago. The Democrats supported and promoted very few liberty positions. But that’s now changed. It was Democrats who changed the marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington State. It was Democrats who pushed for and will get credit for helping marriage equality become the law of the land. It is Democrats who support immigration reform and a path to citizenship, allowing people to come to America and make a life. It is Democrats who are pushing back against the police state. The leadership of the Democratic Party is not reaffirming hateful rhetoric calling Oklahoma Muslims a “cancer” worthy of being “cut out of America.” Where is the OK GOP on all these issues? Clearly they are on the wrong side.
The Oklahoma Democratic Party is by no means a party that promotes economic freedom but neither is the Republican Party. In a rigged system of two parties, I will no longer be on the side that has to be convinced to accept the idea that all people are deserving of human rights. Oklahoma Democrats aren’t all roses and candy to be sure, but at least I won’t have to convince them that gays are human beings worthy of equality. Or that a tiny minority of Oklahoma Muslims should not be demonized. Or that immigration is a good thing for America. Or that the police state and drug war are out of control. With some notable exceptions, they are already there for the most part.
So 34 years after I registered as a Republican, I’m going to see how it works in the Democratic Party. I will work with the “Blue Dogs” on economic freedom issues and the liberals on social freedom issues. Having a liberty movement in both political parties is important I think. So expanding Liberty on Tap OKC to include Democrats and Independents will be a goal of mine as well.
Unfortunately, I realize that some in the GOP will use this opportunity to broad brush those in the liberty movement who decide to stay in the GOP to press social and economic freedom. I spent almost 20 years in the Oklahoma GOP after coming back home from living in the Deep South. I’ve fought battles on platform committees, rules committees, executive committees, and in political campaigns. All I can say is to be true to your conscience. Mine will no longer allow me to be a part of the OK GOP. I don’t think the liberty movement is gaining ground at all in the OK GOP.
I used to introduce myself to Republicans saying, “I’m a libertarian forced to pick the lesser of two evils and the GOP is slightly less bad than the Democrats.” I can’t say that any more. So goodbye OK GOP.
As B.B. King said in his hit song, “The Thrill is Gone” – “You know I’m free, free now baby. I’m free from your spell. Oh I’m free, free, free now. I’m free from your spell. And now that it’s all over. All I can do is wish you well.”