The battle for control of the Oklahoma Senate took a new turn Thursday as Republican Sen. Nancy Riley announced she is re-registering as a Democrat because there's no place in the Republican Party for moderates. Riley, who finished third in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor but got enough votes to force a runoff election, said she got little respect from the Senate Republican Caucus and felt that her discussions about her concerns with the Party were met with a "pat on the head." A former school teacher, Riley was elected to the state Senate in 2000. She said there is a movement in the Republican Party to undermine public education with such things as blaming teachers for school problems and pushing for charter schools and vouchers. Riley's switch gives Democrats something to cheer about since most political observers believe the Republican-Democrat battle for open seats this election year could give Republicans control of the Senate for the first time ever. Democrats currently hold a 25-23 edge over Republicans, but many Democrats are leaving this year because of term limits. Senate leader Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater, said Riley's decision to become a Democrat "potentially has a profound effect on the (Senate) election." He said that Riley first approached him in June about possibly switching parties. Riley said she has become concerned about the narrowing viewpoints of the Republican Party. She said she got no support from the party during her campaign for lieutenant governor. She was not invited to a debate of Republican candidates for lieutenant governor, she said. Senate Republican leader Glenn Coffee said he was disappointed and saddened that Riley is leaving the Republican Party. "I'm probably the only person in Oklahoma who understands how Bob Stoops feels," Coffee joked, referring to the dismissals Wednesday of University of Oklahoma quarterback Rhett Bomar and lineman J.D. Quinn. Although Riley's change in registration will bring the Senate back to 26 Democrats and 22 Republicans, Coffee said he believes nothing has changed and Republicans will do well in the November elections as they push to take control of the state Senate. After Riley's news conference, she went to the state Election Board and submitted her papers to change parties. Riley's registration change will not be effective until Sept. 1, which is after the runoff primary elections, Mike Clingman, state Election Board secretary, said.
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