Down to a dozen, Democrats in the Oklahoma Senate say they will continue to fight

Since losing the majority in 2008, Democrats in the Senate have sunk to their lowest levels ever. However, despite a 12-36 matchup, they said they will use their experience and their constituent support to maintain an ‘alternative voice' in Oklahoma politics.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Published: February 10, 2013
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If they were eggs, they'd fill a carton; if they were months, they'd comprise a year.

Just four years after losing the majority in the Senate for the first time, the roster of Democrats in the Oklahoma Senate is only 12 names long.

“Some people call us the ‘Dirty Dozen,' other people have other names for us,” said Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, D-Claremore. “We're down from 16 last year, but I think our task remains the same, which is to be an alternative voice in this state Capitol.”

Since its founding days, Oklahoma was a bastion for the Democratic Party — the party of the farmers, the unions and the party of the South.

Democrats won 18 of the 21 gubernatorial elections since statehood in 1907 and held a stronghold during the years of the Great Depression and immediately thereafter.

But the last Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state was Lyndon Johnson in 1964, and President Barack Obama failed to win any of the state's 77 counties in 2008 or 2012.

Democratic identification among registered voters in Oklahoma dropped from almost 64 percent 20 years ago to about 46 percent today.

Democrats in the Senate today said they remain hopeful despite the three-to-one mismatch.

“Good legislation will make it through,” said Sen. Tom Ivester, D-Sayre. “Obviously we've got policy differences, but we've also got good bills.”

In the 49th Legislative session, which ran two years beginning in 2003, 462 of 555 Senate bills sent to Gov. Brad Henry were from his fellow Democrats. Party representation during that session was in favor of Democrats 28-20.

Policy agenda

In the 53rd Legislative session, which ran two years beginning in 2011, 51 of 372 Senate bills sent to Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, came from across the aisle. Party representation during that session was in favor of Republicans 31-17.

Of the 1,119 bills filed in the Senate this year, 184 were filed by Democrats.

They shape the party's policy agenda: Increased pay for teachers, school support staff and state employees; easier access to voting; more accountability and oversight of budgetary decisions made by the Legislature.

Together, they support restoring public education funding to its 2009 levels and they are critical of a Republican plan to cut the state's personal income tax rates.

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