WASHINGTON — Anna Flatt has paid her dues for the Oklahoma Republican Party, doing the tough, no-glory work at the county level like knocking doors and organizing potluck dinners.
She became disillusioned with the party in 2008 after the financial bailout and discovered then-U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, a Texas Republican with a strong libertarian bent. Flatt supported Paul for president in 2012 and won a delegate slot to the Republican National Convention that year.
Now she’s challenging U.S. Rep. Tom Cole in the Republican primary — a situation that has caused some internal friction because Flatt, of Ardmore, is the chairwoman of the Carter County Republican Party. Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Dave Weston asked her to step aside as chairwoman, but Flatt refused.
Friction between Paul supporters and the Republican Party establishment is nothing new. The party’s Oklahoma state convention in 2012 ended in an angry walkout by Paul supporters, who felt they had been wronged by the party leadership. At the national convention a few months later, some of them booed Gov. Mary Fallin during her prime-time speech.
This year, there are at least three Paul activists running as Republicans for state office: Flatt; Dax Ewbank, who is running for governor; and Kenny Bob Tapp, who is running for a state House seat from the Panhandle.
Cole, R-Moore, said in a recent interview, “Periodically, you have people coming in (to the Republican Party) on different sets of issues that moved them.
“What’s moved most Libertarian voters into the Republican Party I think has largely been the fiscal issues — the size and scope of government, the cost of government, the deficit — those seem to be the real drivers. And I think that’s perfectly consistent with the broad mainstream of the Republican Party. And we’ve gotten a lot of energy out of that.
“And I think the rise of the tea party and the movement of Libertarians dramatically into the Republican Party probably helped us take over the House in 2010.”
Cole was chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party in 1988 when the presidential candidacy of television evangelist Pat Robertson brought thousands of evangelicals into the state GOP. For many of those social issues — particularly abortion — were paramount.
Paul was also anti-abortion, as are many of his supporters. Tapp said “standing for the unborn” is one of the biggest issues in his state House race.
Paths diverge on some other social issues as, sometimes, an evangelical Republican’s “morality” intrudes on a libertarian Republican’s “personal liberty.”
Flatt said in an interview that the government shouldn’t have a role in who can marry; nor, she said, should the government tell people that they can’t smoke marijuana.
On his website, Ewbank states, “From gun liberties to ending the abusive war on drugs, the people of Oklahoma need to be set free of the worry that the state is out to get them.
“I am not running to be the governor of the people, I am running to be the Governor of the government, to direct it to pursue and administer justice, and to leave the people of Oklahoma free to pursue their own happiness.”
Cole said he doesn’t agree with Flatt that the government shouldn’t be involved in marriage or marijuana usage.
“But, look, you decide whether or not you’re a Republican,” he said. “There’s not a membership test here ... Just like you get to decide whether you’re a Democrat or an independent.”
Conflict of interest?
Weston, the chairman of the state Republican Party, thinks Flatt needs to decide whether she’s a candidate or a party officer. He said he told Flatt that it was a conflict of interest and set a bad precedent for an officer who was working for herself rather than building the party.
Moreover, he said, it is unfair to use party resources while running for officer. Other county chairmen had stepped aside to seek elective office, he said, including one now running for Cleveland County commissioner.
Flatt said in an interview that she had built up the party. Monthly meetings that used to attract a handful of people are now attended by 50 or more with a variety of views — something she’s trying to encourage.
“I think they all fit in the party,” she said.
And her distaste for top-down government extends to the state Republican Party.
In a letter to Weston posted on her campaign website, she states that Carter County Republicans would decide whether she could remain chairwoman.
She wrote, “Your way, and that of others who think like you, is to say that the voters can’t be trusted to decide what is best for them when given too many choices, in much the same way the government no longer allows Americans to make our own decisions about our health care, about what we grow in our gardens or put in our bodies, about our retirement savings, about who we can marry, about how many bullets we can put in our magazines or how big our Big Gulps are.”
Flatt said she called Cole after she filed to run against him to make sure he would still come to a coffee meeting he had planned at the Carter County headquarters. She is not raising money for her race, and she is still displaying Cole’s campaign signs. What she wants, she said, is for Republican voters to have choices.
“I don’t have any objection to anybody running,” said Cole, a 12-year House veteran with more than $1 million in his war chest.
“It’s perfectly appropriate. Nobody owns these seats and everybody has a right to file. I don’t think as a party we’ve ever had any rule on this sort of thing. From everything I can see she has tried not to allow the primary to interfere with the party or vice versa.”