HIJACKING the “tea party” name is one thing. Winning elections is another. In races pitting conservative Republican incumbents against challengers backed by the splinter Sooner Tea Party, voters overwhelmingly went with incumbents in Tuesday's primary election.
The Sooner Tea Party's poster child, state Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, was trounced in his Cleveland County commissioner race. Apparently, being indicted on a charge of bribery carries more weight with voters than proclaiming yourself a “constitutional conservative.” That Terrill also voted with the House Democratic leader 60 percent of the time in non-procedural recorded votes probably didn't help.
The Sooner Tea Party drew a bull's eye on state Sen. Clark Jolley, R-Edmond, to no avail. Challenger Paul Blair's race proved that bitter, anti-business populism isn't a winner. Jolley won in a landslide.
State Rep. Marian Cooksey, R-Edmond, and state Sen. Brian Crain, R-Tulsa, were re-elected in the face of fierce Sooner Tea Party opposition. Mike Turner did defeat incumbent state Rep. Guy Liebmann, R-Oklahoma City, but new district lines played a role in that loss. In the 1st Congressional District, incumbent John Sullivan fell, but his personal problems have long made his tenure precarious.
Moving ahead, the Republican runoff in the 2nd Congressional District will draw statewide and national interest, but the extremely low turnout expected may lead some to again question if runoffs are worth taxpayer expense.
Overall, there is little evidence of an anti-incumbent mood in Oklahoma: 61 of 125 state House and Senate seats didn't draw challengers. Five-term Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony won a resounding primary victory Tuesday and faces no Democratic opponent, another indicator of voter satisfaction.
But there is plenty of evidence of the fringe status of the Sooner Tea Party — and its Democrat leanings — in its endorsements. They included Ryan Jernigan and Maurice Aldridge, who weren't even on the ballot. Neither was registered as a Republican six months prior to filing, as required by law. Both were bounced from legislative races months ago.
The group also endorsed Ed Moore in an open state Senate seat in Shawnee (he advanced to a runoff). As an Oklahoma City state senator in 1984, Moore was absent for 71.7 percent of votes, missing 452 of 630 roll calls. Is chronic absenteeism what the Sooner Tea Party means when it touts “constitutional conservatism”?
Several Sooner Tea Party-backed candidates were recipients of Democratic trial lawyers' largesse because of the candidates' opposition to restricting frivolous lawsuits. How does that make sense? We'd think the conservative philosophy of self-reliance and opposition to government overreach would not align with using government to force a private business to pay money because you spilled your cup of hot coffee on your lap.
In reality, the Sooner Tea Party and its leaders seem driven not by conservative ideology, but that oldest of political motivations: the naked pursuit of power.
The concerns that fueled the national tea party movement remain important to Oklahomans — out-of-control government spending, debt, bailouts and tax burdens. But Oklahomans clearly don't support the decidedly anti-conservative agenda of the Sooner Tea Party.
A nonconservative in Republican clothing is not a conservative, and voters can tell the difference.