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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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Senate Bill 185 would amend a state law that requires abstinence to be a primary focus of sexual education classes in schools.

Senate Bill 777 would require the expansion of Medicaid to eligible Oklahomans, despite clear rejection of any such expansion by Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, last fall.

Sen. Constance Johnson filed a bill that would investigate the state's use of the death penalty, a bill that would relax sentencing and punishment for possession of certain amounts of marijuana, and another one that would authorize marijuana use for medical purposes.

Johnson, D-Forest Park, said she and her Democratic colleagues take their mission seriously, despite the odds stacked against them.

“I think you go forward believing in the process,” she said. “That's what you have to believe in — that it's worth putting out there a proposal and the process is what you're supposed to use to get it heard.”

And though they're small in numbers, the “Dirty Dozen” boast 80 years of combined legislative experience.

Nine of the 12 have served in the Senate at least six years. Sen. Jerry Ellis, D-Valliant, joined in 2008 but before that served five years in the House of Representatives.

One of the two freshmen Senators — Sen. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa — was first elected to the House in 2004.

‘Forget about party'

Most of them are holdovers from when the Democratic Party held the majority in the Oklahoma Legislature, said Sen. Randy Bass.

“We know what it's like to be in charge and in control,” Bass, D-Lawton, said. “We were tied a few years and things worked out when we were tied because we had to work together, we had to compromise. And then the Republicans took over.”

And if they dropped from majority to a handful in just five years, he said, who is to say in another five they won't win it back?

“The thing is, people need to just forget about party and they need to think about what's good for their districts,” Ellis said. “There's good and bad about both parties.”