FANCY websites run by advocacy groups don't necessarily translate into a good political strategy. The latest evidence of this comes from 49th is Not OK, a group seeking to increase education funding.
49th is Not OK takes its name from a national ranking of Oklahoma's per-pupil funding. Its handsome website tries to make the case for increased spending, although little substance is provided beyond references to pre-recession funding levels. The group is notably vague about what programs it would cut to free up money for schools or specific spending plans.
49th is Not OK urges citizens to “ask the candidates running for office what they plan to do for public education if they're elected.” Those involved with the group have said citizens must elect the right candidates to implement the spending changes they seek.
This is true, and citizen participation in the democratic process is a good thing. But in terms of electoral impact, that train has already left the station and 49th is Not OK is still trying to buy a ticket. The vast majority of legislative races are already decided with relatively few competitive races remaining.
In the state Senate, seven of 24 seats going before voters this year were filled during candidate filing because no challengers emerged. Two more were decided in Republican primaries; two more will be determined in primary runoffs on Aug. 28.
In two districts, incumbent Republican senators now face only independent candidates. Those races are essentially over. Two districts have already flipped to Republican control because no Democrats filed; it's mathematically impossible for Democrats to shift control of the GOP-run Senate.
In the House, 54 of the 101 House seats drew only one candidate. Another 10 members were elected during the primary. In one district, incumbent Republican Rep. Guy Liebmann was ousted by a challenger, Mike Turner, who promised to be more conservative and oppose increased government spending. We doubt Turner's victory was what 49th is Not OK had in mind. Candidates in several open seats are also running against higher government spending.
Only a handful of remaining Senate districts may be competitive. Just over one-third of House seats will be on the general election ballot, but only a fraction are expected to be competitive
Although not a partisan organization, 49th is Not OK appears to lean toward electing Democrats to the Legislature. This will be no easy task with President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. The chance to influence Republican races through the primary has now passed, so 49th is Not OK is left with a rapidly dwindling number of districts to target in an environment hostile to the political party most open to their spending philosophy.
To change course at the Legislature, the “right” candidates must file for office. And then you must become involved in primaries. 49th is Not OK doesn't appear to have done either of those things. The group has talked a good game, but its follow-through has been lacking. Its influence, if any, will be relegated to the margins of a handful of races.
When it comes to understanding campaign logistics, impacting policy and altering legislative membership, this “education” group hasn't made the grade.