State Rep. Joe Dorman established an exploratory committee Tuesday to evaluate running as a Democratic candidate for governor, saying he intends to make education his top issue.
“Of course education is going to be the top issue,” said Dorman, D-Rush Springs. “Visiting with teachers … about the conditions we're seeing in schools, what we've seen Governor Fallin and Superintendent Janet Barresi do to education, I think that has to be one of our most critical issues we'll look at.”
Mounting a successful challenge to Republican Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to be a difficult task, since she has enjoyed high popularity ratings in a state that has trended strongly toward Republican candidates in statewide political races in recent years.
“Being out there visiting with the citizens of Oklahoma, I don't think she's as popular as she thinks,” said Dorman, who described himself as a “pro life” candidate.
Money also could be an obstacle. Fallin reported having more than $1.2 million in campaign contributions on hand as of Sept. 30. Dorman said he currently has $307 in contributions that he can move over for a gubernatorial race.
Dorman has been a strong backer of an initiative petition that would allow the public to vote on whether to issue up to $500 million in bonds for the construction of storm shelters in Oklahoma schools. Franchise tax revenues would be used to repay the bonds, and the Legislature could appropriate additional money to pay off bonds if franchise tax revenues were insufficient.
Dorman said he is prepared to push legislation calling for a vote on the issue if the Supreme Court fails to resurrect the initiative petition effort after backers failed to gather the approximately 160,000 signatures required.
Supporters of the initiative petition have challenged the ballot wording established by Attorney General Scott Pruitt's office and are asking for an additional 90 days to gather signatures.
R.J. Harris, 40, of Norman, previously announced he was forming a committee to run as a Democrat for governor. Harris previously ran as a Republican and an independent in campaigns against U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Moore. Harris also ran for the Libertarian Party's presidential nomination in the 2012 election.
Alex Weintz, spokesman for Fallin, said the governor is prepared for the challenges.
“Our strategy is not going to change, regardless of who enters this race,” Weintz said. “Under Governor Fallin's leadership, Oklahoma's unemployment rate has dropped, tens of thousands of jobs have been created, and per capita income has risen much faster than the national rate.”