OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Voters have rejected several Oklahoma Republican lawmakers who voted against tax hikes to fund teacher pay raises, either ousting them from office or forcing a runoff against a fellow GOP opponent.
The filing period for Oklahoma’s election coincided with a two-week, teacher walkout in which thousands of frustrated educators and their supporters thronged the Capitol demanding more funding for public schools. That resulted in dozens of teachers, administrators and school supporters running for office in a primary Tuesday.
“Our voices were heard tonight,” said Sherrie Conley, an assistant principal at an Oklahoma City elementary school who ended up in a Republican runoff with incumbent Rep. Bobby Cleveland.
Of the 10 “no” voters in the House who were running for re-election, two were defeated outright on Tuesday — Reps. Chuck Strohm of Jenks and Scott McEachin of Tulsa. Seven others ended up in an Aug. 28 primary runoff against fellow Republicans.
Four other Republican incumbents also were defeated on Tuesday, including one who lost to a seventh-grade English teacher from Elgin.
In another contest, a Republican state representative who posted a Facebook video in April chastising teachers for walking out led by just three votes over a GOP challenger who suspended his campaign a month ago so he could take a new job as a sheriff’s deputy.
The Oklahoma teacher walkout followed a similar action in West Virginia, but the foundation was laid in 2011 when Republicans took control of state government and immediately began cutting taxes and approving incentives for businesses. As revenue fell, budget shortfalls reached $1.3 billion two years ago and set off repeated rounds of cutbacks in state programs, including schools.
After two special sessions, with teachers preparing to walk off the job in April, the Legislature finally passed a package of tax hikes on cigarettes, fuel and energy production that helped pay for an average teacher raise of $6,100. It was the first raise in a decade for Oklahoma teachers, whose salaries ranked 49th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, and who were fleeing classrooms to take better paying teaching jobs in neighboring states.