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Tulsa world

Roosters didn't rule election roost in Oklahoma
2002-11-10

Some unrelated and semi-related thoughts linger from the state elections:

Urban voters, many of them Republicans, presented the Democratic Party of Oklahoma a golden opportunity last Tuesday. That is the opportunity to not be the party of cockfighting.

State Question 687, the cockfighting ban, was defeated in 57 of the 77 counties. But it was enacted into law because of overwhelming yes votes in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties and strong support in the other counties where larger cities are located.

Statewide, the cockfighting ban won by a comfortable margin of 56 percent yes to 44 percent no. The measure got 72 percent of the vote in Tulsa County and 67 percent in Oklahoma County.

This rather decisive victory ought to put the issue to rest from now on. Certainly many, if not most, Oklahoma's would just as soon not hear any more about cockfighting.

Gov.-elect Brad Henry during the campaign sided with the cockfighters in opposing the ban. And the issue is said to have generated a heavy vote in traditionally Democratic counties in the southeast, where the state question drew the heaviest no vote.

But now that the issue is settled the Democrats would be well advised to leave it alone, to let sleeping roosters lie. The new governor and the Democratic legislative leadership should resist any and all efforts by a few members of their party to weaken or repeal the new law. The Democratic Party of Oklahoma has absolutely nothing to gain by being identified as the party that supports cockfighting.

Did the cockfighting issue elect Brad Henry? You can't prove it from the ballot results. It's true that his opposition to the cockfight ban helped Henry galvanize the Democrats' traditional voter base in rural Oklahoma, both in the primary against Vince Orza and in his upset victory over Republican Steve Largent.

But Henry did not win because lots of pro-cockfighting Democrats went to the polls in Little Dixie. If that were true, the state question banning it would have gone down to defeat.

Henry won because Largent did not do as well as he needed to in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties, where the cockfighting ban ran very strongly.

Largent could not get a majority vote in his home congressional district. He won 48.1 percent of the vote in Tulsa County, to 37.4 percent for Henry and 14.3 percent for the populist independent, Gary Richardson. By comparison, Republican Frank Keating drew 60 percent of the Tulsa County vote in 1994, a race that also featured a strong independent candidate, Wes Watkins.

Largent got 48.3 percent of the vote in Oklahoma County, to 38.7 percent for Henry and 13 percent for Richardson. Keating in 1994 captured 58 percent.

Traditional Republican counties in the northwest and Panhandle voted for Largent, but in many cases the margins were close. That may have been because Largent talked about school consolidation, an unpopular idea in western Oklahoma where many students already spend two to three hours a day going to and from school.

Largent's lackluster showing in Tulsa County is puzzling but probably best explained by Richardson's presence in the race. Richardson's promise to do away with turnpike tolls may have hit home with voters in Tulsa, where anti-turnpike sentiment is strong. His 14 percent and Largent's 48 percent added together are not much more than what a Republican candidate normally can expect to get in Tulsa County.

Largent had all the advantages going in -- money, name recognition, conservative record -- but his campaign never took off. Despite recent GOP gains in Oklahoma a Republican still cannot expect to win a statewide race with only 48 percent of the vote in Tulsa and Oklahoma counties.

Always a bridesmaid but never a bride. Over the past few years Republicans have crept ever closer to taking control of the state House of Representatives and party leaders were at least cautiously optimistic it would happen this year.

Some party leaders interviewed on TV early in the evening Tuesday were positively giddy at their prospects for victory. But it didn't happen, again. Democrats wound up gaining one seat in the House. Oklahoma Republicans can join Texas Rangers baseball fans in saying, "Wait 'til next year."

And speaking of Democratic gains, Oklahomans elected a Democratic governor and Legislature while the nation will have a Republican president and Congress, after winning control of the Senate on Tuesday.

When was the last time Oklahoma was 180 degrees out of phase with the nation? You have to go back to 1953, when Oklahoma had a Democratic governor, Johnston Murray, and Legislature while Republican Dwight Eisenhower was president and the GOP held both houses of Congress.

Brad Henry looks young but at 38 he's not Oklahoma's youngest governor. J. Howard Edmondson (elected in 1958) and David Boren (1974) were both 33 when they were elected but Edmondson was younger than Boren, by nearly six months.