Patrick B. McGuigan
OKLAHOMA CITY – Paula Sophia, who sought to become Oklahoma’s first openly transgendered person elected to public office, has decided not to seek a recount of the August 26 election in state House District 88.
Jason Dunnington won the runoff election with 990 votes, edging out Sophia, who had 968 votes. Because no Republican filed in the seat, the runoff victor will be the new state House member when the Legislature forms next January.
Among progressive or liberal forces in the Sooner State’s capital city, some tensions arose in recent days. Sophia supporters said Democratic party leaders had “counted out” Sophia. At Tuesday’s watch party, several sources and thereafter, several Sophia supporters told CapitolBeatOK they were upset by party leaders they contend intervened inappropriately in the race to prevent Sophia’s nomination.
At mid-day Wednesday, Sophia put a statement on her Facebook page, saying that after consultation with election officials, “my team and I have concluded that there are not enough provisional ballots to span the gap, as small as it is, between me and Mr. Dunnington.” Sophia said there appeared to be no irregularities in returns from all 12 precincts, and a total of only four “provisional” votes that may yet be counted for one candidate or the other.
In comments at Tuesday evening’s watch party, in the Plaza District on the near Westside of Oklahoma City, Sophia remembered words “an old coach” had shared, telling players “don’t tap out.”
Sophia promised she was “not going to tap out. … This was something I felt called to do. I’ve been facing the dragon, but I won’t back down to the corporatists.”
Sophia continued, “This was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. I’m not understating my transition, but this was the scariest.”
At the time, Sophia seemed determined to seek a recount, saying, “I’m going to make my opponent prove himself.” In a subsequent Facebook post, Sophia said she would seek a count of provisional ballots “to make sure all voices are heard, all votes counted.”
Sophia said her supporters were part of “a movement” committed to assuring all voices in the city are heard. In addition to GLBT rights, Sophia’s campaign drew strong support from critics of business incentive programs they considered “giveaways.”
Sophia’s support included the national Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund and a local newspaper, The City Sentinel. Troy Stevenson, executive director of The Equality Network (TEN), was a Sophia backer.
More than a one- or two-issue candidate, Sophia also advocated criminal justice reform and prison improvements.
Dunnington drew support from elements of the local business community and Democratic legislators. State House Minority (Democratic) leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, reportedly appeared at a Dunnington event. He allowed his photograph to appear on a Dunnington campaign mailer, where it appeared along with state Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, a rising star in the state House.
Sophia pointedly thanked former opponent Mark Faulk, a well-known progressive activist who backed her after running behind in the June primary, City Councilman Ed Shadid, who also pressed themes critical of business subsidies in last spring’s mayor election, Ryan Kiesel, state chairman of the American Civil Liberties Union, and Richard Ogden, a city attorney.
Sophia thanked the crowd of around 150 backers,”Thank you all for lifting my voice. I’m going to keep working for meaningful change in our state.”
Dunnington, the victor, is a professor and businessman. Sophia is a retired police officer and U.S. Army veteran.