As Democratic rural losses increase, state Rep. Tadlock says he is changing parties, not changing sides
Published: December 9th, 2018
Oklahoma City – State Rep. Johnny Tadlock, first elected as representative from Oklahoma House District 1 in 2014, delivered the political equivalent of a tremblor at the state Capitol last week.
Tadlock switched his party affiliation from Democrat to Republican. The Idabel legislator cited conservative policy beliefs as the reason for the change.
In comments sent to CapitolBeatOK on Thursday (December 6), Rep. Tadlock said, “This to me is not at all about party affiliation. This is about representing the people who live in my district to the best of my ability and making sure their voice is heard at the state Capitol. To do this, I feel I would have better success in the majority party.
“I have not changed my beliefs. As a Democrat, I was endorsed by the National Rifle Association. I have always been pro-life. I have cared about safe and decent roads and bridges, public safety, free and fair public education and health care that reaches those in the rural communities. These are still the issues with which I will be concerned.”
House District 1 includes part of LeFlore County and and all of McCurtain County in the southeast corner of the state.
House communications staff listed him as presently serving on these committees: Agriculture and Rural Development; County and Municipal Government; General Government Oversight and Accountability; Judiciary and the House Special Investigation Committee.
State Rep. Emily Virgin of Norman, recently elected as the Democratic House Leader, sent a statement soon after Tadlock’s party switch was announced. She said:
“Whether the legislator from House District 1 is a Republican or a Democrat, the Democratic Caucus is going to continue to fight for legislation that benefits towns like Broken Bow and Idabel. For the last decade, Republican policies from healthcare to education have been devastating to rural Oklahoma so while we don’t understand Rep. Tadlock’s decision, we wish him the best of luck.”
Rep. Virgin’s response seemed to incorporate awareness of the role moderate-to-conservative Democrats have played in making the minority caucus a factor in the state House.
The development is the latest jolt to Oklahoma Democrats hoping to rebuild the party throughout the state. Democrats were substantially buoyed by the successful congressional campaign of Kendra Horn, who on November 6 unseated Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Steve Russell of Oklahoma City in the Fifth District race.
In a Friday email, the Oklahoma Policy Institute noted, “The defection leaves House Democrats with just 24 members, their fewest ever. Elected without opposition this year as a Democrat, Tadlock said he believed he could better serve his constituents as a member of the Republican majority.”
Tadlock has served quietly but meticulously at the Capitol, among other things garnering the 2016 legislative award from the Oklahoma Sheriffs Association (OSA). When the group announced Tadlock’s recognition in August 2016, Pottawatomie County Sheriff Michael Booth (the OSA president) commented, “As the only retired sheriff in the Legislature, Representative Tadlock is a crucial voice of experience and wisdom that is sorely needed.”
OSA said Tadlock “tirelessly works with his fellow members advocating for the OSA and speaking out against harmful legislation. In his first term in the Legislature he has proven to be one of the OSA’s most valuable allies at the State Capitol.”
Tadlock served in law enforcement for 28 years, culminating with time as McCurtain County sheriff for the decade before his election to the state House.
Tadlock devoted much of his legislative time in 2016 to moderate criminal justice reform proposals, including measures to allow allow prosecutorial discretion to file misdemeanors rather than felonies in so-called “85 percent” cases, and reduction of low-level drug possession penalties to no more than five (rather than a maximum of ten) years.
As OK Policy’s David Blatt noted soon after general election day 2018, “Republicans flipped eight Democratic seats this year – all in non-metropolitan districts, except for the Tulsa-area seat held briefly by Karen Gaddis. This now leaves Democrats with just five seats outside of Oklahoma City and Tulsa in the House and none in the Senate.”
Among the defeated Democrats were two leaders known as more conservative than not, including immediate past Minority Leader Steve Kouplen of Beggs, and Rep. Donnie Condit of McAlester.
Rep. Kouplen, of District 24, had opposed some proposals for tax hikes, keeping his caucus aloof from Republican infighting as support for increased taxation grew in the majority caucus. However, Kouplen last spring joined House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, in delivering enough votes to enact the largest tax increase in state history (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/speaker-mccall-and-minority-leader-kouplen-cheer-major-tax-increase-approval-in-state-house).
In the November election, he garnered 4,763 votes – 48.23 percent of the total. He lost to Republican Logan J. Phillips, who had 5,113 votes (51.77 percent). The 344-vote edge made headlines, because Kouplen was heavily favored, and Philips spent no money on the race. (https://newsok.com/article/5614309/dem-leader-lost-to-republican-who-didnt-spend-money-on-campaign)
Rep. Condit, of District was elected as a pro-life Democrat a decade ago, and remained consistent on abortion policy issues. He also served as a co-chairman of the bi-partisan Legislative Prayer Caucus (https://capitolbeatok.worldsecuresystems.com/reports/economics-may-dominate-capitol-discussion-but-social-issues-remain-important). In this year’s general election, Condit had 5,222 votes (48.42 percent) to 5,562 (51.58 percent) for Republican victor David Smith.
In the 2016 cycle, neither Kouplen nor Condit drew a Republican general election opponent. (https://www.ok.gov/elections/support/20161108_seb.html) However, Condit barely survived the 2016 primary, getting back to another term with only 50.5 percent backing (2,594 votes) to challenger Cord McCoy’s 49.5 percent (2,543 votes).
For the 2019-20 cycle, the Tadlock switch means (compared to 2017-18 representation) the Democrat retentions outside of the urban areas now total only four.
David Blatt continued, in his November 15 OK Policy analysis, “Democrats flipped six seats formerly held by Republicans – four in Oklahoma City and two in Tulsa. Democrats have now picked up 13 seats from Republicans in the two metro areas since 2014, even as their total number of legislative seats has fallen due to losses outside Oklahoma City and Tulsa.”