Consultant Laurie Spies reflects on the rise of Oklahoma Republicans
By Patrick B. McGuigan
In a press release received several days ago, CMA Strategies, the political consulting firm founded in 2003 that developed out of what was once Tom Cole’s political operation, touted an impressive cluster of successes gained in this year’s Republican primary.
Receipt of the document led CapitolBeatOK to discuss Oklahoma political development with three of the firm’s key players. One of those is Laurie Spies.
CapitolBeatOK asked Spies and two colleagues who are founding partners – Pat McFerron and Sharon Caldwell — if there was a particular moment when they were struck by the dramatic nature of the transformation in Oklahoma politics since 1994.
From her perspective, Spies replied:
“For me, there was not one moment but a series of gains. I came to the Oklahoma state Senate as a staffer in 1999. That year there were 15 Republicans and 33 Democrats in the Senate (and, 39 Republicans to 62 Democrats in the House). Frank Keating was governor but no Republican votes were necessary to get a bill passed in even one Senate committee.”
In those days, she noted, “Lobbyists treated Republicans as nearly irrelevant. But there was a sense, even then, that it wouldn’t be long until Republicans gained control — just ask the Republican legislators in office at the time. And each election year, Republicans added to their numbers in both Houses.”
As it turned out, Spies recounts, “It took just two election cycles for the Republicans to gain control in the House and four cycles to gain the Senate. Of course, it could have been done in three cycles had Nancy Riley not switched parties after the 2004 election.” Riley, first elected as a Republican, left the Grand Old Party, giving Democrats a slightly longer lease on Senate control.
Spies observes, “What has struck me is the consistency of gains in a short time and the hold Republicans seem to have now. Republicans will control the Senate regardless of how the elections go this cycle, and it is nearly unthinkable that House Republicans could take a step backwards.”
To be sure, “Another striking transformation has occurred among lobbyists. The profession was dominated by Democrats for years. Now many of those same Democratic lobbyists have brought a Republican or two into their firms, and more Republicans lobbyists, like me, are walking the halls at the Capitol.”
So, CapitolBeatOK wondered, is there any scenario in which Republicans could “blow it” this November? Spies responded, “Always. The public is wary of politicians in both parties. Republicans cannot take this election for granted or fail to understand the frustrations of the public. Each candidate will have to work hard to connect in a genuine way with their voters. It may feel like a Republican year — and I believe it is — but that does not mean the public will simply vote for a straight Republican ticket if they believe the Democrat in a race is the more authentic and able.”
Asked to reflect concerning the role and function, of a political consultant and professional advisor in modern campaigns, Spies commented, “Consultants provide the overall direction and framework for a political campaign. Good consultants tailor campaign plans individually to each candidate and the seat for which he/she is running.”
Good answer, but, she continued, “Political campaigns seldom go strictly according to plan, so a good consultant will recognize when the plans need adjusting, and can roll with the punches when unpredictable situations arise, and help the candidate do the same, even if it’s the day of the election.”
The job is 24/7, she said: “Consultants are in daily contact, including evenings and weekends, with the candidate helping to oversee their budgets, staff and scheduling efforts. A candidate faces many time demands and a lot of advice coming from a variety people about how and where to spend his/her time and money. The consulting team can help ensure the candidate is efficient and focused on his/her message.”
In closing, Spies reflected, “Campaigns have changed over the years. More and more money must be raised as so many campaigns are media driven. Consultants work with media firms to help ensure the production quality and media placement is the best it can be. Basically, consulting firms have been through campaigns before, and can bring a wealth of experience and knowledge about the process to a candidate and the staff.”
Originally a teacher but now the firm’s director of government relations, i.e. lobbyist or advocate for CMA clients at the Capitol, Spies cut her teeth on campaign consulting beginning 13 years ago.
She worked on legislative staff for six years, then took on roles in congressional and statewide campaigns, developing experience in fundraising, press relations and organizational development. She also had a hitch as director of community relations for the Oklahoma RedHawks AAA baseball team.
Spies and her colleagues at the CMA firm were energized by the victory of Todd Lamb of Edmond, the state Senate Majority Floor Leader who garnered two-thirds of the vote in a five-candidate field. Lamb finished 39 percent above state Rep. John Wright of Broken Arrow.
In another statewide race where CMA served as consultant, Oklahoma City charter school founder Janet Barresi secured 63% backing in her primary, and will carry her advocacy of education reform into the general election.
The third CMA candidate at the state level is former state Sen. Scott Pruitt, who won a strong 56% of the vote to secure the GOP nod for Attorney General over Ryan Leonard.
A fourth CMA client was Tom Cole, who easily turned back a “Tea Party” challenger to win the Republican primary in the fourth congressional district. Cole’s strong showing and lack of a Democratic opponent assured him of another term and a chance at a new round of national leadership, if Republicans regain control of the U.S. House in the November elections.