Cyndi Munson makes a splash, winning House District 85 for Democrats

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Cyndi Ann Munson, D-Oklahoma City, succeeded in her second run for public office, and is now part of the state House. The first Democrat to win the seat in five decades, she recently reflected on her motivations to run in an essay that appeared at the online edition of Cosmopolitan Magazine.

Remembering her work with the Girls Scouts here in Oklahoma City, she recalled, “A grant from the Department of Justice helped us work with women who were at risk to enter the juvenile justice system. My eyes were opened to the clear path for these women to be incarcerated.

“In a week I would see the cycle of a young girl: she’s low performing at school, comes from a low-income household, she’s a parent by her teenage years, and then she’s in the justice system. And that’s what made me want to run for office. I knew that if we didn’t have policy makers in our state that understood the issues around incarceration and education, my job was going to be this ongoing cycle that would never end.”

In the months leading up to the 2014 election, Democratic political consultants and friends strongly encouraged her to run against long-term incumbent David Dank, a Republican.

After the idea settled, in, she recalled in the Cosmopolitan article, “I took a couple weeks to think about it. I just felt this tug in my heart. I had to come to a point where I knew even if I didn’t win, I would be changing the conversation, inspiring other people to get involved in the political process. And it gave me a platform to share the things I thought were important for us in Oklahoma.”

Munson learned door-to-door campaigning techniques in the district, where old-school one-on-one campaigning still works. 

In that first election, she recalls, “On Election Day, I was incredibly uncertain. I had this feeling that this wasn’t going to be as wonderful as I wanted it to be. When I found out I had lost, I felt fine.

“My job that night was to go back into the room and remind my supporters that we don’t give up. Don’t think this is a defeat. Take the energy you have — anger, increased passion — to your own community. Go mentor, go volunteer at a school, vote. I said, ‘I’m going to run again.’ “

Munson’s victory in District 85 raised the Democratic caucus membership to 30.

She defeated Republican nominee Chip Carter, an Oklahoma City businessman. In victory, she assumes the seat previously held by David Dank.

Munson garnered 2,640 votes (53.79 percent) to 2,268 (46.21 percent) for Carter. A total of 4,908 votes were cast in the special election – fewer votes than in a typical general election, but a good turnout for the special election scheduled after Dank’s death last spring.

She had an advantage throughout the formal polling process, winning the absentee vote narrowly, then the small number of early voters, and garnering a majority on election day (September 8).

Munson was unopposed for her party’s nomination, while Carter was one of four candidates who sought the GOP nod in the July 14 special election primary.

Besides Carter, GOP hopefuls this summer were retired firefighter and military veteran Ralph Crawford, party activist Matt Jackson, and attorney Amy Palumbo.

Carter won the Republican nod with a plurality of votes, avoiding a runoff under the state’s special election provisions.

All candidates stressed agreement with Dank’s model of public service.

“Cyndi Munson succeeded … where so many others have failed in the past. She was elected to represent a district that the Republican Party has held for at least 50 consecutive years,” commented Democratic House Leader Scott Inman, D-Del City, after her victory.

“We House Democrats are exceedingly happy and proud to welcome Cyndi Ann Munson to our caucus. We congratulate her on a hard-fought campaign that resulted in a well-deserved victory.

“Her election success is evidence that a high-quality candidate focused on improving public education, health care, and Oklahoma’s infrastructure – and presenting that message in a thoughtful manner, and not by hyper-partisan rhetoric – can in fact resonate with voters.

“With the Legislature facing a budget shortfall next year of perhaps a billion dollars, we have our work cut out for us. I am confident that the good people of House District 85, in choosing to send Representative-elect Munson to the State Capitol, made the right choice Tuesday.”

The outcome is a boost to Rep. Inman and his Democratic colleagues.

The summer special election campaign was marked with a steady barrage of direct mail pieces into the homes of high-propensity voters, as well as telephone calls and door-to-door visits. Several independent expenditures pressed for Carter’s election.

Analysts, including this writer, have long surmised the district could become competitive without a Dank in office.

Several reapportionments ago, the seat was for a few years in the hands of Mary Fallin, who went on to serve as lieutenant governor, U.S. Representative and, presently, governor of the Sooner State. Either David or his wife Odilia, who preceded him in office and who died two years ago, had held the job for the past two decades.

Odilia served the maximum 12 years in the House.

Her husband David then won the post and held it for just over eight years.

In 2014, Munson challenged Rep. Dank’s hold on the seat, running a credible but losing race against the storied incumbent.

Dank was known for his brand of independent conservatism, including opposition to open-ended business subsidies, tax credits and incentives. In a couple of campaigns, he drew opposition from some elements of the State and City Chambers of Commerce, but always won reelection.

David Dank died last spring.

In the recent Cosmopolitan essay, part of a “Get That Life” series, Munson observed, “Our legislative session begins in February and ends at the end of May. 

So now I’m spending my fall getting back into the district, talking to neighborhood associations and talking to the people I’ve been talking to for the past two years about issues that are important to them.

“When session starts, we spend a lot of time in committees and voting, and, of course, I’ll be campaigning again in 2016.

“One thing I would love women to know is, be OK with losing and try again. The first time I heard that I was so pissed off. I was like, ‘Don’t tell me I’m going to lose! We are women, we should be championing each other. But there is something in losing that helped me to reflect on my experience.

It gives you an opportunity to become stronger. I have thicker skin now.

“I know I have a hard election coming up. But I know now that I can do it.”