North Dakota U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp tells progressive crowd: ‘Don’t back up’

TULSA – About 100 people gathered at Tulsa’s historic Circle Cinema Theatre Thursday (August 21) to honor the life and career of Frosty Troy, founding editor and publisher of The Oklahoma Observer.

U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, praised Troy’s work and encouraged the audience to stick up for liberal policies. 

Referencing lessons learned from her truck driver father, she said, “Don’t back up, any more than is necessary.”

Troy, who is ailing, was unable to attend. However, one highlight was a video interview with him, in which he recalled his lifelong love for his wife (known to friends as “Helen of Troy”), his series of jobs in the news business, and his career summit at The Oklahoma Observer.

Speakers recalled some of Troy’s most notable quips, including his encounter in 1986 with former Gov. Henry Bellmon (whose first term was 1962-66).

Bellmon told Troy he was running for a second term as chief executive of the Sooner State. Troy reportedly responded, “Why in the world would you do that? 

You were awful the first time.” Troy praised Bellmon’s second term, however, saying it was the best for any governor in state history.

Arnold Hamiltion, Troy’s successor, has founded “The Oklahoma Observer Democracy Foundation for a Better Oklahoma,” raising funds to sustain “progressive” commentary and news in Oklahoma. 

In opening remarks, Hamilton said “We need Frosty’s values now more than ever.” 

This was the second annual “Frosty Fest” – the first was last year in Oklahoma City.

In his comments, Hamilton criticized what he called “the corporalists, theocratics and Teabaggers” who dominate state politics.

State Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, told attendees she remembered an early visit to the state Capitol, where was encouraged to find Troy at the basement coffee shop. She was told, “He’s the only person who’s been here longer than Tony Lauinger.” (Lauinger is a well-known Tulsan, a pro-life activist and subject of frequent criticism from Troy.)

McDaniel described Troy as “honest and forthright, all the time,” and a “home-grown version of the Capitol Steps,” the comedic troupe that gigs politicians across the spectrum. She noted he sometimes disagrees with leaders of his Catholic faith. McDaniel, raised in North Dakota, pointedly praised Sen. Heitkamp for political success in a challenging environment.

Hamilton outlined plans for the new foundation to retain “a voice for the voiceless.” Hamilton said the newspaper and its website will continue “to print facts the corporate apologists will not print, and to represent diverse viewpoints.” The goal is to assure “a healthy public square and robust debate.”

Guests for “Frosty Fest II” included former Gov. David Walters and his wife Rhonda, state Rep. Eric Proctor, D-Tulsa (whose wife was about to have twins at nearby St. Francis Hospital), former state Rep. Wanda Jo Peltier Stapleton, D-Oklahoma City, state Democratic party Vice Chair Dana Orwig, attorneys and staff from Legal Aid of Oklahoma,  David Blatt of the Oklahoma Policy Institute, Ryan Kiesel of the American Civil Liberties Union, representatives of the Osage Nation, Young Democrat activists from Tulsa, Ray Pierce of The Oklahoma Eagle and a delegation representing The City Sentinel newspaper.

State Rep. Joe Dorman, R-Rush Springs, Oklahoma City businesswoman Cathy Cummings (and her husband Sean) were also present, and often praised from the speakers’ dias.

Also present were Shannon Martin, Allie Sherman, Richard Fricker and Troy’s daughter, Mary.

Peltier read the prepared speech of Barbara Santee, unable to attend. The text praised The Oklahoma Observer for “ripping those politicians a new one” whenever necessary.

Introducing Heitkamp, Cherokee Chief Bill John Baker praised Troy for his support of unions, Native Americans, human rights, and teachers. He thanked Sen. Heitkamp for being a friend of the tribes.

Heitkamp said she would subscribe to The Observer. She characterized herself as not the perfect progressive candidate, but a friend. She said, “Don’t say you are from a red state. Say that most people would agree with progressive goals, but they don’t have all the facts.

“The good people of Oklahoma will know what’s right to do if they have all the facts. Grow the idea, the theme, that people who don’t have enough need enough to keep the American dream growing and going. It will be bad for us all if that dream dies.”

Recalling her childhood in a town of 80 – “my family was one-tenth of the population” – she called Oklahoma “a state of opportunity.” She summarized her own career – both winning and losing statewide races – as a metaphor for progressive politicians.

Recalling a life-threatening bout with cancer, which came during an unsuccessful campaign for governor, she said her survival, combined with the electoral loss, made her “really think. I decided to stay true to my principles.”

Now the only statewide elected Democrat in her state, Heitkamp won election in 2012 and took office last year. She is an advocate for North Dakota and U.S. Indian tribes, pressing an “all-of-the-above” energy strategy. She encouraged attendees: “Our fellow citizens are looking for good people to lead. 

Let’s lead.”

Sponsors of Frosty Fest included Cherokee Nation Businesses, George Krumme, Aldean Newcomb-Krumme, Robert D. Lemon, Robyn Lemon Sellers, The Peace House of Oklahoma City, Kalyn Free, Clark Wiens and Circle Cinema, Charlie Asher and CHOCS, Iris Lochner (who provided fine Oklahoma wines), Shaun Lee and Tulsa Press Club, and Pierce Theobald.

Caterer for the gala was Tulsa’s Coffee House on Cherry Street.

The Oklahoma Observer Democracy Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is “to help create a better, more informed Oklahoma. Donations are tax deductible within the limits of the law. 

More information is available from or from editor/publisher Arnold Hamilton, 405.478.8700, email .

NOTE: This story is also forthcoming in The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper in Oklahoma City.