Oklahoma Democrats thrilled to greet President Barack Obama

The visit of President Barack Obama to Oklahoma continues to provoke some critical commentary, but many Democrats in the state are thrilled he came to what has been dubbed “the reddest of the Red States.” 

CapitolBeatOK interviewed several party leaders in the course of the president’s two-day visit. State Senator Judy-Eason McIntyre, a two-term Democrat leaving the Legislature later this year, said, was thrilled to be part of the event. 

She reflected, “I hope that as a result of this that some of the concern about our president that we get from Oklahoma voices, [that this] will provide some insight into this president. I can go away knowing that he has made a difference, that he has educated some Oklahomans about what our energy possibilities are.” 

Obama focused on what his administration has deemed an “all-of-the-above” strategy, aiming to support wind and solar power on the “green” side of things, but taking new steps to expand use of Natural Gas and such practical moves as the president’s decision to expedite construction of the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline. 

State Rep. Jabar Shumate, also a Tulsan, told CapitolBeatOK, “I would never have believed I’d be standing in Ripley, Oklahoma, preparing to hear from President Barack Obama. It’s an exciting day for Oklahoma because the number one thing he’s coming to talk about is jobs.

“As part of his energy strategy, there is going to be an extension of the Keystone pipeline. Building from here to the south, that means thousands … of jobs here in Oklahoma. That’s a wonderful gift, and I’m glad he’s here to give it.”

Shumate spoke cautiously about the continuing debate on taking the pipeline project north to Canada – or, perhaps more accurate, south from there. Just a few months ago, the president brought that process to a halt, but soon thereafter indicated advocates could reapply for federal permits, seeking an alternate route that would not provoke the negative reaction from environmentalists and others. 

Labor unions have joined energy industry sources, and conservative activists, in supporting the pipeline project in both directions. State AFL-CIO President Jimmy Curry was among the leaders who attended the president’s Cushing speech.

Concerning the pipeline, Shumate commented, “I know that there are lot of things to be worked out. I think what Oklahoma has to be concerned with is the jobs that are going to be created here in this state. I am excited that the president of the United States is saying I want to move this project along right now, here. We need jobs.”

He stressed the president had moved to knock down remaining impediments to completion of the project from Cushing to the Gulf Coast, and said, “We’ll have a stronger Oklahoma because of it.”

Eason-McIntyre and Shumate were interviewed the morning of Obama’s visit in the Ripley High School parking lot, a few miles away from the president’s speaking venue. The school lot served as a staging area for reporters and many of the invited guests, mostly Democrats. 

On the hilltop near Cushing, MidTown Oklahoma City attorney Steve Cortes was among the crowd of Democratic activists cheering the president’s words on Thursday. 

Cortes joined former state Treasurer Scott Meacham, former gubernatorial Chief of Staff (for Brad Henry) Gerald Adams and a dozen other alumni of the Henry years for an improptu “reunion” before and after the president’s speech at the pipe yard.

Cortes took a break from door-to-door campaigning to make the trip. He told CapitolBeatOK, “I’m here because the president is here. It’s a very exciting event. I’m happy to see so many people make it from Oklahoma City and from across the state. It’s always fantastic to welcome a sitting president to our state.”

Others among the who’s who of prominent Democrats at Obama’s speech were state party Chairman Wallace Collins, former Attorney General Drew Edmondson, state Reps. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs (an advocate of the pipeline), Mike Shelton of Oklahoma City, Anastasia Pittman of Oklahoma City, Emily Virgin of Norman, Danny Morgan of Prague, and Minority Leader Scott Inman of Del City, and Senators John Sparks of Norman, Tom Aldelson of Tulsa, and Al McAffrey of Oklahoma City. 

Some Republicans have passionately criticized President Obama’s energy policies. In the news media, some have regarded the visit to Oklahoma and three other states as mere a rolling “photo op.” A measured critique came from one Republican who attended the speech, state Rep. Lee Denney, who represents the Cushing area at the Capitol.