Voter targeting using tax-financed resources, drawing from a ‘strategic’ list? No problem, according to Bixby Public Schools
Published: July 10th, 2018
Bixby Public Schools allowed the teachers’ union to conduct political activities on-site at the taxpayer-funded school district, CapitalbeatOK.com has learned.
The Oklahoma Education Association’s local branch at the school district, the Bixby Education Association, organized a phone bank, flyer drops, door-to-door canvassing, held meetings and organized a “march on Memorial” to promote the union’s agenda of getting education-friendly legislators nominated in the recent primary election.
The phone bank and union organizing meetings were held at the Media Center at Bixby North Intermediate High School.
The Bixby Education Association’s leader denies an agenda, rather saying it was simply to get out the vote project. But this reporter found cracks in the story.
The effort was led by Jessica Danielle, president of the Bixby Education Association and a newly-elected member of the statewide OEA board of directors.
Reached at her home, Danielle insisted that the efforts were merely a “get out the vote’’ project and did not target certain voters or a certain agenda. However, the effort was aimed at three particular state House districts, according to a June 15 Facebook posting aimed at parent-teacher organizations in the area.
“We’re really just trying to encourage our community to vote,’’ said Danielle. “The 2016 statistics show that voter turnout was very low in the primary. It’s just been one of our goals to just encourage our community to exercise their right to vote.’’
“It’s up to the voters,” she said.
“We just want to make sure the community knows where and when to vote. That’s kind of been our purpose. We don’t know which party people are affiliated with when we call them. They are no ties to any party or any candidate. We’re just reminding people to vote in general.”
But that’s apparently not the whole story. That June 15 posting specifically cited efforts to assure high turnout in House Districts 67 (Scott McEachin, incumbent), 69 (Chuck Strohm, incumbent) and 80 (Mike Ritze, incumbent).
Multiple sources have asserted that Danielle targeted House seats where the incumbent voted against the recent tax increase to fund teacher raises (and/or against the funding mechanism), before the massive two-weeks teacher walkout, a job action financed by taxpayers.
The Bixby Education Association also worked off of a “strategic list” of likely voters, she confirmed to this reporter.
Leadership of the Bixby Public Schools saw no harm in using taxpayer-funded facilities for political activity. Superintendent Rob Miller said he sees nothing wrong with the push.
“Statutorially, it’s not against any rules or laws to allow an activity outside the school calendar,’’ he said. “Just like we allow churches to come in if it’s outside the school calendar. In this case it was just truly a get out the vote calling people from a list both Democrat and Republican.”
Miller, who took over as superintendent on June 1, said the district has received no backlash from taxpayers.
“I don’t know why we would,’’ he said. “All we’re doing is encouraging people to vote. We’re not encouraging them to vote for any candidate or policy or referendum. It doesn’t cost anything at all just to use the telephone. It didn’t cost us anything to allow a small group of parents and teachers to come in.’’
Subsequent attempts to reach Danielle were unsuccessful. This reporter intended to ask where the strategic voter list was obtained and why the word “strategic” was removed from the Bixby Education Association Facebook page.
Superintendent Miller was out of the office on vacation in recent days, and unavailable to answer the same questions.
Voter turnout in the primary election was up considerably over 2014 levels, according to the State Election Board. While many analysts credit the higher turnout to the Medical Marijuana initiative (State Question 788) on the ballot, targeted turnout efforts aimed at advancing allies of the union likely contributed to an incremental boost in voter participation.
Two GOP incumbents in the “strategic” districts (McEachin and Strohm) were defeated in the primary, while a third (Ritze) made the runoff election scheduled for August 28.
Note: Former editor of The City Sentinel newspaper in Oklahoma City, Stacy Martin is an independent journalist.