Withdrawals assure Republicans of at least a tie in 2011 Senate

By Patrick B. McGuigan

Published: 02-Jul-2010

This week, Oklahoma Democrats lost a mathematical possibility of outright control over the state Senate at the start of the 2011 legislative session. Electoral trends now favoring Republicans aside, elections are inherently unpredictable. Democratic control of the upper chamber was a possibility, depending upon voter sentiments in the general election.

However, recent withdrawal of two Democrats who had, early last month, filed to challenge Republican state Sen. Anthony Sykes of Moore assures the Grand Old Party will run the state Senate again in the next legislative session.

As a result of those stand-downs, the party of Jefferson which controlled the upper chamber for 100 years after statehood — until this decade’s shared power arrangement and eventual GOP takeover — is precluded from any shot at organizing the Senate in 2011. In fact, only if Democrats win every contested race in November will the party reach the 24 seats needed for a tie in the upper chamber.

Specific events led to this outcome. The June 28 withdrawal of Susan Hardy Brooks of Tuttle from the general election in District 24, combined with the earlier (June 11) withdrawal of fellow Democrat John Branum of Beaverton, means the “Sykes seat” will not go to a registered Democrat. Sykes still faces a July 27 primary challenge from Linda Molsbee of Newcastle.

The state Senate is presently 26-22 in control of the party of Lincoln. Twenty-four of the 48 Senate seats – all the even numbered districts – are “up” his year. The even-numbered seats are presently 13-11 in favor of Democrats. Of the odd-numbered seats not up for election this year, 15 are Republican and nine are Democratic.

Of those 11 Republican seats up this year, Democrats filed in only two races: Oklahoma City’s District 40 (where incumbent GOP Sen. Cliff Branan faces Democratic hopeful Liz Donnelly) and District 42 (where incumbent Republican Cliff Aldridge of Choctaw faces a primary challenge from James Lane of Oklahoma City, with the GOP winner facing Democrat Mike Kelley of Midwest City.

These Republican incumbents went unchallenged: Brian Bingman of Sapulpa, Bill Brown of Broken Arrow, and Mike Schultz of Altus. Bingman is considered a frontrunner for the President Pro Temp’s position in the new Legislature, but his election is not considered a foregone conclusion. Sen. David Myers of Ponca City was also reelected because his Independent opponent was found ineligible.

GOP-only primaries will decide some seats, i.e. those now held by departing Sens. Mike Johnson of Kingfisher, Glenn Coffee of Oklahoma City and Randy Brogdon of Owasso. Incumbent Republican Harry Coates of Seminole faces a Republican challenger in District 28, where no Democrat filed.

Of the 13 Democratic seats up for election, Republicans have candidates in nine races. Democratic incumbents Jay Paul Gumm of Durant, Roger Ballenger of Okmulgee, John Sparks of Norman and Andrew Rice of Oklahoma City face Republican opposition.

Both Republicans and Democrats filed in the “open” seats of departing Democratic Sens. Ken Corn of Poteau, Joe Sweeden of Pawhuska, Johnnie Crutchfield of Ardmore, Mary Easley of Tulsa and Debbe Leftwich of Oklahoma City. The latter seat, District 44, finds five Republicans vying to contest Randy Rose, the Democratic nominee, in November.

Democrats are assured of holding four of their current 13 seats in the even-numbered cluster. Returning to office will be these unopposed Senators: Sean Burrage of Claremore, Tom Ivester of Elk City and Randy Bass of Lawton. Connie Johnson, an  Oklahoma City incumbent, faces three primary opponents on July 27, but no Republican filed in that District 48 race.

There are theoretical prospects for Democratic control – eventually. That would require that Democrats hold every seat now in their hands, “run the table” in races where they are challenging – and then, in an overall tie, win a special election to complete the term of Sen. Jonathan Nichols, should he prevail in a judicial election. 

A Republican, Nichols now holds the Senate District 15 seat. He is running for the District 21, Office 1 judicial post (Cleveland, Garvin and McClain Counties). Nichols is not guaranteed victory. He has three foes – all Norman residents like himself: Michael C. Bell, Tracy Schumacher and Roger Housley. However, organization of the Senate will take place by January 4, 2011; judicial officers begin terms on Jan. 10, 2011.

In a few instances in American political history, bipartisan coalitions have organized legislative bodies. In event of a tie, one or more Republicans could bolt to join Democrats in a coalition.

However, even given the Nichols wild card, numbers now preclude a near-term Democratic return to control in the Oklahoma state Senate.

Note: The original version of this story posted late Friday, July 2 did not reflect the removal of three Independent candidates from the November ballot.