In the Spring of 2018, I filed papers at the Oklahoma state capitol to run as a Republican in the race for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, District 53. It would be a three person primary in June, one of whom was the incumbent. There were a record number of candidates who filed across the state that year, mainly due to the teacher strike.
I had always enjoyed politics and history. I loved Ronald Reagan growing up, and he, along with my parents and grandparents, and my Christian faith, influenced me in my conservative values. I remember listening to Rush Limbaugh in the car with my Grandpa, and my dad and stepmom also loved listening to him and introduced me to his briefly-aired television show. My mom was a teacher, and education would play a huge role in this particular race.
I was nervous but excited as I filed the papers. I gave a brief on-camera interview to the local news media in the capitol about why I chose to run. I looked for it on the news, but I never saw it. I announced on my personal Facebook page my decision to run and received a lot of supportive comments from friends and family.
After filing, one of the first things I did was attend a mandatory training at the capitol by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission and how to use their web site to report my donations and expenditures. I also went to the bank and opened a special account for my campaign.
I called a friend in Arkansas who had run for office, and he gave me some good advice. He told me to call the state Republican party and get a list of the Republican voters in my district, which I did. They sent me a spreadsheet with names and addresses on it as well as an indication of how often the person voted. I was a little overwhelmed with how many doors I had to knock, and I sought help from family and friends. My parents both went with me on more than one occasion to visit with people. As someone who is reserved and quiet, that was probably the most challenging part of running for office, but it was also the most rewarding and essential. I enjoyed getting out and talking to voters to hear their concerns and where they stood on the issues. I felt like I was more in touch with what people were feeling and thinking after I had gone out each time. I didn’t really run into any rude people. Most were very friendly and willing to talk. One guy gave me a laugh when he asked me if I would post helpful information about bills on social media or just pictures of myself winning awards.
Another essential element of the campaign was ordering signs and door hangers and placing them around town. I actually found placing the signs a fun activity. I was on a limited budget, so I found a good deal on a website called Victory Store. The only problem was that the company was based out of state so it took a while for the signs to get in. Their website allowed you to design your own signs. I ordered mostly medium-sized signs because they seemed to be most economical for me, but I wished I had more small signs. The challenging part of placing the signs was finding spaces not already taken by the competition. I lost a few of the signs. I don’t know if they were stolen or if they just got blown away. One time I found my sign surrounded by my opponent’s signs so that his hid mine. I also heard from someone whom I had gone to elementary school with and hadn’t talked to in years. He had seen my sign when leaving the movie theater.
I didn’t send out any mailers, which probably hurt me. It was a matter of not having enough money as well as not being sure about who to use to do that. I did order a couple of car magnets for my car, and I designed and ordered campaign t-shirts for my family and myself.
Another element of the campaign was answering questionnaires from various groups such as the National Rifle Association or the League of Women Voters. Some of them came through the mail, and others were online. I found this aspect of the campign enjoyable and interesting.
Of course, raising money is a major part of a campaign. I was determined not to take any special interest money, and I advertised that on my social media. Voters seemed to appreciate that. I self-funded most of my campaign, while my family and friends also helped me out with generous donations. This had a positive and negative aspect. The positive part was that I had freedom to take stances on issues which I thought were right. I was not beholden to anybody. The drawback, of course, was that I had a limited amount of funds so I was outspent by the incumbent. Fundraising was probably my least favorite part of the campaign. As I mentioned before, I had to record every donation and expenditure on a special website run by the state. At the end of the campaign, I had a choice of what to do with any unused funds. I could return it to donors or donate it to charity, along with a few other options.
As I said before, it was a three-way race. The other challenger was a teacher. I got the feeling that she wasn’t quite as conservative as me, and she focused mainly on education issues. Because the campaign occurred around the time of the teacher strikes and protests at the capitol, that was obviously the major issue of the campaign.
My political strategy was to stick to my conservative values and also to support teachers at the same time. In addition, I needed to distinguish myself from the incumbent by presenting myself as an alternative to the establishment. I ran to the right of him ideologically, and he even admitted to me after the race was over that he probably wasn’t as conservative as me. I just tried to be honest and be myself. I have to confess that I found the teacher issue a hard one to navigate. I had a teaching certificate and had done a lot of substitute teaching. I also came from a family of teachers. So I felt like I could relate to teachers and knew what their concerns were. At the same time, though, I didn’t attend the protests, and I got asked if I did. While I supported teachers, I didn’t support the strike because I felt like it was unfair to the kids. I also wasn’t a fan of the unions. So I felt like I was threading a needle most of the time.
As far as social media goes, I posted campaign updates on my personal Facebook page for friends and family. I had an official Twitter page for my campaign where I posted my positions on issues and reminders to vote. I did receive a couple of questions from voters on social media about where I stood on certain issues like vaccines. Other questions I received while out knocking doors were how I felt about the 2nd Amendment, whether or not I supported President Trump, and what I could do about getting tornado shelters in schools.
On Election Day, I stood on the corner of a major intersection with a sign early in the morning as polls opened. My dad and stepmom also did the same. In the evening as people were getting off work, I stood at a different intersection holding a sign. Of course, in between I went to the polls and had the surreal experience of voting for myself.
The result felt a little anti-climatic. I went home and checked for results online. I went to the local news websites as well as to the county election board’s site. It didn’t take too long for me to realize that I wasn’t going to win. The race was over fairly early in the night. It was disappointing, but not entirely surprising.
So why did I lose? I was running against an incumbent who had grown up in the town, so name recognition played a big factor. He was also conservative enough so people were probably hesitant to vote him out for someone they didn’t know as well when he already matched up with their values. With the support of the establishment, like Republican insiders and the Chamber of Commerce, he had a lot more funds than I did. Also, the teacher issue dominated the campaign, and he was supported by the state teachers’ union, OEA. I could not support them because I had a fundamental difference in values and beliefs on social issues. I wanted to focus on these social issues in the campaign, but those weren’t the topics primarily on voters’ minds. Also, I could have knocked on more doors. I regret not being able to get to everyone on the list that had been sent to me.
So why did I run? It was a dream of mine to be involved in politics, and I felt like with all the public’s frustration with state leaders, it might be an opportune time. It was a good experience, but I think I found out that my personality is not really suited for public office.
The evening after the election I drove around town and picked up my signs. I had made a list of where I had placed them so I would remember. I threw most of them out, but I saved a few for sentimental reasons. I talked briefly with a young man who was picking up signs for my opponent. He gave me a nice compliment about how he thought I had run a good campaign. Later, I called his boss, the incumbent who had won the race, and congratulated him. We had a cordial conversation, and I told him I would support him in the general election. I even put one of his signs in my yard. It felt good to unify as Republicans in order to defeat the Democrats on the other side.
What is my advice to anyone thinking about running? I guess I would say five things: 1) Stay true to your principles and who you are. You will be tempted to just tell people what they want to hear, but stand strong for what you believe; 2) Don’t have a win-at-any-cost attitude. Treat people with respect, even your opposition. Attack only on the issues, and don’t engage in personal attacks; 3) Make sure you have plenty of cash. Decide ahead of time whether or not you are going to accept money from special interests. Be honest and above reproach in your campaign finances; 4) Know the issues well and where you stand on them. Know why you are running and what your goals are if you are elected; 5) Be sure you are ready to lose your privacy and anonymity. There is scrutiny and pressure associated with being in the public eye which private citizens do not have to deal with.