Oklahoma politics: Will the pendulum swing back?

By Brooklyn Wayland

The pendulum swings back and forth.

Until 2005, the Oklahoma Legislature was controlled by the Democrats. In 2009, the Senate joined in on Republican rule. The Republican lead continued to grow and in 2011, the entire Oklahoma Legislature, from the governor’s office to the House and Senate, was Republican-held. While it was a blue state primarily until the 2000s, as pendulum politics would suggest, it swings both ways. Since then and to this day, the Oklahoma Legislature is primarily Republican. 

Will the pendulum be swinging back any time soon? Michael Crespin, director and curator of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center and professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, doesn’t believe so. He doesn’t believe that will be seen for some time. Oklahoma is a red state and it will continue to be for a long time. However, we have seen more urban counties starting to be a little purple. 

“We are beginning to look like every other state,” said Patrick Hall, former leader of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. “For so long, the Oklahoma Democratic Party was a rural-based party, and now it is primarily urban-based.” 

It was this switch that Hall would call, “the resurrection of the Democratic Party.” 

When term limits nearly wiped out the party in Oklahoma, Democrats worried they would not recover. However, reaction to the election of Donald Trump as president helped to rebuild the party, bringing it into the urban areas and counties; specifically, Oklahoma, Tulsa, Comanche and Cleveland county have led the charge, which are home to the eight largest cities in the state of Oklahoma. 

In 2008, Keith Gaddie, professor at OU who specializes in Southern politics, recalls the small Democratic victory in Oklahoma City when Obama was elected president in 2008. Although a small victory of only the city, he says it’s an example of the Democratic party shifting to be a urban-based party. 

Still the minority party in Oklahoma, even with a little purple sneaking into urban areas like Oklahoma County, running as a Democrat in an intensely red state is still a difficult task. Hall said that Democrats have to inherently work harder: The Oklahoma leadership backs Republicans without fail. 

Still there have been a few Democrats who have pushed through and won a seat in Oklahoma. One example is Jacob Rosecrants, a middle school teacher, who started his campaign in a primarily Republican district with $300 and no campaign experience. It didn’t matter though. Rosecrants had a message, and he was ready to share it.

“It was just me having a message that people agreed with,” Rosecrants said. 

Rosecrants started his grassroots campaign for the house seat in Oklahoma House District 46. This district usually voted 60 percent Republican, and as a Democrat, Rosecrants knew he had his work cut out for him. 

Name recognition was key. He spent hours knocking on doors and listening to voters. It also helped that many Oklahomans were ready for change. They wanted an outsider like Rosecrants, who took an interest in issues they were passionate about. 

“The people in my district wanted an outsider, and they wanted someone who cared about the issues they cared about,” Rosecrants said. 

It just so happened in 2016 in Oklahoma everyone cared about public education. 

This helped Rosecrants as well considering he was a public school educator. 

“The Republicans here (in Oklahoma) are fiscally conservative,” Rosecrants said. “But, I would say, they are socially liberal.” 

It is because of this that he says he doesn’t need to go into any situation clinging to his party identification. Rather, he just goes in as the representative who wants to hear from his constituency. This resonated with voters and in a special election in 2017, won him the seat as representative for Oklahoma House District 46.

“The more liberal-leaning the U.S. gets, the more red these Southern states, especially in these rural areas,” Rosecrants said. “I think it had to do a lot with Trump; they really like his message of “I’m an outsider.” 

Gaddie agrees. Rural areas have always been conservative although they weren’t always Republican. 

“The more liberal and the stronger the national Democrats get, the more intensely the rural whites have doubled down, grasping conservative values,” Gaddie said. “That is the foundation of American culture.” 

Still, a good Democratic candidate with an exceptional campaign can beat an unexpecting incumbent. Kendra Horn proved that by winning House District 5 in Oklahoma in 2018. Sticking to those bread and butter issues like lowering prescription drug costs and military spending, Horn was able to win over the constituency in House District 5 against Steve Russell. 

Gaddie said anyone who tells you they saw that coming is lying. It wasn’t until late in the game anyone thought she could do it. She went against a Republican incumbent who didn’t believe he needed to think twice about her. This led to her election despite being in a still primarily red (but more purple than most) district. The Oklahoma State Election Board recorded only 37.91% Democrat in District 5. 

“Voter identification doesn’t determine vote choice,” Gaddie said. There was a certain crossover appeal when it came to Horn’s campaign. Horn simply caught her opponent flat-footed and appealed to voters.”

This, and some shift toward a more moderate Legislature, may be the only shift of the pendulum seen in Oklahoma in a while. 

Rosecrants sees the Republicans in office as much more moderate than in the past which is a great reflection of the average Oklahoma voter. One could infer this is the slight shift of the pendulum. 

Emily Virgin, representative for Oklahoma House District 44 and minority party leader in the House of Representatives, believes this is exactly what Oklahoma voters are looking for now. 

“I think voters are tired of this extreme partisanship, and I think that has been a good thing for the state,” Virgin said.

People across the state are beginning to see when it comes to these big ticket policy items, such as affordable and accessible health care and proper educational funding, they all are on the same page. 

Virgin mentioned in the past six years or so Oklahomans have proven to be somewhat progressive or at least moderate when it comes to some state questions such as Oklahoma State Question 788, the Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative. 

She believes we will see this again in the next election cycle, pushing toward an even more moderate Legislature. This makes sense keeping the idea of the pendulum eventually swinging back toward and more moderate and maybe even a blue state over a long period of time, as Virgin believes is only natural. 

Both Virgin and Rosecrants agree when running for office in Oklahoma, the central questions are not party identification; rather, they are more about the issues Oklahomans care about most. 

“It is all about meeting people where they’re at,” Virgin said.  

That is exactly what successful Republican and Democrat politicians in Oklahoma are doing.

Throughout Oklahoma history, it has been a primarily red state, and while we may not see a drastic change to a blue state any time soon as Gaddie, Hall and Crespin all believe, we have seen evolution, but we haven’t seen enough to enact real change or believe running as a Democrat in a primarily red state is any easy task. 

The future is still unknown when it comes to Oklahoma politics, but any pendulum swings back and forth; it’s just a matter of pace. 

Despite increasing female representation, gender bias is still a problem in politics

By Brooklyn Wayland 

From PTA to City Council, Breea Clark was always moving. She was actually walking behind a stroller with her Mom’s Club’s “Walk and Talk with the Mayor” when she befriended the Norman mayor at the time, Cindy Rosenthal. 

Clark was gaining name recognition throughout the Norman community as she got more and more involved. One day, the then Norman Mayor, Lynne Miller, asked to get drinks with Clark after a City Council meeting. 

It was then that Miller asked if Clark would consider running for mayor. 

Women see leadership in other women. Clark knew this because she had surrounded herself with extremely confident and amazing women who saw it in her. 

“I didn’t ever see myself in these positions until they did,” Clark said. 

Now, the mayor of Norman herself, Clark and her husband push traditional gender roles so her children can see a strong female role model. 

Clark said she is always caught off guard by sexism and gender bias in politics. She saw this when running for mayor as people criticised her for being a young mother, saying she was “too young and pretty to be the mayor.” 

In July of 2019, former OU Football head coach Barry Switzer met mayor Clark. He then retweeted the photo of the two with the caption, “My mayor is prettier than yours, has OU law degree and drinks beer… Just saying!” The reality of many women in leadership positions is they are still just seen as a pretty face, rather than a leader with political accomplishments. 

But she has always ascribed to the thought that women can be mothers and leaders.

“This is only the beginning,” Clark said. When asked what’s next, she said. “Maybe governor. That’s the rumor I am spreading now.” 

While Clark is pushing traditional gender roles and storming into the world of politics, there is still a huge gap in gender representation. 

 In 1971 only 3 percent of the U.S. Congress was made up of women. Fast forward to 2019 and the U.S. Congress is made up of 23.7 percent women which, according to the most recent Census, is 27.1 percent below an equal representation of the population in the U.S. 

What has truly changed since the first female to run for the presidency, Victoria Woodhull, was denied equality 1872? The answer is much and also next to nothing. There has been a significant increase in representation. On the other hand, we have yet to have a female president. Women are still vastly underrepresented in the political sphere. 

According to Allyson Shortle, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma with a focus in political behavior and political psychology, as people have increasingly began talking about sexism in politics, there has been a lot of work on gender bias in political science. 

Shortle released an academic article over sexism in the 2016 presidential elections. 

In the report, “Results suggest that sexism can actually attract voters—including women—who believe that women are less competent than men in the political realm. These results should lead us to question whether voters are truly committed to the norm of equality. A significant portion of the electorate seems willing to embrace explicit sexism.” 

In the 2016 presidential election, we witnessed a female candidate make it further than any has before in the race. Still, the glass ceiling women have struggled to shatter for so long only trembled. 

“Certainly, misogyny played a role. And that just has to be admitted, and why and what the underlying reasons for that, is what I’m trying to figure out myself … I think in this election there was a very real struggle between what is viewed as change that is welcomed and exciting to so many Americans and change which is worrisome and threatening to so many others. You layer on the first woman president over that, and I think some people, women included, had big problems,” Clinton said in her first interview after the election at Women in the World Summit. 

This bias which was so prevalent in the 2016 presidential elections is not a new phenomenon, and that explains the lack of female representation in political settings. 

“Shouldn’t you be home with your child?” 

This is the reality of many women who decide to enter into the world of politics. 

This has been the reality for Clark.

Clark has always been a go-getter. Raised by her paternal grandparents, Norman’s mayor remembers her grandfather jokingly asking her to stop being so involved. 

She, however, did the opposite. Knowing this and education was her way out of her “interesting childhood,” Clark worked hard and always jumped at any opportunities that arose. 

After an undergraduate degree in political science from Wichita State, she wanted more. “Legally Blonde” had just come out, and Clark decided law school just seemed like the right thing to do. 

After being waitlisted at the University of Oklahoma School of Law, she called every day, building a relationship with the staff and never giving up. 

Three years later, Clark had a new husband, a baby and a law degree as she went on to leap on the next opportunity that she encountered. 

It is going to take a lot more women like Clark in the world to achieve equal representation. Women in politics is on the rise, and while there is still a long way to go, in the words of Breea Clark, “this is just the beginning.” Clark and many other women believe we will see a true representation soon.

Profile of Ellen Wisdom By Brooklyn Wayland

By Brooklyn Wayland

The Tuscan sun is warm on Ellen (known as “Ellie” to friends and family) Wisdom’s face as she walks to class in downtown Arezzo, Italy. 

A small town, the store owners wave and call “ciao” as she walks by. In class, she will be asked to recall her Italian vocabulary words she has been practicing around town. 

Every afternoon after class, she goes to a small coffee bar called Sugar where she chats with the barista, Simonetta, as she makes what Wisdom recalls as “the best cup of coffee in the world” and then practices her Italian with the ever so patient cameriera (waitress) names Silvia. 

There is just nothing more exciting than getting to take Italian classes amid the Italian culture; in fact, it is one of Wisdom’s favorite parts of studying abroad. 

The University of Oklahoma has an overwhelming percent of students who study abroad. Wisdom is almost like any OU student who gets to study abroad except for one thing: Ellen Wisdom is 69-years-old. 

Wisdom isn’t the “typical” OU student: She has smile wrinkles that tell anyone who encounters her of a life full of laughter, gray hair, although sparse, has begun to sprout like the first few leaves that soon give way to autumn. Her spunk shines through as her eyes gleam and laughter escapes when talking about not taking her husband’s last name when they got married all those years ago. 

For Wisdom, being an OU student is made possible by an Oklahoma law that makes auditing classes at public universities in Oklahoma completely free for students over the age of 65. Wisdom has taken advantage of this and now gets to enjoy all the Italian classes at OU she could imagine. 

There is an old proverb that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but research within the last 50 years says otherwise. Overall, the research suggests that you can never be too old to learn a new skill, even if that is speaking Italian. However, it is definitely harder than learning something new at such an old age; this is because the neuroplasticity (the ability for your brain to change over time) in your brain decreases as you get older. 

Regardless of the struggles of learning a new language later in life, Wisdom has never felt better than getting to learn the language of the place she has fallen in love with over the years. She attributes Italian to keeping her mind young and yoga and swimming to keeping her body feeling young.

According to Whitby School, “Because the language centers in the brain are so flexible, learning a second language can develop new areas of your mind and strengthen your brain’s natural ability to focus.” Other various studies have shown that learning a second language can not only keep your mind sharp but help improve its function. 

Wisdom learned French in high school and was fascinated with the idea of learning another language as she went through her life. She was always a good student and loved school and now she gets to cultivate that love of school once again. 

“I always do my homework,” said Wisdom as she chuckled. 

Irene Bulla, Wisdom’s Italian professor, admires Wisdom’s curiosity and diligence in the course. Bulla recalls that Wisdom has a special way of letting her passion for learning the Italian culture bring the whole class together; her love for learning is contagious. 

“I’m not worried about my grades this time around. I mainly care about understanding,” said Wisdom. However, a little bit of her high-achieving personality still remains as she still recounts not being able to completely disregard her grades. 

Sophia Lee is a fellow Italian student and also studied abroad in Arezzo, Italy. She is inspired by Wisdom; in fact, Wisdom serves as a reminder that it’s never too late to learn and improve upon something you are passionate about.

A gentle and kind woman who doesn’t look a day over 45, Wisdom somehow manages to split her time between her hobbies, husband, children and grandchildren as well as her school work. 

Back in 2011, her busy schedule was put on hold after Wisdom was involved in a serious accident. 

While walking on campus, she was hit by a biker. This accident resulted in various injuries, including one in her brain that led to her retirement from the University of Oklahoma’s school of social work. 

It was a long recovery process. Wisdom recalls having to relearn so many things she had been doing for years such as yoga. 

After significant recovery, Wisdom found herself in Arezzo, Italy, alongside her husband Robert Griswold, a well-respected history professor at the University of Oklahoma in the fall of 2013 as Professor Griswold served as the faculty in residence in OU’s Italian study center. 

Wisdom sat in on a few Italian classes with the students in Arezzo that fall and realized something incredible: learning Italian also made her English better. 

Now Wisdom travels to Arezzo each time Griswold takes students to study abroad. 

“Arezzo has become a second home to me,” said Wisdom. 

They have been to Italy four times and plan to continually go back. In fact, Wisdom is working diligently on her two Italian classes this fall to prepare for a fifth trip to Arezzo this coming spring. She says each time she goes, her Italian gets better. 

 This past summer Robert and she spent a month in Arezzo. 

“Ellie and I have great memories of last summer,” said Griswold. After leaving Arezzo, they continued on through Europe for the rest of the summer months, enjoying their time exploring and learning: one of their favorite things to do. 

While she was there, she took a week-long intensive Italian class and she said she has never had more fun. Every time Wisdom finds herself in Arezzo, she wanders the Italian streets and loves chatting with locals who have become her friends.

At the age of 69, Wisdom still has a hunger for knowledge and always jumps at a new opportunity to learn a new Italian word, yoga pose or new trick her young grandsons acquire. 

Now, just like every student she walks across campus to class, does her homework and even studies for exams. 

You can often find her at Crimson and Cream on Campus Corner, copying down her Italian homework. She always has a long day ahead of her between her two Italian classes, yoga, various appointments and then a phone call or two with her grandkids. 

The proverb may say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but Wisdom proves you can learn something new, even a new language, at the age of 69. 

Ellen Wisdom copies down her Italian homework. Wisdom is a 69-year-old student at the University of Oklahoma.

Q & A with Anthony Galindo By Brooklyn Wayland

“When you’re in this house, where we live, you’re Wichita, but when you step out those doors, you’re just like everyone else.”

By Brooklyn Wayland

Anthony Galindo humbly walked in wearing worn tennis shoes that gave way to starched Wranglers, a navy button-up that was held together at the top by a beautiful, beaded bolo tie and a fedora decorated by pins and more beads. His brows were askew, grayed by time that had passed. His eyes were a deep brown, the kind of brown that almost seemed black. 

At first glance, he was just an average middle-aged man. This wasn’t the truth. Galindo was a man living two separate lives. He was raised in a very traditional Wichita home where the culture was rich, but when he stepped out the door, he had to become something completely different: a non-native, suited for white society. 

Brooklyn Wayland: Can you tell me about yourself? 

Anthony Galindo: I was born in ‘61. I’m from Carnegie, and I’m half Wichita. I was raised by my grandparents; they were both Wichitas. I was one of the last to be raised in a traditional way, and very few can say the same. I was raised on my grandmother’s original allotment. She got allotted land in 1900. My grandpa; he was the last traditional drum chief. My grandma, she used herbs and plants to help heal people. My grandpa knew songs that healed people. 

BW: What was it like to be raised by your grandparents with such a rich and deep understanding of the tribe and its culture? 

AG: It was pretty much, well, I guess I could say hard. Because they were both into medicine, I had to live where you can’t run in the house, you can’t holler, you can’t throw things. I didn’t get to live the life of a typical child. Plus, there were no other children around me. I did have a first cousin, but he went to Vietnam in 1966. I had a sister too; they were actually all my cousins but my grandmother raised us to be like brother and sister. I was separated from them though. My grandmother raised us all. I was given to my grandparents; I actually had two other siblings that were older than me, but my mother had a nervous breakdown -in fact, while she was pregnant with me- so really I wasn’t wanted. My mother didn’t want me; that is kind of hard to say. She was gonna leave me at the hospital, but my grandfather stepped in. at that time, they were adopting Indian children out at an alarming rate, and he didn’t want that for me. Well, like I said it was relatively hard. This is how I was raised, and this is how I will raise my children: When you’re in this house, where we live, you’re Wichita, but when you step out those doors, you’re just like everyone else. We live two separate lives. 

BW: What is one of the most significant memories of your grandparents you can recall? 

AG: Well, English was forbidden in our home. My grandparents spoke to their children fluently in their language. My grandpa wanted me to learn, but my grandma didn’t want me to learn. They bickered about it. One day, my grandma told him it would be better for me if I didn’t learn, and that was the final straw. It was case closed. They still spoke it though, and they still lived their traditional way of life. They prayed. They prayed every day, every morning to the sun. 

BW: I have heard Native Americans be called “the forgotten people”, do you agree? Tell me about it. 

AG: I can see that. You know, I think we are the most misunderstood people on the planet. 

BW: What would you say is a memory that you can pinpoint to creating that idea?

AG: I can go back and remember this one time -and this is the first time I can remember anything like this- my grandpa was talking to me, which he did pretty constantly, he said, “the government’s intent was to wipe us off the face of the earth. That was their intent.” He was telling me this, and I was just a little boy. That was the first memory I can remember. You know, it’s true. I remember the death of the Indian. I remember people spitting on us. It is hard to say in America that it still goes on, but it does. It’s real subtle. 

BW: You talked a lot about this traditional way of life that you were raised in. Why do you think they clung to their traditional ways and traditional religion when it was so hard? 

AG: Both my grandparents were educated at Riverside. My grandpa only went to the sixth grade; that is because his dad found out they were torturing him, and he held that against them. He never forgave after that happened to him, but he believed in the creator, especially when he wanted to know why. I do remember him asking where the creator when that was happening to him. Just as we would do today, asking “Why God?” He went through the trials and tribulations, and he held onto his traditions and beliefs through it all. 

BW: Can you explain some more about the traditional religion of the Wichita people?

AG: It’s called Big Drum. The sun, it’s our gospel. Kind of like the Bible is to the Christian, the sun is to us. There’s also spirits: the dance spirit and the drum spirit. I have the dance spirit. There was division among our people, two factions; it was the traditionalists vs. the Christians. We keep looking ahead though. It is what our people do.

BW: You say your people look far ahead. What do you see when you look far ahead? 

AG: You know, I knew this day would come when I would have to talk about this stuff, and I am thankful to the creator that he let me live this long to get to do it. We are just taught to look ahead; it’s better if you do. Ten years ago, I never would have done this, but here I am. I would say it is getting better, and it is going to get better. 

Story behind the story: Erin Griffith

By Brooklyn Wayland

Growing up, Erin Griffith always knew she wanted to be a writer, whether it be essays or novels. Realizing as she entered the world that she didn’t have quite the interesting stories she once thought she had to tell, she pragmatically decided to major in journalism in college rather than English lit. 

Leaving the University of Ohio with a magazine journalism degree and no job, Griffith set off to New York in hopes of landing one of her dream jobs. 

After months of applying, she finally got an offer with MergerMarket. She had no idea what the publication did or what she would be covering. Nevertheless, she was a cheap, new journalist who needed a job. 

It was at MergerMarket that she learned the basics of finance journalism. She did a lot of research, read Fortune and Forbes and learned more from her peers on what the field entailed. 

“In my early days, I relied on sources a lot to explain things to me,” Griffith said. “That’s what is fun about journalism: You get to ask people to explain things to you and learn in the process.” 

Admittingly, she recalls that as a young journalist, she was a little more shy about this than she is now. She refers to being a journalist as her “superpower” when it comes to just being able to go up to people you never could before and just ask them for their stories. 

After a few scoops that led her to a couple new magazines, she ended up at The New York Times. Griffith attributes where she is as a journalist now to the mentors and editors she has had throughout her career that have taught her so well. It was an editor at The New York Times who encouraged her to get the ball rolling on “Why Are Young People Pretending to Love Work?” 

When the call for pitches went out for business features, Griffith knew what she wanted to pitch. She had noticed this idea of hustle culture in the world of tech and business – her current beat at The New York Times – which she found silly and rubbed her the wrong way. She decided to explore further. 

“I had been seeing this thing and seeing these types of messages, and I think they’re absurd,” Griffith said. “Maybe that’s because I am cynical which is typical among journalists.” 

One example of this messaging Griffith used in her New York Times piece was a tweet from Elon Musk, the owner of Tesla, “There are way easier places to work, but nobody ever changed the world on 40 hours a week.” This along with countless other examples have created a culture obsessed with the hustle and grind. 

Cynically, Griffith stumbled over any one singular piece of advice she could give young, aspiring journalists. She recalls that any piece of advice she received when still in school was never taken into consideration. 

“It was always well intentioned, but I never felt it applied to me,” said Griffith. “I don’t want to be that out of touch person trying to give advice when the job landscape has changed so much.” 

She then conceded to say the most helpful piece of advice she has gotten and would pass on is to learn: learn from peers, learn from editors, learn from sources. 

“Ugh!” said Griffith. “That’s terrible advice, but I guess it’s true.”