Democratic Blue Tour stops in Durant

February 16, 2014

The Oklahoma Democratic Party brought its Blue Tour 2014 to Durant Tuesday evening, with candidates for several statewide offices speaking and state Party Chair Wallace Collins chairing the event in First Texoma National Bank’s conference room.

Two Democratic candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ivan Holmes and Jack Herron, spoke of an urgent need to replace current State Supt. Janet Barresi in that office.

Holmes—who has taught in both high school and college, served on the Oklahoma City school board and on the Oklahoma State University Board of Regents, and is a former state Party Chair—said he has talked with more than 200 superintendents in public schools across the state.

Everyone he has spoken with, both Democrats and Republicans, agrees that Barresi must be voted out of office this year, he said, citing her background as a dentist rather than an educator, and her strong advocacy of charter schools.

Holmes said funding for public schools in the state, which has been cut by $200 million under Gov. Mary Fallin at a time when Oklahoma’s economy is growing faster than is the economy nationwide, must be restored.

He was also critical of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), a nationwide group that works to pass cookie-cutter right-wing legislation in the states and advocates privatizing public schools through vouchers, charter schools, and tax incentives.

“Rather than starving public schools and doing away with them in favor of profit-driven schools that don’t educate everyone,” Holmes said, “we need to fund our public schools adequately and improve them.”

Herron agreed with the need to increase funding to public schools and advocated other improvements in three areas: raising teacher pay; giving greater local control to school districts; and putting math and science specialists in schools, working with reading specialists to improve student performance.

A former Assistant State Superintendent for Financial Services and currently Government Relations Director for Professional Oklahoma Educators, Herron said that “streams of revenue currently exist in the state budget which could be redirected to improve schools without the addition of more money.”

He is also critical of the A-F grading system that rates public schools under Barresi’s administration, which he said is designed to close public schools in rural communities.

Herron said if elected, progress in the school systems would be shown within the third year of his four-year term.

Freda Deskin, a Democratic candidate for the State Superintendent job from Oklahoma City, did not attend the gathering, nor did John Cox, a Democratic candidate for the job from Locust Grove.

Bennington Superintendent of Schools Donna Anderson has dropped out of the Democratic contest to replace Barresi, citing health concerns.

Barresi faces a primary challenge from Republican Joy Hofmeister of Tulsa before she will face the winner of the Democratic race for her job.

Gubernatorial candidate Joe Dorman had been expected to appear, but a last-minute conflict prevented his making the trip to Durant. He was represented by two surrogates: Field Director Barry Butler, who spoke in favor of Dorman’s ballot initiative to fund storm shelters in public schools across the state, and Trixy Barnes, Education Coordinator for Dorman’s campaign.

Dorman has served as state representative from Rush Springs but is term-limited out of that office. He has led a petition drive, called Take Shelter Oklahoma, to put the issue of storm shelters for all public schools on the 2014 ballot for Oklahoma voters.

His proposal calls for reinstating Oklahoma’s franchise tax on businesses, which has been suspended since 2010, to fund the shelters. Attorney General Scott Pruitt’s office has rewritten the ballot language to state that approval of the storm-shelter measure would divert money from the general fund, the primary method of financing state government.

The issue of the rewritten ballot language is slated to be heard by the Oklahoma Supreme Court on February 25.

Barnes said she is an educator herself and got involved with Dorman’s campaign on learning how much the candidate cares about strengthening the state’s schools. Emphasizing the importance of a good public-school system in helping attract businesses to Oklahoma, she urged anyone who wishes to make a suggestion to the candidate to do so at www.joedorman.com.

Cathy Cummings, candidate for Lieutenant Governor from Oklahoma City, where she owns restaurants, spoke of the walk she is making across Oklahoma, “talking to real Oklahomans.” Many people she meets feel “a real sense of abandonment” by their state government, she said, and she hopes to restore their trust in that government.

Cummings said that when she travels to a city she walks the streets meeting people and getting to know their needs.

Cummings and her husband have conducted investigative reports on such issues as poverty wages and school cafeterias to see the needs in Oklahoma.

She said these are two issues she plans to address if elected lieutenant governor.

She said that if elected, one of her main focuses would be on the tourism industry in Oklahoma.

Cummings said she believes bringing tourism into the small towns will improve the economy in those areas.

She expressed that she wants to not only encourage Oklahomans to spend money in state but bring out of state tourists to spend money in Oklahoma.

She also said she will address what she believes to be scandals within the tourism department in Oklahoma.

This will be Cummings’ first time to run for government office. She currently owns two restaurants and a travel website with her husband.

Also speaking was Matt Sandman, vice-chair of the Bryan County Democratic Party, who welcomed attendees on the cold evening and thanked the out-of-town guests for traveling to Durant.

Other local leaders present at the event included Durant Mayor Jerry Tomlinson, City Manager Jim Dunegan, and Democratic Party Chair Marilyn Alexander.

Questions raised by attendees following the candidates’ talks included concerns about the state of education in Oklahoma and the funding of public schools compared to the funding of prisons in the state.

The Bryan County Democratic Party meets the first Monday of each month at 6:00 p.m. in Ceviche’s restaurant in Durant. Ivan Holmes is slated to speak at the March 3 meeting. Further information is available from Marilyn Alexander at galex@cherokeetel.com or 580-283-3312.

- Submitted by Bryan County Democratic Party