Midterm races heat up as election nears


Delnaz Kazemi, Reporter

The 2022 midterm elections are projected to be one of the most prominent elections regarding our state’s progress.

In Oklahoma, many buzzing issues will be either directly or indirectly placed on the ballots. One of those many issues is K-12 education. 

One of the seats that are up for election is State Superintendent. Republican Ryan Walters and Democrat Jena Nelson are facing off in this critical position. The job of the state superintendent is paramount, especially during periods when public education is under extreme attack, such as in the present day. Whoever is in this office will directly influence the state’s education system through the State Board of Education and the State Dept. of Education. 

The Democratic candidate, Jena Nelson, is a middle school English teacher at an OKC school. She was named 2020 Teacher of the Year at the 2019 State Fair by Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. According to the Oklahoma State Dept. of Education’s website, Nelson is known for using past experiences to connect with her students and explains how her hardships, such as how her home life was, and her teachers that helped her through those hard times shaped her into who she is. 

The Republican candidate, Ryan Walters, also has a history of teaching. According to his campaign website, he has taught various high school history courses. He also became a Teacher of the Year Finalist in 2016. In 2020, Walters was named Secretary of Public Education by Governor Kevin Stitt. Walters won his primary runoff by almost 10,000 votes, acquiring just over 52% of the total votes, which made the race conclude with a significantly small margin. Many conservatives had supported his Republican opponent, April Grace, who acquired about 48% of the votes. In August of this year, Walters reportedly threatened to “reject federal funds going towards public schools,” which triggered the release of negative ads against him

This race will be an interesting one to keep an eye on, as it seems that Nelson has the lead, as shown in recent polls.

In summary, this is a vital election year regarding public education. 

In response to a question regarding his concerns about public education and the rhetoric surrounding it, Representative Andy Fugate (HD 94) said that “the very most important thing we can do for education in Oklahoma is to provide a welcoming and nurturing environment where teachers can be successful…[teachers] go in to make a difference and they want people to trust them to teach. They’re tired of being bashed, they’re tired of being accused of things that they know they’re not doing.”

Also related to education, Oklahoma’s current State Superintendent, Joy Hofmeister, is the Democratic candidate for governor. The former Republican won her June primaries by about 30,000 votes. She will be facing incumbent Gov. Kevin Stitt this November. Hofmeister, being the current state superintendent, has mentioned numerous times that one of her top priorities is securing quality education for Oklahoma students. Along with that, while in her current position, she plans to propose a $5,000 per year teacher pay raise. This proposal, among others regarding education, is one of Hofmeister’s central parts of her gubernatorial campaign against Stitt. 

Governor Stitt has acquired a large amount of attention recently regarding Roe v. Wade, even before it was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in June of this year. In May, just a month before the Court’s decision, it was reported that he signed the “nation’s strictest abortion ban,” Prohibiting all abortions with few exceptions. Stitt also mentioned the economy as one of his central campaign principles. On his campaign website, he mentions certain positive statistics regarding business and living costs, unemployment rate, etc. 

Recent data from SoonerPoll shows Governor Stitt just one point ahead of Hofmeister. 

In addition to state races, there are two federal seats being heavily observed. Both U.S. senate seats are up for election. 

Incumbent Senator James Lankford, who won his primaries by a significant margin, will be running against Madison Horn. Horn comes from a background in cybersecurity, energy and business. According to her campaign website, some of her priorities include restoring trust in government, addressing inflation, reproductive healthcare, information integrity and access for those in rural and marginalized areas. She also mentioned that she believes that education is “the fundamental of everything” and that ”education is the gateway, and in Oklahoma, it is specifically being held under attack,” signaling that education will be one of her focus areas as well. 

The second senate seat is up for a special election. Incumbent Senator Jim Inhofe announced in February that he will be retiring from his seat. He has since endorsed his chief of staff, Luke Holland, who lost the Republican primaries in June. The winner of the primaries was Markwayne Mullin, who is famously known for joining other conspiracy-minded Republican representatives in denying the results of the 2020 election. Mullin is running against former congresswoman Kendra Horn, who represented Oklahoma’s 5th congressional district from 2018-2020. 

This midterm election will signal what direction the state is headed regarding major issues such as education, the economy, healthcare and more. As some liberal-leaning candidates are gaining traction, a shift in Oklahoma’s urban areas may occur once again where certain counties MAY (emphasis on the “may”) turn blue, similar to the 2018 midterms. Only time will tell.