Oklahoma voters continued a red-state trend Tuesday night by throwing out half a dozen incumbent Republican lawmakers who voted against a tax hike to fund teacher pay increases. In Arizona, educators made a number of electoral gains in Democratic Party primaries.
Earlier this year, Oklahoma’s teachers protested by the thousands, demanding higher pay and better funding for public education. Many lawmakers were concerned that these protests would culminate in a strike.
The state’s Republican-dominated legislature responded by hiking teacher pay by an average of $6,100 per teacher; in order to finance this pay raise, it increased taxes on cigarettes, fuel, lodging, and oil and gas production.
Nineteen GOP legislators voted against this tax increase, and despite Oklahoma’s deep-red hue — Donald Trump received 65 percent of the vote there — Republican primary voters punished many of those lawmakers for opposing teacher interests.
During the June 26 primary elections, 10 Republicans who opposed the tax increase package were up for re-election. Two of them, Reps. Scott McEachin and Chuck Strohm, were defeated by Republican primary challengers. Seven others failed to secure enough votes to win their primaries outright, moving on to August 28 runoff elections.
Six of them were defeated during the second round of voting. Stan May, a Republican who campaigned in favor of the tax increase, was one of the challengers who won.
Asked whether GOP primary voters he met supported the tax hike, May said, “The majority of ’em do. There’s a few that are for no tax increase regardless, you get a few of those. The way the primary came out, it was obvious that most of the voters were sympathetic to the fact teachers needed a raise.”
May handily won the race in the state’s 80th House District, with 58 percent of the vote to incumbent Mike Ritze’s 42 percent. He was helped along by an endorsement from high school teacher Cody Coonce, who came in third place in the first round of voting.
The electoral impact of teacher activism was on display in Arizona as well. Earlier this year, the teachers there started what came to be known as the #RedForED movement, wearing red T-shirts and engaging in protests to push the state government to increase funding for public education. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey responded to the teacher activism by offering a 20 percent pay increase by 2020, but the teachers were not satisfied, and they staged a walkout to continue to pressure the state government to act.
On Tuesday night, teachers and others supportive of the walkout won Democratic primaries for state seats.
At the top of the ticket, David Garcia, a professor at Arizona State University, edged out his rivals to win the Democratic nomination for governor with 49.2 percent of the vote. Garcia, who has a background working on education policy, campaigned in support of the teacher movements’ demand for a 20 percent pay increase. He will face Ducey in November.
Public school speech therapist Kathy Hoffman secured the Democratic nomination for school superintendent. Hoffman has worked in public schools for five years. She won with 52.8 percent of the vote, defeating David Schapira, a former Democratic leader in the state Senate who also once worked as a public school teacher.
Down ballot, teachers were represented in a number of other races as well. Arizona’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Christine Porter Marsh, won an uncontested primary to become the Democratic nominee for the 28th state Senate district. The district narrowly went to the GOP in 2016, with incumbent Kate McGee, who is again running for re-election, winning a little over 51 percent of the vote that year.
In Arizona’s 12th House District, Joe Bisaccia, a public school teacher, was one of two Democrats who won a primary (each district elects two representatives in the Arizona system). Bisaccia, along with attorney Lynsey Robinson, will face Republican incumbents Travis Grantham and Warren Petersen in the fall.