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Making history - Election coverage in Oklahoma

Greetings from Norman, Oklahoma
Where the votes are sweeping ’cross the plains!

NORMAN, Okla. – Enthusiasm is high here in the Sooner State, and Oklahomans, particularly the state’s Indian tribes, are taking this election very seriously.

In a recent article in The Oklahoman, Nolan Clay and Paul Monies reported that Oklahoma tribes have contributed nearly $900,000 to local, state and national candidates this year. According to the article, tribes have also donated another $1.16 million to state and national political committees.

An analysis of tribal donations conducted by The Oklahoman shows that the state’s tribe’s donated more to Democrats (about $525,000) than to Republicans (about $340,000). The Chickasaw, Cherokee and Choctaw Nations are the biggest contributors.

Oklahoma is a state that is usually described as a “red” state, but interestingly, during the 2008 Presidential Primary, Democrat Hillary Clinton received an overwhelming majority of the votes cast; 228,480 votes.

The second highest amount of votes, 130,130 was cast for Barack Obama, and John McCain came in third with 122,772 votes.

Nevertheless, local polls are predicting a victory today for Senator McCain here in the state.

Oklahomans began voting at 7 a.m., standing in lines that circled entire blocks. Aside from selecting the President, Oklahomans will choose U.S. Senators representing five districts, and will decide the fate of nine state judges.

What are Oklahoma Natives Looking for in a Presidential Candidate?

Journalists of Color, Inc. wanted to ensure that this will be the last election cycle that fails to include people of color and women. For this reason, they invited Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain to participate in a forum at their UNITY 2008 Chicago conference.

In weeks prior to the convention, UNITY organizers promoted the forum between Obama and McCain, however, scheduling conflicts prevented McCain from attending.

At the conference, Obama was greeted with a standing ovation, and discussed such diverse issues such as immigration, the economy and race. “When you think about the big problems we face at home,” he told the group, “they are connected to the problems abroad.”

The senator was asked if he, like Kevin Gover, Assistant Secretary of the Indian Affairs Department who issued an apology for past Native mistreatment at the hands of the BIA, would issue an apology to Native Americans if elected. “The most important thing for the U.S. government to do is not just offer apologies, but offer deeds. I have to confess, I’m more concerned with providing a better way of life,” he replied.

According to NAJA Education Director Jeffrey Palmer, speaking at the UNITY conference was a big step for Obama in gaining support for his campaign from tribal media. “Obama specifically opened up to tribal media more than any other candidate ever has. When he talks about the need to come together, he consistently mentions Native Americans along with other ethnic and minority groups.

“Still, there has been no open-ended dialogue between politicians and the Indian community,” Palmer said. 

So what are Indian people looking for in a presidential candidate? And how do their expectations differ from mainstream Oklahomans?

Oklahomans are generally a religious and conservative people and the majority in this election tends to lean toward McCain. “Most Indians are concerned with conservative values,” says Palmer. “That’s the big difference. Some are politically conservative, but others are more liberal. It’s not just a cut and dry issue.” Palmer points out that there are a lot more Indian people voting this election year than in past years, a trend he attributes to their desire for change.

“The idea of change, the magnitude of the election, and a desire to participate, seems to be the most common reason for the rise in election participation,” he said. “Many think Obama shares a commonality with them; that he speaks to them. Perhaps because a black man is running for President, or a woman is vying for the Vice Presidency has inspired them to participate.”

Obama received an enthusiastic reception from Indians at Crow Agency, Mont. in May, at Albuquerque in September, and in South Dakota.

Oklahoma voters frustrated but determined

At a polling place in an Oklahoma City church, voters grew irritated after waiting in line for more than an hour then being told they were in the wrong line and had to go back to the end. One woman said crowds were getting physical – pushing and yelling when they learned that the two lines were divided alphabetically.

Reports of occasional technical problems with voting machines also exacerbated the frustrations of the crowds. To prevent long delays due to technical glitches, the Oklahoma County Election Board sent workers to polling places to make routine checks and make sure operations were smooth.

Some voters reported malfunctions with optical scanners, and election officials set dozens of ballots aside to be scanned later when the optical readers were repaired.

At least one polling place was blocked by road construction and heavy traffic, but through it all, Oklahomans were determined to vote.

According to election officials, early voting in Cleveland County hit an all time high, as 6,000 people voted over the three-day period. McClain County Election Board secretary Marilyn McReynolds said 1,288 people had voted by 6 p.m. Monday and several were waiting to cast their votes. In Tulsa County, more than 11,500 ballots were cast over the past three early voting days. 

Is this really a “historic” election?

Historians at the University of Oklahoma were eager to weigh in on the assertion that the 2008 election is a “historic” occasion. Elena Songster, professor of Chinese History believes it is. She says the occasion reminds her of the excitement people felt after the fall of the Qing Dynasty in 1911. “After the Dynasty fell, there was a general excitement among the people over their new voice in government,” she said. “Today, people in underrepresented populations feel that their voice matters for the first time.”

Kathy Kelly, professor of 19th Century U.S. and Women’s History sees the candidates as remarkable. “The fact that we have an African-American running for president for the first time on a major party ticket, and a woman running for Vice President is historic. What direction the nation takes now, and what changes we make will all depend on what happens here today, and will affect us for decades to come,” she points out.

Warren Metcalf, professor of the American West and American Indian History says the election is “clearly historic.” “There may be echoes of the election of 1932 between Hoover and Roosevelt ,” he explains. “Or maybe this is really the beginnings of a new consensus. To his credit, Obama understands the need to build a new consensus, since the Conservative coalition has consumed itself. I’m hoping that Obama is more than dynamic – I’m hoping he’s a new FDR.”

History graduate students were monitoring the events of the day closely. Matthew Pearce says he is most concerned with issues concerning the environment. “Neither candidate has done a very good job of addressing environmental issues,” he points out.

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Emily Wardrop, says social issues are most important. “Health care is a right, not a privilege reserved for those who can pay for it,” she says. Wardrop is currently recovering from a broken ankle that cost $13,000 out of pocket despite the fact that she had “good” insurance.

Catherine Franklin, a military historian and a sergeant in the army reserves, says the war in Iraq and the treatment of soldiers when they return home is critical. “Both of my brothers are captains in the army,” she said. “One of them served in Afghanistan, and the other is being deployed to Iraq for the third time.”

Margaret Huettl, an American Indian who is also a Muslim, says that the way in which Islam has been misrepresented as “un-American” is unsettling. “When I hear these scurrilous attacks on my faith, I feel I am being told I am not welcome here. It’s a slur and its offensive,” she says.

Dan Flaherty believes the economy is the most pressing issue. He argues that we must remember the lessons of history during this crisis. “McCain described himself as a fan of the free market and deregulation. History tells us, however, that while regulation during the Great Depression may not have solved the problem, it did help alleviate the suffering it caused.”

Jim Inhofe, Republican incumbent wins third Senate term

Republican Jim Inhofe has won a third Senate term. Inhofe beat out Democratic contender Andrew Rice who fought valiantly for the post. Inhofe reportedly spent $6 million in the race against Rice, a former missionary and state senator.

Inhofe, a controversial fixture in Oklahoma politics, has served as the mayor of Tulsa, as a congressman, and was elected to the Senate in 1994. He has challenged environmentalists, maintaining that global warming is a farce, and was criticized by his opponent for being controlled by oil and financial corporations.

Inhofe criticized Rice for being too liberal, and implied that Rice was gay in commercials featuring two grooms on top of a wedding cake. Inhofe explained that his intention was to “define” his opponent, not smear him.

He says he is happy he will be able to continue his battle with big spenders, environmentalists and opponents of the U.S. war effort in Iraq.

McCain takes Oklahoma

Republican John McCain has beat out Democrat Barack Obama in Oklahoma’s 2008 Presidential election. With 60 percent of all precincts reporting, McCain swept the election with 67 percent of the vote to Obama’s 33 percent. Neither candidate campaigned in Oklahoma after the national conventions, focusing on battleground states instead.

Republican predictions pointed to Oklahoma as one of the states which would produce McCain’s biggest winning margins, despite the fact that Democrats in the state outnumber Republicans 1.1 million to 860,000.

The last Democratic president elected in Oklahoma was Lyndon Johnson in 1964 when he received the state’s 44 electoral votes.

While Obama received the endorsement of Oklahoma ’s Democratic governor, Brad Henry, and more new Democrats were registered across the nation, but Republicans increased their ranks by about 2,000 in Oklahoma.

In U.S. House District 2 incumbent Dan Boren (D) has won a landslide victory over Raymond Wickson (R). With 74 percent of precincts reporting, Boren had triumphed with 70 percent of the votes.

In U.S. House District 3, incumbent Frank Lucas (R), seeking his eighth term, has trounced his opponent, Frankie Robbins (D) with 71 percent of the votes cast.

Tom Cole (R) has also won his bid for a second term in U.S. District 4 over Blake Cummings with 65 percent of the vote.

Oklahoma voters approve all state questions

Voters flocked to the polls tuesday and demonstrated their support for four important state questions.

Question 742, a referendum that will add a section to the state Constitution, will protect the right to hunt, fish, trap, and harvest game and fish. According to the question’s supporters, hunting and fishing are part of the heritage of Oklahomans.

Question 735, will exempt household personal property from taxation for permanently disabled veterans and their surviving spouses.

Question 743, will permit most of Oklahoma’s 53 wineries to sell their wine directly to retail stores and restaurants. Andrew Snyder, president of the Oklahoma Grape Growers and Winemakers Association called the vote a victory for winegrowers in the state.

Finally, state question 741, will prevent businesses and individuals from filing exemptions from property taxes retroactively. All the questions passed with a more than 80 percent approval rate.