Lifelong GOPer Switches to the Democrats’ “Team Blue”—Kudos Oklahoman Joy Hofmeister! October 13, 2021
While too many reporters, pundits, and columnists keep yammering about how “inept” President Biden and the Democratic Party are v. the lockstep obstructionist GOP, there are Republican legislators even in the “Reddest” of states, that rightly don’t buy this nonsense. They understand exactly which party speaks for the average person and which party is driving our country into the ground. On 10/07/2021, Oklahoma’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister (57) announced, in an exclusive interview with the “Tulsa World” that she was changing her party affiliation to “Democrat.” She plans to challenge incumbent first-term OK GOP Governor Kevin Stitt (48) when he runs for re-[HVG1] [HVG2] [HVG3] election in 11/2022. Superintendent Hofmeister, a life-long Republican, accused Gov. Stitt of “running the state into the ground.” She added that “through extremism, partisanship, ineffective leadership, he (Stitt) is hurting our education system, our health care, our infrastructure.” In Hofmeister’s words, “Gov. Stitt has hijacked the Republican Party in Oklahoma. The extremism and divisive partisanship has really left a lot of Oklahomans behind, and I think there’s too much to fight for to simply let that go (tulsaworld.com, Eger & Krehbiel, 10/078/21, cnn.com, Millman, 10/09/21).” Sound familiar? Stitt has, like his ally Trump, hijacked OK’s GOP and emphasized extremism and partisanship. Hofmeister stated that her decision to change parties came with “a lot of personal reflection (cnn.com, Millman).” Her decision to switch parties and run for governor first crossed Superintendent Hofmeister’s mind in the spring of 2021, after she had watched for a full year Gov. Stitt’s “behind-the-scenes handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, and she understood that it mattered who was governor in 2020 (tulsaworld.com, Eger & Krehbiel).” Gov. Stitt’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in OK was the top reason she decided to challenge him in 2022. In Hofmeister’s words, “We needed a leader who could have prepared Oklahomans for the pandemic. We have experienced unnecessary disruption and loss of life (cnn.com, Millman,10/09/21).” Like several other GOP governors nationwide, DeSantis (FL), and Abbott (TX), Stitt has targeted local school boards for their student mask mandates. Stitt has challenged local officials in the Oklahoma City School District and the Cherokee Nation after he signed a law in 5/2021 that instituted a statewide ban on these mask mandates. As of 10/07/2021, OK has suffered 9,213 Covid deaths and 622, 335 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins University (cnn.com, Millman, 10/09/21). Hofmeister stated that that unlike Gov. Stitt, she would not have “churned through four state epidemiologists in the middle of a pandemic and have a policy that if you ignore reality, somehow it would go away.” Hofmeister declared, “Our health care workers are disrespected and stretched to the limit, standing alone battling a pandemic without the kind of leadership needed from the Governor’s Office (tulsaworld.com, Eger & Krehbiel, 10/07/21).”
Gov. Stitt drew criticism for tweeting a picture of himself with his family in a crowded OK City restaurant with the comment, “Eating with my kids and all my fellow Oklahomans @Collective OKC. It’s packed tonight (Cohen & Cook 2022 Political Almanac)!” On 6/20/2021, Stitt attended the Trump Tulsa rally without a mask. On 7/15/2021, he became the first governor infected with the coronavirus and suffered with it for two weeks. After his recovery, he ignored CDC recommendations by conducting his first news briefing without a mask (usatoday.com, Wu, 7/15/21, Cohen & Cook 2022). Stitt had ordered a massive purchase of hydroxychloroquine, an ineffective drug against COVID-19, but one heavily promoted by “MD” Demagogue Donald and allies. Stitt has a $2 million stockpile of hydroxychloroquine that he is trying to unload (See frontier.org). Hofmeister can’t ally herself anymore with the anti-science GOP party that attacks vaccines, proper treatment, and has helped kill many Oklahomans.
In addition to running against Gov. Stitt because of his poor inability to handle the coronavirus pandemic, Superintendent Hofmeister is running to fight for high quality health care in rural OK. She wants to help struggling rural hospitals plagued by understaffing and poor resources. She has called for “broadband access all over the state (cnn.com). Again, GOPers talk a good game about helping rural areas, but it is Biden and his Democrats fighting for them, and Hofmeister knows that (cnn.com, Millman, 10/09/21). As the State Superintendent of OK’s school system, Hofmeister has faulted Gov. Stitt for his poor record on education as well as infrastructure. And again, which party stands for education and greater infrastructure reforms? Biden and his Democrats who are now working “big time” trying to pass infrastructure/social safety net bills. Hofmeister said that even though she has now become a Democrat, she wants to appeal to not only Democrats but Republicans and independents whose values are not being currently represented. Hofmeister’s “loyalty is to Oklahoma families, not to structures or party.” She noted, “I am changing parties, but I haven’t changed who I am. I have the same values, and they haven’t changed (tulsaworld.com).” Translation: the Stitt/Trump GOP has left most Oklahomans behind. The Joe Biden Democratic Party is the “big tent” that will fight for real OK values for all Oklahomans. In Hofmeister’s words, “How do you move Oklahoma forward? It begins with strong families, providing access to quality health care, education, and infrastructure (tulsaworld.com, Eger & Krehbiel, 10/07/21).” And, again, which political party does that? The Mitch McConnell top 1% “Red” obstructionist gang, or President Biden’s “Team Blue?” Hofmeister knows the Democratic Party is the only group in town fighting for average Oklahomans. Let’s meet Joy Hofmeister.
Joy Hofmeister is now serving her second term as Oklahoma’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction (newsok.com, 11/07/18). Hofmeister received her BA in English and Elementary Education from Texas Christian University (TCU) and holds teaching certificates in English and Elementary Education. Hofmeister is a former public- school teacher and small-business owner from Tulsa, OK. She spent 15 years in the private sector operating Kumon Math & Reading Centers of South Tulsa. Kumon works through parent partnerships to ensure higher academic achievement for children. During her time with Kumon, Hofmeister personally worked with more than 4,000 students to improve their educational progress (Eger, tulsaworld.com, 1/27/14). Appointed by former GOP OK Governor Mary Fallin, Hofmeister served on the Oklahoma State Board of Education from 1/2012-4/2013. A political novice at the time, Hofmeister decided to quit her State Board of Education post to challenge unpopular incumbent OK Superintendent of Education Janet Barresi in 2014. She handily beat Barresi in the GOP primary, carrying all 77 OK counties. In the 2014 general election, she defeated John Cox, superintendent of a small Cherokee County school district. Running for her second term as OK Superintendent of Education, she again defeated Cox in a 2018 rematch (tulsaworld.com, 10/07/21, Eger & Krehbiel).
During her first term as OK State Superintendent, Hofmeister directed the creation of “Oklahoma Edge,” an eight-year strategic plan built on a foundation of six measurable goals and an equal number of initiatives to meet OK student needs and drive progress. This 218-page plan submitted to the U.S. Dept. of Education, which approved it, placed an emphasis on the importance of serving individual learners and insuring equity in public education. The conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute rated the “Oklahoma Edge” program among the highest in the nation (ed.gov/news, edexcellence.net). Superintendent Hofmeister emphasized phonics, cursive writing, and strengthening math foundations in her standards, which were reviewed by thousands of OK teachers, parents, and legislators. The Education Next group gave Hofmeister’s standards an “A” for rigor and quality after giving previous standards a “D+” (educationnext.org, 5/22/18). Superintendents Hofmeister oversaw and developed for all grades new standards for emphasizing computer science (sde.ok.gov). Superintendent Hofmeister created a statewide program for all OK high school juniors to take the college entrance ACT test at no cost to families or schools, opening the way to scholarships for students. In 2016, the program was expanded to allow OK school districts to choose between the ACT and SAT college tests. In 2017, this program sparked a 29% increase in ACT participation, the highest in the country (KOKH, sde.ok.gov, 7/01/10, NewsOK.com). In 2018, after much lobbying by Superintendent Hofmeister, the OK Legislature passed a bill allowing the first teacher pay raise in 10 years (news9.com, kgou.org).
As OK State Superintendent of Education, Hofmeister is privy to the governor’s influence over nearly 40 commissions and state boards that she leads or serves on. These include the state boards of Education and Career and Technology Education. She also leads or serves on the Regional University System of Oklahoma, the Board of Equalization, and Commissioners of the Land Office (tulsaworld.com, Eger & Krehbiel, 10/07/21). With her leadership on these boards and her ability to oversee Gov. Stitt’s “handling” (NOT) of major health issues, Hofmeister is well prepared to challenge Stitt on the major issues facing OK.
And here’s Hofmeister’s GOP rival, incumbent freshman Gov. John Kevin Stitt. Florida native Stitt grew up in Norman, OK. His father was a pastor. Stitt’s grandfather owned a dairy farm in Skiatook, OK. A graduate of Oklahoma State University with an accounting degree, Stitt worked his way through college as a door-to-door book salesman. In his late twenties, with just $1,000 and a computer, Stitt founded Gateway Mortgage. By 2018, Stitt had turned Gateway into a company with $16 billion in loans, 1,200 employees, and 161 field offices in 41 states. He stepped down as CEO shortly before winning the 2018 GOP gubernatorial nomination. Stitt’s company drew criticism from political opponents. They cited a Business Insider article written after the 2008 financial crisis that called Gateway one of the “15 shadiest mortgage lenders.” Gateway’s successor as CEO acknowledged that the firm’s default rate was high (Cohen & Cook 2022).
Stitt ran in a 2018 primary that had 10 candidates, all vying to succeed GOP Gov. Mary Fallin. Fallin had comfortably won two terms. However, in her second term, an oil and gas downturn hit OK’s budget hard. Her final year in office was dominated by a teacher walkout driven by spending cuts that had left 1/5 of OK schools operating only four days a week and left teacher salaries second-to-last in the nation (Cohen & Cook 2022). Little-known Stitt spent more than $2 million of his own money to raise his profile. He won second place and faced Mick Cornett, OK City’s outgoing four-term mayor in the runoff. In the runoff, Stitt continued spending his own money. He called himself a political newcomer and emphasized his loyalty to Trump. He praised Trump’s hardline immigration policies. Stitt, who was endorsed by hardline GOP Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), hard-right former PA GOP Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and former GOP OK Sen., the late Tom Coburn, won the GOP runoff by 10 points (Cohen & Cook, 2022, ktul.com, 8/22/18, youtube.com, 8/6/18, normantranscript.com, 8/21/18). In the general election, Stitt, endorsed by Trump, VP Pence, and the National Rifle Association (NRA), clobbered Democrat Drew Edmondson by 12 points. Stitt emphasized his business background. Stitt spent $5 million more of his own money and won all but four of OK’s counties, although he lost Oklahoma County where OK City lies (Cohen & Cook 2022, tulsaworld.com, Krehbiel).
As Governor, the first bill Stitt signed was permitting anyone 21 or older, or 18, if a member or veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces, to carry a firearm without obtaining a permit or completing training. He signed a bill allowing firearms to be carried in municipal zoos and parks, regardless of size, as long as it is concealed (tulsaworld.com, Hoberock, 2/2719, oscn.net). He opposes expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare. However, even in “dripping Red” OK, voters in 2020 approved an expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare that was written into the state’s constitution (Cohen & Cook 2022). Gov. Stitt, a member of the Cherokee Nation and the first Native American to be elected Governor in the U.S. (Cohen & Cook 2022), did not help Native Americans. Stitt pushed for 130 tribal casinos who had signed 15-year compacts in 2004, which required them to pay 4%-6% of their revenues to the state, to make new compacts. These new compacts, in Stitt’s view, should have required taxes in the 20%-25% range. The Native American tribes, a very influential group in OK, were furious. They saw Stitt’s move as another broken promise. Many GOPers supported the tribes, and the State Atty. General withdrew from the case when it went to court. The Supreme Court gave greater authority to the tribes in another decision that irritated Stitt. Stitt did not give much input into OK’s budget, but then vetoed it. In response, his GOP legislature overrode his veto (Cohen & Cook 2020). Of course, Stitt’s biggest failure was the way he terribly handled the coronavirus pandemic. Stitt campaigned on making OK one of the “top 10 in job growth, education and infrastructure (claremoreprogress.com, Thesenvitz, 10/28/18).” That has not happened. OK’s median income ranks in the bottom 10 states and its health system ranks only above bottom-dwelling MS. Even after the teacher protests raised pay, OK went from 49th in the nation to just 34th (Cohen & Cook 2022).
With all these problems facing Stitt, especially the COVID-19 crisis, can Democrat Hofmeister defeat him? The odds remain quite long. Hofmeister is running in “ultra-bright Red” OK. Not a single county in OK has voted Democratic in a presidential election since 2000. In 2016, Donald clobbered Hillary by 36 points. Biden “improved” by losing to Donald by 33 percentage points in 2020. Democrats have not controlled the OK governorship since 2010 (Cohen & Cook). Democrats have not controlled the OK State House since 2004 or the State Senate since 2008. Both U.S. Senators and the entire 5-member congressional delegation is 100% in the “Team Red” camp (Cohen & Cook 2022). Although well-known Hofmeister will, no doubt, easily win her primary, in Stitt, she faces an opponent who spent over $7 million of his own money to win the governorship and will do it again. Few national Democratic organizations will spend money on this race in a “dripping Red” state, when control of the House, Senate, and more promising governors’ races are up for grabs. So why discuss Hofmeister? It’s simple. National Democrats must understand that despite the gloom and doom in numerous negative stories about Biden, there are “thinking” Republicans and many other Americans who realize that they must get behind the Democratic Party, the only political movement now fighting for real democracy in this country. Hofmeister knows that only the Democrats are trying to keep authoritarian Trumpism at bay. Hofmeister’s political courage should push bickering Democrats in Congress to pass ASAP Biden’s infrastructure bills to show they can really govern. Hofmeister’s gumption in OK should give Democrats “spines” to call out bully Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in his constant attempts to crash down the U.S. economy with his debt ceiling brinkmanship tactics. And finally, Democratic voters, in the 11/2021 VA Governor’s race and in future 2022 contests in swing areas, must understand that if they show up to the polls in droves and vote for more progressives, they can save Biden’s agenda and start ignoring the likes of Manchin and Sinema. Hofmeister must be an example for all of us. Failure to govern as the majority party is not an option. It is political suicide.