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April 17, 2014

Oklahoma’s superintendent attracts opponents

OKLAHOMA CITY — The field of candidates running for state school superintendent is unusually large — a sign of broad interest in what observers say is sure to be a referendum on the incumbent, Dr. Janet Barresi.

Six candidates filed nomination papers to run against Barresi, the Oklahoma City dentist who established the state’s first charter school before being elected superintendent of public instruction in 2010.

Two Republicans are contesting Barresi in the primary; four Democrats have filed, as well. All are calling for something new — a refrain that some credit to Barresi’s divisiveness.

“I think what it comes down to is she provokes strong feelings because she’s actually trying to do something,” said Brandon Dutcher, senior vice president of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, a conservative think tank.

“She’s not really a politician. She’s a reformer who had to be a politician to reform,” he said.

Dutcher said Barresi hasn’t always told people what they want to hear in her first, four-year term.

“She’s a dentist, so in her world, it’s not always comfortable to give an uncomfortable diagnosis,” he said. “A lot of people don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to hear they’ve been doing a bad job. They don’t like the diagnosis the doctor has given and they certainly don’t like the prescription.”

Those running against Barresi on the Republican ticket include Brian Kelly, a teacher from Edmond, and Joy Hofmeister, president of JLH Resources Inc., of Tulsa, and a former member of the state Board of Education.

Democrats include Freda Deskin, of Edmond, who is founder of a charter school in Oklahoma City; John Cox, of Hulbert, superintendent of Peggs Public Schools; Jack Herron Jr., of Norman, who is government relations director for Professional Oklahoma Educators; and Ivan Holmes, a retired college professor from Oklahoma City.

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