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July 6, 2014

Vote issues could drive large turnout

OKLAHOMA CITY — With efforts underway to place initiatives involving storm shelters and marijuana sales on this November’s ballot, Oklahoma Democrats are wondering if the issues can benefit them this fall.

The proposals’ backers are gathering signatures in an effort to put the issues before voters in the general election. A cockfighting initiative on the 2002 ballot drew large numbers of rural Democrats to the polls, and that was the year an underdog Democratic state

senator from Shawnee named Brad Henry won the governor’s mansion.

Whether this year’s measures would help one candidate or party is unclear.

Like Henry, state Rep. Joe Dorman, D-Rush Springs, is a longtime state legislator and a conservative Democrat from a rural area who is considered an underdog in a race for governor against incumbent Republican Mary Fallin. Dorman has long been a champion for a $500 million bond issue to help local school districts put more safe rooms and tornado shelters in schools. Fallin and other Republicans have complained about the cost.

Dorman said he’s distancing himself from the signature-gathering effort that was launched last week because he doesn’t want politics to torpedo the plan, but there’s little doubt people associate him with the proposal.

“It’s really the issue that changed my direction and made me decide to look at the race for governor,” Dorman said.

As for the two pro-marijuana initiatives — one calling for the medicinal use of pot and the other for outright legalization — supporters say they think the issue could draw younger, more liberal-leaning voters to the polls who may be more inclined to vote for Democrats.

“I think the issue is more associated with Democrats than Republicans, and by virtue of that association, the Democratic candidates will benefit,” said Chip Paul, who is spearheading the initiative to put the medicinal marijuana question on the ballot. “Candidates that come out in favor of it, I think they’re certainly going to drag some voters to their side in the general election.”

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