The mood was positive at the Cleveland County Democratic Party’s annual chili cookoff Saturday.
A Perfect Place on West Main Street was packed with blue T-shirts, legislators and candidates. There was chili, and most — if not everyone — agreed politically.
But this mood was buoyed by what everyone sees as momentum building for Oklahoma Democrats.
“We’re optimistic,” said Krystal Golding-Ross, chair of the Cleveland County Democratic Party. “As long as Republicans keep doing what they’re doing, Democrats can only go up.”
Democrats see an opportunity opening with the woes of the state. They see people growing tired at what they see as a lack of action when it comes to teacher pay raises and ongoing budget battles as the legislature wrestles with deficits.
“We need to elect more Democrats,” State Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said at the cookoff. “Cleveland County has been instrumental in turning House seats blue.”
One example of that was present Saturday. State Rep. Jacob Rosecrants became one of the newest member of the House of Representatives when he won the race to take Republican Scott Martin’s old District 46 seat.
He spoke briefly about House Bill 2734, Lauren’s Law, that covers consent education for schoolchildren. But before he finished, Rosecrants, a former teacher, reminded the crowd that he at one point was like them, just eager to take an opportunity when it presented itself.
“In 2016, I was one of you, and in 2017, I was one of you,” he said. “Don’t give up.”
Some have already been inspired enough to throw their hats in the ring. Katelyn Dockery is the Democratic challenger in District 54, held by Republican State Rep. Kevin West. Dockery works in mental health services and said seeing the cuts to state agencies, including mental health and substance abuse, motivated her to run.
“I’ve seen the benefits that come out of those services,” Dockery said. “It impacts the entire community. With this budget crisis, seeing how those services would be cut, it really was a big factor for me.”
Her husband is a coach and teacher at Moore High School, which also was a factor in her decision to run. The same old fights are giving people an appetite for something new.
“I think people are ready for progressive policies that are actually going to benefit the community. We’re seeing that nationally,” Dockery said. “We’re seeing that the policies and the same old thing we’ve been doing just doesn’t work, and I think everyone’s ready to get on board and create a new prosperous community for ourselves.”
Leslie Bonebreak is running as a Democrat for District 53 held by Moore Republican State Rep. Mark McBride. She said she feels support within the Democratic community the most.
“When I need good and correct information on issues, I have dozens of people to turn to for different viewpoints,” Bonebreak said. “We all understand there are different ways to reach the same objective.”
Golding-Ross said the Cleveland County Democrats are taking this chance to cast a wide net and try to bring people from many different backgrounds into the fold. She said following 2016, there is still a divide created by the race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton for the Democrat nomination for presidential candidate.
“We’re creating the big tent and trying to bridge those divides,” Golding-Ross said.
In addition, she said the party is creating caucuses to reach out to voters in parts of the county where the Democratic vote is not as strong.
“Involvement is important,” she said. “If you can’t donate your money, donate your time. People woke up after the election of [President Donald] Trump. Just voting is not enough.”
To turn that momentum into results, however, the work still lies ahead. Unseating incumbents is no small task, especially in a state as historically red as Oklahoma.
Bonebreak said she plans on “knocking a lot of doors,” and Virgin, Golding-Ross and Rosecrants all encouraged party members to get out and bring their message to voters. One thing is for certain: the motivation is there.
“I think 2018 is going to be one of the best years we have seen in a long time,” Virgin said.