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Saturday, February 17th, 2018Last Update: Sunday, February 4th, 2018 06:56:13 PM

Special Election Fills State Senate Seat

By: Constitution Staff

A Democrat won the Special General Election on January 12 for the vacant seat in State Senate District 34. J.J. Dossett, a teacher, defeated Republican businessman and pastor, David McLain. Dossett received 2,173 votes (56.3%) and McLain got 1,686 votes (44.6%). The special election was needed to determine the successor for former Sen. Rick Brinkley (R-Owasso) who resigned his Senate seat after pleading guilty to felony charges related to embezzlement from his employer. The district includes Owasso and other areas in north Tulsa County.

Once held by Senate President Pro Tem Bob Cullison, a Democrat, the seat turned Republican two decades ago. With a little more than half the district's 38,600 voters registered as Republicans, the senate seat was considered to be safely in the Republican column. Brinkley, 54, had been in line to take over the Senate's top position -- President Pro Tem. He was elected to the Senate seat in 2010 and ran unopposed in 2014. Former Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Randy Brogdon held the seat from 2002 until 2010.

Brinkley was charged August 20, 2015 with five wire fraud counts and one tax evasion count. The Better Business Bureau of Tulsa accused Brinkley of embezzling more than $1.8 million "to support his lavish lifestyle and gambling habit." He agreed to pay $1,829,033 in restitution and $165,625 to the Internal Revenue Service in unpaid taxes and still awaits sentencing on the criminal charges..

Four Republicans and two Democrats ran in the Special Primary Election on November 10. Dossett, 31, easily won the Democrat nomination with 73 percent of the vote over Lisa Franklin. In the Special Republican Primary election,. McLain, 45 of a Skiatook, won the GOP nomination with 42 percent of the vote, over John Feary with 39%, Mark Williams 16%, and Chuck Daugherty 3 percent. In special elections, no primary runoff is held, so McLain became the nominee even though he had less than 50 percent of the vote.

This was the second special election loss for Republicans in recent months. A Special General Election was held on September 8 for State House District 85. The legislative district based in northwest Oklahoma City became vacant upon the death of incumbent state Representative David Dank, a Republican. On July 14, a four-candidate Republican primary attracted 2,769 voters. But in the Special General Election, only 2,268 votes were cast for the Republican nominee, Chip Carter. The Democrat nominee, Cyndi Munson, won with 2,640 votes.

Munson acknowledges that holding her seat may be difficult in 2016. Munson ran against Dank for the seat in 2014. In that race, she received 5,135 votes, yet lost by nearly 13 percentage points. In the special election, she drew only a fraction of her past support yet easily won. In a district with 23,949 registered voters, only 4,908 cast a ballot. While some who supported Carter's primary opponents may have shifted to Munson in the general election, that is not considered to be significant since Munson took a liberal position on most issues, well to the political left of most Republicans. The most likely scenario was a lack of enthusiasm for the GOP nominee, coupled with a good voter turnout operation by Democrats.

Republican State Chairman, Pam Pollard, called the recent losses for the GOP disappointing, but said it is not an indication of changing voting patterns within Oklahoma. "The Oklahoma GOP is positioned well with great fundraising, superior technology and a mobilized ground game to regain any short-term losses," said Pollard.

In the election for the state senate seat, about 1,000 more Republicans than Democrats voted in the Special General Election than the Special Primary Election. Therefore, the loss cannot be attributed to a lack of turnout of Republican voters. Some blame the loss on a split among Republicans. McLain won the GOP primary over party activist John Feary. Some viewed Feary as a "RINO" (Republican In Name Only). McLain had the support of several conservative groups including endorsements by the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, the Tulsa 9.12 Group, and the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee (OCPAC).

Others say the best explanation is that the Democrat candidate was from a family with long ties to the to the Owasso community which is the heart of the district, while the GOP candidate was from Skiatook. The Democrat, Dossett, is a well known teacher, his father was the Owasso High School principal for nearly 30 years, and his mother taught many children to swim over the same time period. Also, the Republican candidate was not well funded in the general election, perhaps due to the belief that it was a safe Republican seat. And, Democrats mounted a strong effort which included cable TV spots.

Even with Dossett's election, Democrats will only hold nine of the 48 seats in the upcoming legislative session. At least three of the seats held by Democrats are term-limited in districts that could go Republican in the 2016 elections.

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