House Democrats to select new leader
Two central Oklahoma representatives are vying to become the next leader of the House Democrats, both pledging a mix of progressive and pragmatic approaches for a caucus that saw its numbers shrink during last week's election.
Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, and Rep. Jason Dunnington, D-Oklahoma City, told The Oklahoman they are seeking the position of minority leader, which will be decided by a caucus vote Thursday.
Rep. Steve Kouplen, D-Beggs, the current minority leader, was one of three Democratic House members to lose re-election Nov. 6 as Republicans expanded their House majority to 76-25.
Two of the three lost seats were in rural parts of the state, a continuation of a political shift in recent years that has seen Democrats largely contained to urban districts.
House Democrats were relevant last year as opponents to some tax increases, which require three-fourth support in the Legislature.
But advancing legislation next year will require work across the aisle, especially as Republicans continue to control the state Legislature and governor's office.
"The mistake is believing that being progressive means that you have to be divisive," Dunnington, 40, said. "I think it is time for us to try something different and embrace a strategy of working together for the betterment of all Oklahomans."
First elected in 2014, Dunnington represents a north Oklahoma City district and said he would be a minority leader who seeks out ways to partner with Republicans, while continuing to champion the causes most important to his caucus.
With eight years in the House, Virgin, 32, is the most senior member of the Democratic caucus and believes her experience will be critical, especially since nine of the 25 Democrats in the House next year will be in their first term.
"I've been in the arena long enough that I think I can really help lead our party, especially with a lot of new members who are going to be looking for direction," Virgin said.
What rank-and-file members want
Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, said he hadn't made up his mind on whom to support for minority leader, but he thought there would be an opportunity next year for more bipartisanship.
"The elections (last week) saw a moderate red wave," Rosecrants said. "We have a ton of moderate Republicans that just got elected and I think communication is going to flow much better between the two caucuses and we can get more done this year."
Rosecrants said he also wants a caucus leader who can help the party reach out to rural communities, even if most members are confined to cities.
"There's a disconnect between the Democratic Party and rural areas and we've got to work on that," Rosecrants said.
Rep. Cyndi Munson, D-Oklahoma City, said she wanted to see a woman lead the party and would support Virgin.
"I think it is time for women to lead and voters have asked for this because they have elected a lot of women to office," Munson said.
Eleven of the 25 Democratic House members are female.
After last week's elections, the Democratic caucus in the state Senate will have more women members than men, the first time any Oklahoma caucus has reached that status, according to Senate Minority Leader-elect Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City.
"The time has never been better for a woman to lead this caucus, but I hesitate to say that's what it is all about," Virgin said.