Campaign shop part of Democratic success stories in OKC
After a decade of election losses at almost every level of state government, Democrats have rebuilt a foundation of power in Oklahoma City, thanks in part to a political consulting firm that has helped candidates get elected to the state Legislature, city council, county board of commissioners and the school board.
Launched six years ago by Cassi Peters and Joe Hartman, who are married, Skyfire Media has engineered wins for a new generation of Democratic lawmakers, many of whom flipped Republican seats in the process.
“I love being told I can’t win — it’s my favorite,” said Peters, 33, who estimated her firm has won close to 50 races since 2013.
Skyfire Media’s early clients included Sen. Kay Floyd, of Oklahoma City, now the Senate minority leader, and former Rep. Claudia Griffith, a Democrat who flipped a Norman seat in 2014.
The firm also ran the campaign of Democrat Rep. Cyndi Munson, who won an Oklahoma City seat in 2015 that had been held by Republicans for nearly a half century.
Last year, Skyfire Media represented Sens. Carri Hicks and Julia Kirt, two Democrats who flipped Republican seats in northwest Oklahoma City.
“When we started, there weren’t really any Democratic consultants left,” Peters said. “The party had lost so much that it was a hard business to be in.”
For decades Democrats held power in rural Oklahoma. But after a wave of defeats in 2010, many of the consultants working with Democrats closed shop. A few years later, Peters and Hartman, who both had experience in local and national politics, began to plot a way back for Democrats and progressive candidates.
They launched the firm as a one-stop-shop offering campaign finance management, direct mail and digital marketing.
“I thought Oklahoma City, particularly northwest Oklahoma City, was going to be our next battleground, but a lot of people didn't believe that,” Hartman, 34, said.
Hartman grew up in northwest Oklahoma City and believed shifting demographics made it a prime target.
“Everybody, Democrats and Republicans, said there was no chance,” said Munson, who lost her first race in 2014 before winning a special election the following year.
Peters said getting Democrats elected was the goal, but so was increasing female representation at all levels of government.
“I have a passion for getting more women elected,” said Peters, who previously worked for Sally’s List, a nonprofit that recruits female candidates.
Skyfire Media ran the campaign of Carrie Blumert, who last year won an Oklahoma County commissioner seat.
The firm was also behind the campaign of JoBeth Hamon, who won a nonpartisan Oklahoma City council seat last week.
“They let me be me,” Hamon said about Skyfire Media. “I was really worried I would have to censor myself or not be able to talk about some issues, but instead they worked to amplify the issues that were important to me.”
A statewide race someday?
Democrats remain a minority in the state Legislature — and had another net loss of seats in 2018 — but Munson said the recent wave of wins, especially those by younger political newcomers, has helped rebuild the party’s political bench.
“It’s not just about winning seats in the (state) House and Senate, it’s also important to win those city council races and county races,” Munson said. “I think in the next several years you will see those who won those seats eventually run for statewide office and other positions. There’s more of a foundation today than in the past.”
For every candidate who wins, there is also a team of staffers who gain valuable political experience.
“We can't elect more Democrats to office if we don't have staffers who are working behind the scenes,” said Kaylee Rains-Saucedo, a former employee at Skyfire who now works as a policy director for the House Democrats.
Rains-Saucedo said many young Democrats who want to work in politics have fled Oklahoma in recent years. But getting more Democrats elected in central Oklahoma makes young staffers more open to staying.
“Getting more Democrats (elected) means a bigger network of staffers to build off of,” Rains-Saucedo said.
For Skyfire Media, getting new candidates elected leads to managing incumbent campaigns, which in turn increases the donor base and grows their business.
Peters and Hartman said they would someday like to run a statewide campaign but are focused on winning seats in the Legislature, along with other races.
“I think we’ve helped change the conversation about whether Democrats can get elected and also whether women can get elected,” Peters said.