There’s something resembling a debate going on among some Oklahoma Democrats about whether party loyalty supersedes other factors when it comes to supporting candidates for office.
The blog OkieBrent raised the issue in a recent post, “Democrats hurting Democrats,” about the Ward 2 Oklahoma City Council race between Dr. Ed Shadid, who has run for political office in the past as an independent candidate, and Charlie Swinton, a Democrat, who has received the support of a shadowy group that’s bashing his opponent for being-drum roll, please-a liberal.
State Sen. Andrew Rice, who as Senate minority leader is probably the leading Democratic progressive in the state right now, is supporting Shadid, and other Democrats are also pulling for him, including myself. OkieBrent makes the argument that “. . . when there is a good Democrat running – Democrats should support them, especially leaders and staff of the Oklahoma Democratic Party.” In another post, OkieBrent calls Rice a “hypocrite.”
I think OkieBrent-there’s no full name on the blog; I think he/she lives in Minco-does a real service in raising the issue of party loyalty because anything that generates a discussion about the state Democratic Party here after its historic and abysmal failure in the November election can only help to bring about change. We should have this debate with civility and openness. But I think OkieBrent’s argument is wrong about this particular race, and his/her attack on Rice is not only unjustified but also counter-productive for the Democratic Party here.
First, Shadid is the best candidate in the race primarily because he stands for principles that should be embraced by the Democratic Party here. Those principles include openness and transparency in government. Does Swinton believe in those principles? The group, Committee for Oklahoma City Momentum, has launched an expensive campaign-it has spent more than $400,000 on council races-stereotyping and exaggerating Shadid as a liberal. It depicts Shadid as a caricature. The campaign is funded by undisclosed donors who have a lot of money. Swinton says he “detests” the current political mileui, according to a media report, but he really hasn’t done anything about it. For example, an economic development group created by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, according to a media report, has apparently helped fund Momentum. The money trail is obvious. Could Swinton, a well-connected, local lobbyist and connections with the chamber, have stopped the attacks by threatening to pull out of the race if they continued? I think so.
Second, if Democrats like Swinton continue to allow the conservative mantra to define the political spectrum here, then the state party as a whole faces a dismal future, if it doesn’t already. Sure, the Democratic Party here should have a big tent, but should that include candidates who get elected on scurrilous and anonymous attacks against what should be core Democratic messages on issues like the environment, health and workers’ rights? These conservative attacks, if left unchallenged by Democrats, call into question the viability of the party. If this is the new way for state Democrats to get elected, then the Oklahoma Democratic Party might as well hand over the keys to its offices to the Republicans. What does the Democratic Party here even stand for if it complacently accepts these types of anonymous attacks against what should be its basic principles?
Third, party loyalty can be useful at times, but no one-Democrats, Republicans or independents-should enslave themselves to a political agenda that places an organization above rational thinking and clarity. Blind allegiance is always dangerous.
Rice has taken flack for his support of Shadid, but judging from his remarks at a recent rally, he knows a major issue is at stake, primarily the transparency of this election and future elections in Oklahoma. The fact that he’s speaking up now and not in earlier council races this year doesn’t make him a “hypocrite” as OkieBrent argues. Rice, along with a lot of people, simply got fed up with the well-funded and anonymous attacks against Shadid and basic progressive ideas through mailers and phone calls. Rice is showing great leadership on this issue for progressives, and I think a vast majority of his district’s constituents-I’m one of them-are proud of him. And what’s the point of bashing the leading progressive in the state to help someone get elected in what is supposed to be a nonpartisan city election? What good is that going to do for the Democratic Party, except to make it even less viable and more fragmented?
Speaking to supporters Thursday, Shadid, a physician who was born and raised here, talked about building sidewalks, installing street lights and enhancing neighborhoods, hardly a radical agenda. As a doctor, Shadid is interested in making Oklahoma City a healthier place, too. There’s no hidden agenda. He is exactly who he says he is, and his supporters are out in the open. You just can’t say that for sure about Swinton and by extension his prominent Democratic supporters.
We need open and transparent elections in Oklahoma City, and for that reason alone, Ward 2 voters should elect Shadid.