OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An underfunded, little-known Democratic candidate for governor has a new tool to use in attacking the Republican incumbent now that the federal government stripped Oklahoma of its authority to decide how to spend millions in education funds following the state’s repeal of national academic standards.
State Rep. Joe Dorman of Rush Springs said Republican Gov. Mary Fallin’s role in the repeal of the Common Core English and math standards and its consequences for public schoolchildren are the latest examples of a lack of leadership and flip-flopping, citing important issues such as storm shelters for public schools and the creation of a state health insurance exchange.
“She shrugged her shoulders and did not seem to care what happened. In this instance, it’s hurting the kids of Oklahoma,” Dorman said. “This is typical of everything we’ve seen over the last four years in her administration.”
Fallin, who is seeking a second four-year term in the Nov. 4 general election, blasted President Barack Obama’s administration for Thursday’s decision to not extend the state’s waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act — a loss of flexibility in using $29 million in education funds.
“Oklahomans spoke loud and clear: We do not want the federal government telling us what to teach our children or how to teach our children,” she said Thursday in a statement. “We have great teachers and administrators. The Obama administration needs to get out of their way and let them do their jobs, rather than tying their hands with additional federal rules and regulations.”
Dorman has run a surprisingly competitive race against Fallin, which is reflected in a few recent polls. Four years ago, Fallin defeated Democratic Lt. Gov. Jari Askins by 20 percentage points; one current poll shows she holds a single-digit lead over Dorman.
Additionally, Dorman has said that success in the most recent fundraising period — about $27,000 more than the governor from June 10 to Aug. 11 — is evidence that his message is resonating with voters. But the campaign contribution and expenditure reports showed Fallin has raised a total of almost $3.3 million and had almost $1.14 million in funds remaining. Dorman, by contrast, has raised a total of $654,026 and had $142,423 remaining in August.
Fallin signed legislation in June that was overwhelmingly adopted by the Legislature to drop Common Core — standards she previously championed as head of the National Governors Association and were adopted by more than 40 states — and replace them with weaker state-only standards from 2010.
Conservative groups complained Common Core was a federal power grab over education, traditionally a state and local matter. And Oklahoma’s repeal led to a sanction from the U.S. Department of Education under the No Child Left Behind Act, because the state could no longer demonstrate its standards are preparing students for college and careers.
The development will require many public schools in the state to re-examine their budgets — and voters to rethink their choice for governor.
The repeal of Common Core is the latest example of Fallin’s administration wavering, which has made the 2014 governor’s race more competitive than expected, according to Keith Gaddie, chairman of the University of Oklahoma’s political science department.
“This is not a good place for an incumbent governor,” Gaddie said. “”When governors run they run with a record and are held to account for four years of stewardship. The governor is still the favorite, but she has left the door open.”
Shortly after taking office in 2011, Fallin announced plans to accept a $54 million federal grant to create a health insurance exchange for uninsured Oklahoma residents under the Affordable Care Act. She later reversed course and rejected the grant after conservatives who opposed the law voiced objections.
Dorman, a conservative Democrat from a rural area, gained a political advantage through initially advocating for an initiative petition for a $500 million bond issue to help local school districts build safe rooms and tornado shelters, Gaddie said.
Though Fallin played a visible role in the recovery efforts after May 2013’s massive tornado that killed killing seven students in an Oklahoma City suburb, she and other Republicans complained about the cost of the shelters. She instead proposed that some school districts be allowed to raise property taxes to pay for the shelters, but the Legislature rejected it.
“She’s good in a crisis,” Gaddie said. “A big policy space has kind of been left open. Storm shelters kind of opened the door on it.
“It can make people question what they are voting for.”