OPN Impacts Election for Progressive Underdog

OPN Impacts Election for Progressive Underdog

“I’m just a mom who wanted to give back while staying connected with my kids,” said Paula Lewis, newly elected Oklahoma City Public School Board Chair, in an interview with the Oklahoma Progressive Network (OPN) this past week. “I think the fact that I’m just a normal person helped.”

Referencing her upset win on Tues. April 4th, over heavily funded and politically connected, Stanley Hupfeld, supported by the deep pockets of movers and shakers in Oklahoma City, Lewis noted that in contrast, the majority of her donations were small amounts from middle-class families with budgets stretched thin. According to the Daily Oklahoman, Hupfeld outraised Lewis by more than 5-to-1.

Lewis ran unopposed for OKCPS District 4 school board member a year ago, and after serving a year on the board, wanted to do more. Not only did Lewis win, but she won by a comfortable margin with 53 percent of the votes over Hupfeld’s 47 percent (6,152 votes to 5,455 votes).

“While having two kids in the district and serving on the school board, I noticed something referred to as the ‘summer gap.’ If two children start kindergarten with a six-month difference in understanding the curriculum, it isn’t a huge deal. They both learn throughout the year and improve. The difference is what they experience in the summer. If the child that had a six-month advantage spends their summer going to the science museum and to the library, while the child with the six-month disadvantage doesn’t receive those enrichment experiences, when they return to school, that six-month difference is now a nine-month difference,” notes Lewis. “When this happens year after year, it can be a two year difference by the time they are in high school.”

A passion for children

We could feel Lewis’ passion for children throughout our conversation. She discussed how some schools offer enrichment opportunities in after school programs to help bridge the “summer gap,” and how the use of spring and fall intersessions can also benefit children needing help.

At OPN, we were really curious about her strategies for winning since she narrowly lost the February election, yet had enough votes to make the runoff against Hupfeld. Lewis attributed her win to several factors: community support; the fact she has children in two different schools in the district; that as a parent with kids in the district, she has an understanding and appreciation of the lives of parents and teachers; and, support from the grassroots progressive movement.

Lewis referred to OPN specifically and our focus on increasing political awareness and community involvement throughout Oklahoma.

“OPN really helped,” said Lewis. “Social media played a huge part, particularly in voter turnout. We had 11,000 votes in the runoff election compared to 7,000 in the initial February election. We were told to expect a 25 percent drop.”

When asked about what made the difference in voter numbers between February’s initial election and April’s runoff, Lewis attributed the increase in voters to OPN.

“I know OPN did that. With their candidate videos and voter guides, as well as the push to get people out to vote, it made a big difference,” she said.

OPN is thrilled we were able to support a progressive candidate like Paula Lewis via social media, voter guides and video interviews with candidates. OKC Public Schools has faced budget cuts, the threat of school closures, as well as ongoing discussions about a charter system takeover. This is not what progressives want for the children of Oklahoma City.

“We want all children to have access to quality public education, and we know Paula will get things going in the best possible direction,” said Kasey Greenhaw, OPN board vice president and co-founder. “I have a child in Oklahoma City Public Schools, and I want her to have a great education. OPN is excited about the progressive movement in Oklahoma, and we aren’t stopping with school board elections. This is just the beginning.”

Renewed hope for Oklahoma progressives

After the November 2016 elections, many Oklahomans found like-minded individuals within OPN to share ideas and concerns regarding the local, state and national political scenes. OPN and other progressive organizations across Oklahoma are seeing a significant increase in political engagement. From OPN’s perspective, Lewis’ win is a step in the right direction. It confirms that when voters are provided comprehensive, unbiased information, we can elect progressive candidates based on shared values. That end result has some very exciting possibilities for the 2018 elections.

“We see evidence that the progressive movement is on the rise and spreading throughout Oklahoma,” says Greenhaw. “Where progressives previously felt the need to hide for fear of job loss or feeling like social outcasts, through OPN and other organizations, many are finding they are not alone. There are people from every political affiliation that have progressive beliefs, and want to move our state forward. We are realizing that when we work together, we really can make a difference. There is renewed hope since the outcome of Paula’s election, and this is the kind of impact OPN is determined to continue.”

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