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"Nontraditional" Democrat working to be Oklahoma's next governor

Andrew W. Griffin / Red Dirt Report
Connie Johnson, a Democrat, is running for governor of Oklahoma.
Fertile Ground Compost Service

OKLAHOMA CITY – In early April, former State Sen. Connie Johnson, a Democrat who is also a gubernatorial candidate for the Nov. 6, 2018 election to replace term-limited Gov. Mary Fallin, went to Woodward to investigate the aftermath of the devastating wildfires that struck the region earlier this spring.

“Nature is amazing. Because the grass the burned was greener than the grass that was coming in,” Johnson noted during a recent interview with Red Dirt Report. “So you really couldn’t see the devastation in terms of the burn. You could see the houses that were burned down. But the fields had regenerated themselves already.”

Being in a natural environment is something the Southeast Oklahoma native loves. She understands the needs of both rural and urban Oklahoma.

And while Johnson, who ran as a Democrat for U.S. Senate in 2014, did not use this particular analogy, it seemed apropos to make a mental note of the fact that the Oklahoma Democratic Party has a lot of work to do to resurrect their power and influence in the Sooner State. As one political wonk recently noted, people forget that Oklahoma has only had three Republican governors since statehood – Henry Bellmon (1963-67 and 1987-91), Frank Keating (1995-2003) and, of course, Mary Fallin.

Johnson strikes an optimistic tone as she talks about the Democrats she has been meeting with not just in urban pockets of Oklahoma, but in rural areas as well, places like Woodward and communities in the Panhandle that often feel forgotten by the machinations taking place at 23rd and Lincoln.

“I’ve gotten a lot of good reactions from people when they learn I’m running,” Johnson said. “Relief that I’m running, some saying, ‘well, you should’ve done that two years ago.’ It’s been very encouraging.”

And when asked why she is not focusing on Oklahoma’s 5th Congressional District, currently held by Republican Steve Russell and allegedly in danger of “going blue,” she said going to Washington “isn’t where my heart is.”

Her heart is here with the people of Oklahoma – folks who shrug with disgust and a hint of embarrassment after the recently botched legislative session where little was accomplished.

“Everybody I’ve talked to is fed up. They’re tired,” she said. "They believe we can do better. I believe we can too. And I think people are open to a radical change."

And while Johnson is banking on support from Democrats, with her progressive message of women’s rights, enhanced access to health care and more money for education, the local Libertarians have also responded positively, she said, to her support of cannabis policy reform, sensible criminal legal system reform and smarter and fairer sentencing for those facing drug offenses.

And Johnson's outspoken advocacy in support of cannabis and hemp over the past decade has remained strong and unwavering. She is starting to see Oklahomans coming around to support of these issues that have so long divided people and sent many people to prison for non-violent offenses. She said "people aren't afraid of" speaking out in support of cannabis legalization anymore, particularly as neighboring states like Colorado see the financial benefits from legalization.

While struggling to raise money, and facing a Democratic primary that will include former Attorney General Drew Edmondson and House Minority Leader Scott Inman, Johnson is trying to keep her campaign as grassroots as possible and meeting as many people as she can along the way, spreading her "people power" message.

Asked if current chaos within the Oklahoma GOP offered Democrats hope of retaking the Governor’s Mansion, she admitted that she does see that opportunity presenting itself, but not “for just any Democrat.”

Johnson, if elected, would be Oklahoma’s second-ever female governor and its first African American governor.

In the meantime, getting her message out - a rather "nontraditional" one at that - can be challenging, especially when sometimes the lines blur between Republicans and Democrats in this state over certain issues.

“I think the Democrats have been as guilty as Republicans in some regards when it comes to not willing to (promote) progressive values,” she said. “And I’ve always been a Democrat, but I’ve always been a progressive."

Voters, added Johnson, “just don’t want ‘more of the same’ from either party.”

Noting the “craziness” amongst state Republicans and Trumpist conservatives, Johnson said this is only helping Democrats “more and more every day.”

To learn more about Connie Johnson's candidacy for governor, go to her website here.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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