Mary Fallin

Wayne Greene: Joe Dorman, Oklahoma's two-handed candidate

September 19, 2014
The Tulsa World
By Wayne Green

Joe Dorman is a two-handed politician.

One hand on the right.

The other on the left.

And he uses them both.

Ask him a question and he’ll tell you that on one hand, he believes this, but on the other hand....

It makes him hard to neatly categorize him for political packaging purposes.

Is he a conservative?

“Good question,” he said. “I really don’t know where I stand in the political spectrum.”

On one hand, his parents were FDR Democrat.

On the other hand, when he worked for the nonpartisan state House staff, he came to deeply admire strong-thinking conservatives in the Legislature.

Drill a little deeper, and it’s more of the same: One man, two hands.

One on hand, he’s a conservative when it comes to guns. He voted for the state’s concealed-carry law and voted to amend it to allow concealed guns to be taken on school campuses if the weapons are locked in vehicle trunks. He’s gotten top ratting from the NRA.

On the other hand, he opposes tax cuts. They’re inappropriate at a time when the state is falling short in so many areas, especially education funding, he says.

On one hand he has a decent pro-life voting record. He voted for a bill to require women seeking abortions to see an ultrasound of their fetus, for example.

On the other hand, he has opposed “personhood” proposals and was absent for at least one difficult vote on a pro-life bill last session.

One hand: He opposed “Obamacare” when it was in Congress.

Other hand: Since the Supreme Court ruled the law constitutional, he favors accepting Affordable Care Act funding for Medicaid expansion and establishing a state health insurance exchange That would effectively undercut the state’s “Obamacare” lawsuit.

Right hand: He opposes same-sex marriage. He voted to send State Question 711, which defines marriage in the state as being between one man and one woman, to a vote of the people. He said it represents his religious thinking on the issue.

Left hand: He says that if the U.S. Supreme Court rules that same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional, he will enforce that decision.

“I cannot pick and choose the laws I will enforce,” Dorman said.

There’s nothing wrong with working with both hands. Most of us do. But Oklahoma’s voters are a biological oddity, a bird with two right wings.

In June, the Oklahoma Poll asked 393 likely Oklahoma voters how they classified themselves. The largest single group — 31.3 percent — said they were very conservative. Another 21.6 percent said they were somewhat conservative. Meanwhile, 28.6 percent described themselves as moderates.

So, most Oklahoma voters think of themselves as approaching politics from the right, and most of those from the far right. The people in the “middle” are outnumbered by those on the extreme.

Only 4.7 percent said they were very liberal and 7.9 percent somewhat liberal. The right outnumbers the left by more than four to one.

Dorman says the problem of not falling into a neat compartment doesn’t worry him too much.

True, it means he has to explain himself to voters very carefully. He can’t simply brand himself as a conservative, and wave to the crowd — with his right hand.

But, historically, Oklahoma Democrats have succeeded with a two-handed strategy. Ask David Boren and Brad Henry. Dorman makes an interesting point about why that’s not such a bad position, despite the state electorate’s overwhelming conservative bias.

Doctrinaire voters have already made up their minds on who they are going to vote for, Dorman says.

At this point, Dorman figures that he and Mary Fallin are competing for the 28.6 percent in the middle, and a lot of those people look at issues with both hands too.

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