A year ago, Democrats threw $200,000 and a first-tier candidate at Senate District 37, trying to unseat incumbent Republican Dan Newberry.
They lost the conservative west Tulsa County district by 15 percentage points.
This year, with Newberry leaving the Senate, Democrats entered a lightly funded, little-known 26-year-old lesbian.
She won by 31 votes.
Allison Ikley-Freeman’s victory Tuesday over Republican Brian O’Hara continued a string of Democratic special election upsets over the past two years. It gives Democrats three special election victories in predominantly Republican districts in the Tulsa area in the past two years, including two this year.
Complete but unofficial results showed Ikley-Freeman with 2,234 votes to 2,203 for O’Hara. As is usual with special elections, low voter turnout was an important fact — only 4,437 people voted in this election, compared to almost 32,000 in last year’s regular general election.
According to pre-election ethics commission reports filed last week by the candidates, Ikley-Freeman had raised $23,587, all from individuals, and O’Hara had raised $68,444.08, of which about 30 percent came from political action committees.
That is in contrast to a year ago, when Republican incumbent Dan Newberry and Democrat Lloyd Snow combined to spend $550,000 on a seat Newberry ultimately won by a comfortable margin.
Ikley-Freeman, a mental health counselor, says she was motivated to file for office by the needs she sees every day.
“It was the needs I see just looking around, not just in mental health,” she said.
She said she understands “feeling as though your voice doesn’t matter. I want them to feel that someone will listen.”
Ikley-Freeman said before the election she knew she would be an underdog in Senate District 37.
“We knew it wasn’t an easy win,” she said. “But I wasn’t looking for an easy win. I was looking for something that could be done with hard work.”
Ikley-Freeman said she and her campaign team worked hard at targeting voters they knew would turn out for her in a low-volume election.
“When we were knocking on doors, so many people said, ‘Thank you. We didn’t know there was an election,” Ikley-Freeman said.
Her campaign was managed by Sarah Baker, who was behind Tulsa County’s other big upset this year, state Rep. Karen Gaddis’ victory in House District 75.
Ikley-Freeman worked in that campaign.
“You always hope you’re going to win, but going into today I tried to have no expectations,” she said.
The Democrat wins have come since Anna Langthorn became the Oklahoma Democratic Party chairwoman. At 24, Langthorn became the youngest person currently leading a state Democratic Party, and maybe the youngest ever.
The area’s other special legislative election, in House District 76, produced no drama or surprises. Republican Ross Ford took nearly 70 percent of the vote to defeat Democrat Chris VanLandingham.
Likewise in the Oklahoma City area, where Republican Paul Rosino defeated Democrat Steven Vincent in Senate District 45.
Ford is a former Tulsa police officer, Union school board member and Union chief of security who campaigned as a friend of the public schools.
His opponent, VanLandingham, said, “Ross is a wonderful person and a patriot. I salute him for his willingness to undertake a difficult job under the direst circumstances. I ask that the residents of District 76 pay attention to the business at the state Capitol and give Ross the support he needs to make public education and the most vulnerable in our society a priority in budget decisions.”
“I am just so humbled to have had the experience of running this campaign,” Ford said. “It really is humbling to have others pass judgment on you. I’m happy to have had the support of the people of Broken Arrow and District 76.”
The election results are expected to be certified on Friday. Ford could become a member of the House as early as next week, but Ikley-Freeman will likely have to wait until Feb. 1 because Newberry’s resignation does not become until Jan. 31.