Norman Democrats welcome Hofmeister party switch

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Oct. 7—Members of Norman's Democratic state delegation said they welcome the newly-minted Democrat Joy Hofmeister, the current state superintendent of public education who announced Thursday that she will leave the Republican party and run for Governor.

Over the last year and a half, Hofmeister has often publicly clashed with Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt over how to handle the pandemic, a back and forth that gained her the appreciation of Norman's delegates.

None of lawmakers squarely endorsed Hofmeister, but all four of Norman's Democratic delegates said they are excited to see her put her hat in the ring and make the Democratic gubernatorial primary an authentic challenge. Former State Sen. Connie Johnson is also running as a Democrat.

State House Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said Hofmeister will face a challenge in convincing Oklahoma Democrats that she adheres to their values and is not just running as a Democrat for political purposes. A lifelong Republican, Hofmeister is changing parties to run for the seat.

"She'll have some work to do in convincing Democrats that she is someone who is with them on the issues and someone who can represent their values," Virgin said. "But in terms of education and healthcare, I think that Joy already has a pretty good handle on those issues and has been fighting for public education for a long time, which is always the number one issue that comes to me from Oklahomans and Democrats specifically."

Hofmeister has been the state superintendent since 2015, and is term limited after 2022.

Virgin, who is the highest-ranking Democrat in the state House, said she has had a brief conversation with Hofmeister about her Thursday announcement, and looks forward to having more as the campaign moves forward.

The Oklahoma Republican Party has made national headlines for taking controversial stances over the past few months. From comparing vaccine mandates to the Holocaust, to endorsing a far-right Senate candidate, the state party is making moderate Republicans like Hofmeister feel they don't belong in the party anymore, Virgin said.

"Unfortunately what we're seeing in Oklahoma is that the Oklahoma Republican Party doesn't really have a place for people who are more toward the center," she said. "They've become more and more radical and less and less open to people who might hold some different views. So, I don't think it's surprising that someone like Joy would feel left behind by the Oklahoma Republican Party specifically."

State Sen. Mary Boren, D-Norman, said the state of the Oklahoma Republican party ostracizes moderate conservatives, which is why she believes Hofmeister made the switch. Boren said she believes many Republican leaders in Oklahoma focus on making "Fox News happy" instead of focusing on making "Oklahomans happy."

Boren is no stranger to switching parties; she changed numerous times before settling down as a Democrat and running for office. She said while some people will not appreciate it, switching parties is a sign that a candidate is more aligned with their personal values than any single party platform.

State Rep. Jacob Rosecrants, D-Norman, said many in the caucus are proud of Hofmeister for being willing to draw a line in the sand with Stitt, but no one assumed she would make the jump from Republican to Democrat.

"(During the pandemic) I was especially impressed with her choice to really go against this governor and the very conservative base of her previous party," Rosecrants said. "... I haven't always agreed with her on policy, but I've always been able to reach out to her and I've always been impressed with her accessibility and positivity, and those are two things that are important not only to me, but also to my constituents."

State Rep. Merleyn Bell, D-Norman, said she's heartened to see Hofmeister take "a stand against Gov. Stitt's ineffective leadership," and said she's "glad to welcome her to the party."

Reese Gorman covers politics and COVID-19 for The Transcript; reach him at rgorman@normantranscript.com or @reeseg_3.

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