By CHARLES CANTRELL
DANIEL C. CAMERON for GTR Newspapers
After the dust had settled from the July stampede of candidates filing for Tulsa’s mayoral race, the tally was 19: five Democrats, 11 Republicans and a somewhat surprising total of three Independents. Surprising that three candidates would choose to run as Independents knowing full well the prospects for success are historically pretty limited for independent candidates who refuse to brandish the “R” or the “D” next to their name on the ballot.
This tough road to success for independents is common knowledge even among non-pundits. Don’t they understand? So what is the incentive to run as an independent in an electoral system stacked in favor of the traditional two party elections? Why are the number of independent voters apparently increasing? And are they making a difference in local elections?
State law does not allow for a primary election for independent candidates. This brings in to play logistics that may contribute to candidates filing for office in local elections. For instance, Tulsa’s city charter requires independents filing for office to submit a “Petition Supporting Candidate for Office” signed by 300 registered voters along with their Declaration of Candidacy form. This is the only way for an independent candidate to get on the ballot in city elections. Candidates running as Republican or Democrat have the option of submitting the same 300 name petition or just paying a registration fee of $50 along with their submittal of a Declaration of Candidacy. Because there is no primary for Independent candidates, anyone running as an Independent need only have their submitted petition and declaration form examined by the Election Board. The petition is checked for name count, possible name duplication or other missing information and if there are still enough names the petition is approved and the candidate’s name appears on the general election ballet. This enables Independent candidates to avoid potentially costly primary campaigns. Independent candidates’ campaign coffers are frequently sparse and getting to the general without spending any money, added to the fact that a victory is not out of reason, makes filing as an Independent plausible. But the increase in independent candidates and voters is probably due to much more.
Running as an Independent for the first time is 30-year old Tulsa attorney Mark Perkins. He is straight forward with his reasons for running for Tulsa mayor and it has nothing to do with the registration process. “I’m running to give a voice to the growing number of Tulsans who are fed up with the counterproductive acrimony always present and actively disrupting city government and instead want pragmatic leaders offering intelligent solutions to local problems. I believe partisanship at the local level is misplaced, and it creates more obstacles than solutions. An Independent who can pull people together and work with anyone from any party to improve the quality of life for Tulsans will be a more effective leader. And I think that is what Tulsa needs.”
According to Perkins, pragmatic, creative, successful solutions to local problems are better achieved in an environment free of the parameters set by political party affiliations.
“We see too much time and energy wasted on two-party bickering and political posturing. I want to try a different approach.”
Whether Perkins speaks for all Independent voters is not certain, but there does seem to be a growing faction of voters who feel disenchanted with local politicians inability to address pressing local concerns.
Another of the Independent candidates filing was Cleon Burrell, a Tulsa police officer. He immediately withdrew his candidacy upon realizing under state law he could not hold two “offices” simultaneously because state law designates law enforcement officers as office holders. Had he been elected he would have to resign from . Whatever his reasons for filing as an Independent apparently were not enough to override his commitment to a career as a police officer.
Newspapers attempts to contact the third Independent candidate, Lawrence F. Kirkpatrick, were unsuccessful. Records show he has run for office before as an Independent.
Records at the Tulsa County Election Board show that within Tulsa city limits there are 95,176 Republicans, 91,875 Democrats and 25,105 Independents registered to vote as of August 1, 2009. In the last three mayoral elections the average voter turnout was from 30 to 35 percent of all registered voters. Of the 25,000-plus Independents that voted in the 2002 and 2006 election only 1,882 and 1,656 respectively voted for the Independent candidates in the general elections leaving the remaining Independents voting for either of the party affiliated candidates. Assuming most Democrats and Republicans voted along party lines and considering the narrow margin of victory in each race, it is reasonable to assume independent voters determined the victor in both elections, thus making them Tulsa’s mayoral swing vote. This would have been more the case in previous elections because there were no Independent candidates running for mayor.
Recent efforts addressing the issue of non-partisan city elections produced an initiative petition with more than 6,000 Tulsa voters who would likely see eye to eye with some Independent candidates. City Clerk Mike Kier is currently working to certify the petition and get it before the voters for the Nov. 10 general election this year. The effort rose out of a recommendation made in a report by the Citizens Commission on City Government convened in 2005 by former Mayor Bill LaFortune to research ways to reform Tulsa’s city government. The petition was initiated by a small group of former elected officials, civic activists and business people called Tulsans for Better Government.
There is much anecdotal evidence to suggest that the issue of Independent candidate and non-partisan city elections will continue to play a role in city elections and occasional media narratives. Most important, Independent voter registration in Tulsa is increasing and the influence this will have on future elections should not be underestimated. It is certainly not out of the question for Tulsa to someday in the not too distant future have a politically un-tethered and independent, at least in name, mayor and city council. Only time will tell.