In the midst of a statewide teacher walkout, thousands of public educators rallied outside the State Capitol building to lobby for increased education funding. While many construction workers refused to cross the picket line to work on the Capitol remodel, one group of individuals was eagerly encouraged to enter the building: legislative candidates.
382 candidates filed to run for the House of Representatives, many with a goal of affecting major change in what some perceive as a stagnant legislature with no dedication to fighting for everyday Oklahomans. Among them was Angela Graham, who hopes to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination on June 26th for House District 66, representing Sand Springs and Northwest Tulsa.
Sandite Pride News sat down with Graham for an interview this past week at Napoli’s Italian Restaurant in downtown Sand Springs. Graham, a native Sandite, likes to keep her tax dollars as local as possible to support the small town economy. Graham currently resides in Sand Springs and both of her children attend public schools.
Graham graduated Charles Page High School in 1999, earned an Associate’s Degree in Elementary Education, and graduated from the University of Phoenix with a Bachelor’s in Human Services and Mental Health. She currently teaches Pre-K at Deborah Brown Community School in downtown Tulsa.
Now she wants to teach the State Legislature a lesson on how to treat its citizens.
Foremost on Graham’s mind is creating a diverse and sustainable tax base to fully fund education, infrastructure, and social services.
“When we are in a revenue failure, we should be looking at every option to get sustainable revenue for schools and roads and bridges,” says Graham.
Graham wants to end the Capital Gains tax deduction, which allows Oklahomans to avoid paying taxes on income from the sale of Oklahoma real estate or stock in Oklahoma-based firms.
She also wants to take another look at increasing the gross production tax on new oil wells. Oklahoma oil wells are taxed at 7% after their first 36 months, but were previously only taxed at 2% for the first three years. House Bill 1010xx, passed in the latest legislative session, raised that rate to 5%.
“The oil is here. They’re going to pay 7% or 9%, they’re going to stay in Oklahoma.”
Graham is a strong critic of the Oklahoma Taxpayers Unite! organization, which is circulating a veto referendum petition to undo HB1010xx.
“They’re not really concerned about everyday Oklahomans and regressive taxes…they are concerned about protecting special interests and big oil in Oklahoma. They’re not really fighting for everyday Oklahomans.”
She also feels like HB1010xx contained many regressive taxes, and sympathizes with legislators who didn’t feel comfortable voting in favor of that package.
“I absolutely understand legislators that refused to sign that because they didn’t want poor folks being taxed more. And I also understand legislators that listened to their constituents and signed that because it was a place to start. Sometimes the vehicle for change isn’t perfect.”
Specifically Graham wasn’t fond of what she calls “moral taxes” on cigarettes and cigars.
She is also opposed to consolidating administration or looking for wasteful spending in public school districts. “I think that’s already been done. We’ve cut everything that we can, we’ve combined everything we can combine. Schools in West Tulsa that affect our district have been shut down. It’s always okay to look at wasteful spending, but there’s nothing left to cut.”
“We’re not in the mess because there’s fraud and abuse at such a rampant level that it’s caused a revenue failure for ten years. We’re in this mess because we don’t have sustainable revenue.”
She was against the “David Boren” one-cent sales tax that was defeated as a State Question in 2016, saying it was a regressive tax that disproportionately affects low income and impoverished Oklahomans.
On the workforce, Graham wants to see labor unions strengthened, wants to undo Oklahoma’s right to work laws, and wants to avoid offering tax incentives to large companies that don’t provide high-paying full-time jobs for their employees. She also supports raising the minimum wage to $15.
“There’s a problem in Oklahoma with stagnant wages with a minimum wage that keeps people poor, and those are large corporations that then also reap the benefits of their employees spending food stamp money in those same businesses.”
“When we pay living wages to everyday Oklahomans, they invest it back in the economy. Every penny that low income middle class workers make – they spend it. They’re not accruing more wealth. It’s good economics to pay them more money because it helps the sales tax, it invests in property tax, it’s just good business and it’s also moral to pay a fair and living wage.”
Graham wants to see a major overhaul of the criminal justice and foster care systems in Oklahoma.
“We are spending an insane amount of money criminalizing everyday folks in Oklahoma. When we are spending more to incarcerate grown adults than we are on per pupil spending – that’s a problem.”
She also wants to eliminate the cash bail system and wants to help ex-cons expunge their criminal records.
Graham opposed the passage of SB1140 which allows private adoption agencies not receiving tax dollars to refuse to adopt to couples whose lifestyles are in conflict with the moral or religious beliefs of the agency, specifically LGBTQIA families. That bill also drew condemnation from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who responded by banning State-funded travel to Oklahoma.
“We have a broken foster care system in Oklahoma. We have thousands of children in Oklahoma that are in desperate need of loving families. We should never make it harder for loving families to adopt children in need. It’s discriminatory, it shouldn’t have been introduced. It’s an attack on a vital part of our community.”
Graham would also like to see the foster care system expanded to provide services for young adults who “age out” of the system when they turn eighteen.
Low voter turnout is a big point of concern for Graham, who would like to see Election Day become a national holiday. As a state she would like to see automatic voter registration with an opt-out available.
Graham personally opposed the recent Constitutional Carry bill passed by the legislature and vetoed by Governor Mary Fallin. Despite coming from a family that hunts and partakes in recreational shooting, she still believes that gun owners should go through State licensing to carry sidearms in public.
“I would have personally been opposed to (Constitutional Carry), however I understand that the polling from most of the folks in House District 66 were for it. And so when I’m elected there will come a time when I might be personally opposed to something, but if my district is telling me to vote that way, even if it goes against my party, I’m going to be required to represent their needs. And if I ever do have to draw a line in the sand, I would be transparent and make sure they understand my reasoning.”
Graham has never before run for public office, but has served in a number of volunteer capacities, including as Precinct Chair for the Democratic Party. She is an anti-racist worker with Aware Tulsa, the local chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice. She has also volunteered with the Parent-Child Center of Tulsa, working with their anti-bullying coalition.
Of the 125 legislative seats up for election this year, nineteen candidates filed completely unopposed and 99 filed unopposed within their party. Three Republicans filed for the District 66 seat, including incumbent Jadine Nollan.
Graham will take on former restaurant owner Rusty Rowe in the Democratic Primary on June 26th.