John Thompson, retired teacher and historian in Oklahoma, urges his fellow Oklahomans to vote for Joy Hofmeister for Governor. I heartily endorse Joy. When I visited Oklahoma a few years ago, I had the chance to speak with her at length. She is intelligent, public-spirited, and devoted to public service. I met her in her role of State Superintebdent of Schools and was deeply impressed by her understanding of the issues and to public schools. I join John in urging you to vote for Joy!

Thompson writes:

The main arguments for electing Oklahoma State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister as governor are grounded in her rescue of public education. Her record proves that Hofmeister is the best possible candidate for uniting the state and pulling ourselves out of the messes that Gov. Kevin Stitt and Trumpists created. And her current campaign, like her approach to reviving public education, illustrates Hofmeister’s ability to bring diverse people together.

In contrast, Stitt supposedly illustrated his commitment to students by rushing down school halls with a semi-automatic rifle.

When Hofmeister switched from being a moderate Republican to a Democrat, a number of young progressives said they supported Joy because she was the candidate who is best able to defeat Stitt. Fearing that young people who just believed that might be less motivated to vote, I’ve been sharing concrete examples of why Hofmeister deserves enthusiastic support; Hofmeister led the rescue of our public schools, and laid the foundation for meaningful and long-lasting school improvements. If voters remember how bleak the future of schools was in 2014, and how she successfully defended them, they will agree that Hofmeister is the proven leader for saving public education and our other public institutions from today’s rightwing assault.

I like to start by asking Gen Z and Millennials about their experiences with schools after the corporate school reformer, Janet Barresi, was elected in 2010. This was the height of the “Teacher Wars,” when schools were to be closed based on an invalid A–F grading system, and educators were to be fired based on an even worse algorithm.As documented byOklahoma City University’s Dr. Jonathan Willner, School grades were supposed to measure student learning, but they had little or nothing to do with teacher quality. They actually reflected:

The number of single-parents in the district; students on free and reduced lunch at the school; school mobility (proportion of new students each year); educational attainment in the district, and the median household income in the district. None of these have anything to do with the actions of teachers and administers. The damage became even worse when almost every teacher and students became subject even more invalid and unreliable high-stakes testing.

This was a time of education funding cuts, nonstop attacks on “Bad Teachers,” who supposedly could have transformed student learning had they wanted to, and increased segregation by economics and school choice. Hofmeister was elected in 2014, when urban schools could have easily crossed the “tipping point” if Oklahoma stuck with the mandate that required students to pass Common Core graduation tests that were written on levels that often were years above their reading levels. A key to Joy’s success was her professional team’s effort to assist in returning more of the authority for developing education policy to local districts.

Hofmeister led the fight to repeal seven inappropriate End of Instruction tests (EOI), to “reduce time testing and allow more time for rich instruction, personalized learning and multiple pathways to college and career readiness.” She also prioritized high-quality pre-K instruction and reading for comprehension by 3rd grade. Joy was successful in bringing back high school students’ access to Career Tech, mentoring, and internships. And she addressed our severe teacher shortage by helping lead the way to significant teacher pay raises, and listening to teachers about policies for making schools better.

I haven’t always agreed with Hofmeister on issues. But after listening to her, and her professional team, neither could I say I was right and she was wrong. Most of the time, a growing body of evidence now argues that her administration was right and I was wrong.

Yes, Kevin Stitt faced strong competition, but he has earned his spot as the worst governor in Oklahoma history. As COVID-19 surged, long before the vaccine was developed, Stittundermined the public health system and disrupted testing programs, as well as ridiculing masks and social distancing while posting family photographs from crowded restaurants. The governor purchased a stockpile of hydroxychloroquine, and later sought to suspend vaccine requirements for the Oklahoma National Guard. During the COVID-19 delta variant surge, Stitt signed a bill attempting to ban public schools’ masking requirements.

Stitt and his appointee, Secretary of Education Ryan Walters, have led the attacks on the so-called teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT). Walters ramped up attacks on a teacher, Summer Boismier, for posting a QR code to the Brooklyn Library’s banned books lists. He then called on the Oklahoma State Board of Education to revoke Boismier’s certification because, “There is no place for a teacher with a liberal political agenda in the classroom.”

Stitt’s appointee is being investigated for distributing the federal, COVID-19 relief money for the Bridge the Gap program without following safeguards to prevent fraud or abuse. Stitt defended Walters, saying, “Secretary Walters is doing a great job fighting for parents’ right to be in charge of their child’s education and advocating for funding students.” Moreover, in addition to his state salary, Walters was paid around $120,000 a year by Every Kid Counts Oklahoma.

Stitt politicized the appointment process for the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals and the Supreme Court. He also obtained excessive control over the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs, and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. And his change in the Tourism Department’s governance, apparently led to the Swadley’s Foggy Bottom Kitchen investigation and other conflicts

Stitt opposed Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma, and he has reversed gun safety regulations. And he has continually fought against established state rights of Oklahoma tribes, as well as rights newly established by the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt vs. Oklahoma decision.

Stitt also supported, and signed into law, SB 612, which makes performing an abortion a crime punishable by 10 years in prison or a $100,000 fine, with exceptions for medical emergencies but none for rape or incest. Stitt then signed into law a ban on “abortions from the stage of ‘fertilization’ and allowing private citizens to sue abortion providers who ‘knowingly’ perform or induce an abortion ‘on a pregnant woman.'”

Stitt issued an executive order that prohibited transgender individuals from changing the gender on their birth certificates. He said that “people are created by God to be male or female. There is no such thing as nonbinary sex.” Finally, Stitt signed a bill into law requiring public school students “to use locker rooms and bathrooms that match the sex listed on their birth certificate.”

So, it is understandable that some would vote for a moderate former-Republican simply because of the havoc created by the current governor and his administration. I am very confident, however, that many, many more Oklahomans now realize that a Gov. Hofmeister will succeed in the two battles that have become even more important, and dangerous, than those she first faced eight years ago. Once again, she is revealing a talent for respectful listening and teamwork. Joy is the leader we need for building a 21st century Oklahoma that represents the best of our state.