Oklahoma Democrats’ recent struggles at the polls look to be carrying over to their impact at the state Legislature.
An Oklahoma Watch review found that of the more than 430 bills making it to the governor’s desk during the four-month session that ended Friday, just a dozen bills had a Democrat as the original lead sponsor.
Democrats introduced almost 600 bills (excluding shell bills that do not contain substantive language) during the last two sessions. With just 40 passing, including 12 this year, Democrats saw a legislative success rate of just 6.7%.
Republicans, meanwhile, introduced almost 3,150 bills (again not counting shell bills) during that span. Nearly 1,000 made it through the full Legislature, earning the GOP a 32% success rate.
This comes as Republicans have steadily increased their dominance in the Legislature.
The GOP holds historic majorities in the Senate and House, occupying more than 81% of the Legislature’s 149 seats.
That wasn’t always the case. Democrats held control over the House and Senate as recently as the mid 2000s. Almost every election cycle since then, Republicans have picked up seats, leading to their current historic supermajority position.
Oklahoma Watch’s analysis categorized bills by lead author on the original version. Many bills have lawmakers sign on as co-sponsors after they are introduced. It’s not unusual to have bipartisan sponsors by the time bills are in their final form.
But the data offers a look at some of the impacts on the legislative process as Republicans have solidified their influence in the Legislature.
Even comparing the last two years to the decade preceding, Republicans have seen their impact grow in the type of bills that have passed and sheer quantity.
During the 2021 and 2022 legislative sessions, lawmakers passed more than double the number of Democratic-led legislation as the previous two years. In both time frames, Republicans held solid majorities in both chambers. But the size of that majority seems to dictate how many GOP-led versus Democratic-led bills made it through.
This year saw the passage of the nation’s strictest abortion ban, an anti-transgender bathroom bill and a $9.7 billion budget that rejected Democrats’ goals to eliminate the state’s grocery sales tax, reform court fees and costs and increase funding for education and other areas.
Bills that have found success in bluer states, meanwhile, such as measures to increase the minimum wage, add more early-voting times and add police reforms died without committee debate or votes in Oklahoma’s Legislature.
With such a small minority, Democratic lawmakers were unable to stop votes they opposed and did little to push big changes though the Legislature.
Of the 12 Democratic-led bills making it to the governor’s office, the list hardly mirrors claims by some in the Republican party that the left is pushing a “woke” agenda.
It includes bills making the Lyric Theatre as the official theater of Oklahoma, removing a rule that allows court clerks to collect fees for language interpreter services in criminal cases and requiring insurance companies to cover diagnostic mammograms ordered by a physician.
Rep. Melissa Provenzano, D-Tulsa, who authored the diagnostic mammogram bill, was joined by Rep. Brenda Stanley, R-Midwest City in sponsoring that bill. Provenzano said this shows that lawmakers can bridge the Republican-Democratic divide and pass meaningful legislation that helps Oklahomans.
“Decisions about women’s health care are made in the Legislature, and we must increase this representation,” she said. “I am proud of the work of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who cast political affiliation aside to support this life-saving initiative.”
But elsewhere Democrats made it clear that they were frustrated by Republican leaders pushing legislation through without consulting them.
Minority Leader Emily Virgin, D-Norman, said earlier this month that Democrats and the public continue to be shut out of budget debates.
“While it is true that there are meeting and agency presentations that are public, we all know in this body that the real writing of the budget happens behind closed doors," she said.
These complaints are nothing new.
Senate Minority Leader Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, joked at the end of the 2021 session that among Democrats’ top accomplishments was just surviving.
“Is it frustrating? Some days more than others,” she said on the final day of tha session. “Would I like to see more (Democratic) members? Of course I would, but this is where we are right now.”
Floyd said Democrats continued to play a role in shaping other legislation and working across the aisle on several measures.
“When you consider our size, I think we outperform quite often,” she said. “Our debates are pointed, they are researched and even though we can’t sway a vote, it doesn’t mean our constituents aren’t being heard and it doesn't mean we can’t sway public opinion on occasion.”
Floyd added that, at times unlike the GOP majority, Democrats tend to provide a unified front that can boost their influence.
“We usually vote as a unit,” she said. “It’s not because of any pressure or anything, it’s just how our constituents think.”
Trevor Brown covered politics, elections, health policies and government accountability issues for Oklahoma Watch. Call or text him at (630) 301-0589. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @tbrownokc