Oklahoma's teacher candidates surge to November after success in primary elections

PHOTO: Teachers and demonstrators hold signs during a rally inside the Oklahoma State Capitol building in Oklahoma City, Okla., April 3, 2018.Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE
Teachers and demonstrators hold signs during a rally inside the Oklahoma State Capitol building in Oklahoma City, Okla., April 3, 2018.

Most of the political world Wednesday was captivated by first-time congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's stunning upset victory in New York — but halfway across the country — Oklahomans were focused on nearly 100 other political novices also on the ballot Tuesday: teachers running for office.

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Seventy-one teachers in the Sooner State made it through Tuesday's primary elections — either by besting their opponents outright or moving to a runoff.

The newcomers are seeking to unseat the very lawmakers who challenged their efforts to restore education funding during the teacher walkout this past spring that gripped the state capital for nine days.

"It's an important day in Oklahoma," Oklahoma Education Association president Alicia Priest said Wednesday. "Last night is evidence that Oklahoma voters care about public education because they supported [the teachers]."

"We had more people vote last night than in the 2014 general election and the 2016 presidential primary," Priest said.

PHOTO: People vote early at the Oklahoma County Board of Elections, June 21, 2018, in Oklahoma City. Sue Ogrocki/AP
People vote early at the Oklahoma County Board of Elections, June 21, 2018, in Oklahoma City.

Thousands of Oklahoma teachers descended on Oklahoma City in April, protesting against lawmakers, including Gov. Mary Fallin, and calling for increases in school funding after a decade of dramatic cuts, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

After the walkouts, teacher activism turned into a tide of teacher candidates. On the last day of the filing period, Priest said OEA had a "record" number of candidates file for office up and down the ballot.

Of the 112 educators running for local, state and federal office in the state — as identified by the OEA as former and current educators and administrators, as well as, candidates with an immediate relative that is an educator — this new class of candidates includes 28 who won their primary, 21 who will move on to a runoff, 21 who are running unopposed, and one who won the primary and will be uncontested in November.

Among the key losses in Oklahoma Tuesday was Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, one of the most anti-education funding candidates running this cycle, and incumbent GOP State Rep. Chuck Strohm, another anti-education funding candidate who also lost his primary.

The educator-candidates are ready to contest the political status quo in November, because, as Priest said, "during the April walkout, legislators didn't do enough to right the course of the neglected, under-funding of our public schools."

"So when we announced that we were going to end the walkout, we also said that we were going to shift our focus to the elections," she added.

PHOTO: Teachers continue their strike at the state capitol on April 9, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Okla. J Pat Carter/Getty Images
Teachers continue their strike at the state capitol on April 9, 2018 in Oklahoma City, Okla.

Raking in 479 more votes than his opponent in a primary for Senate District 32, Jacobi Crowley, a crisis counselor at Lawton Public Schools, assumed the Democratic nomination Tuesday. Crowley, a multi-faceted educator, is also an assistant football coach at Eisenhower High School and an ordained minister.

After seeing the problems in his home state and "lack of leadership" in government, Crowley said he felt he could "do more."

"By doing more, I came to the decision of running for state Senate," he said. "People are ready for change."

At 26 years old, he stands to be, if elected in November, the youngest state senator in Oklahoma's history.

"People are ready for real leadership," he told ABC News Wednesday. "I'm running in a very simple way. We're going to stay on message. We ran on an approach, a message, of now or never. We're essentially saying we're either going to fix this state now or we're never going to do it. This is the time to put words to action."

Carrie Hicks, a fourth-grade math and science teacher at Grove Valley Elementary School in Deer Creek, is running for Senate District 40. She won her primary Tuesday night, in the northwest Oklahoma City district, defeating former executive director of the Oklahoma Women's Coalition Danielle Ezell by 291 votes, according to unofficial results from the Oklahoma state election board.

Hicks wrote on Twitter after her Tuesday victory, "Oklahoma is ready for change, I look forward to the opportunity to give our working families a voice this November! #ElectATeacher."

She will face veterinarian and GOP candidate Joe Howell in the general election.

Cyndi Ralston, a 30-year public school educator, is running as a Democrat for the state House of Representatives in District 12. She will face Republican incumbent state Rep. Kevin McDugle in November, who she said "won’t fight for teachers and students" in an April interview with ABC News.

PHOTO: Cyndi Ralston is running for state office in Oklahoma. Cyndi Ralston for Oklahoma House District 12/Facebook
Cyndi Ralston is running for state office in Oklahoma.

At the time of her campaign announcement in April, Ralston wrote an impassioned statement on why she decided to run for office.

"For years, my profession has been under siege by our legislature," she said. "Budget cut after budget cut have forced us to do ever more with ever less, and it cannot continue on this path."

"It's time for a change in Oklahoma, and I will be that change," she added.

McDugle did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

In a year that is seeing record-breaking numbers of educators run for office, Priest said she is "excited" that voters are willing to stand up for education at the ballot box.

"We're just so excited Oklahomans are demanding better, and they proved their point last night," Priest asserted.

Adding to this sentiment is National Education Association political director Carrie Pugh, who believes that Tuesday signals a "crystal clear" message to legislators in all states.

"The message sent is crystal clear — in Oklahoma and across the country: elected officials either can stand with students and educators or we will stand up against you. We have created a movement, and there’s no stopping us now."