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Sun May 21, 2017, 05:20 PM

Oklahoma crisis offers opportunity for Democrats

The Oklahoma state budget has been cut so deeply that two elementary schools in state Rep. Jason Dunnington's district in Oklahoma City can no longer afford to pay for art teachers. A hospital is struggling after lawmakers axed a fund for uncompensated care.

Beyond the cuts, the situation has also produced a political role reversal. Republicans want to ease the pain with increases in cigarette and fuel taxes. Dunnington and fellow Democrats are attacking those bills, hoping opposition offers their party a path back to relevance after many years in the wilderness.

"I would rather lose fighting for what's just than win fighting for the wrong thing," Dunnington said.

No state Democratic party has been more hapless in recent years than Oklahoma's. It holds only a small minority of seats in the overwhelmingly Republican Legislature and has been repeatedly defeated in elections for statewide office.

But the worst budget crisis in recent state history presents an opportunity for a possible Democratic comeback, although it might mean inflicting more suffering on some constituents after three straight years of revenue shortfalls. If budget negotiations break down and Republicans are forced to make even deeper cuts, the effects could drive more voters to support Democrats in 2018.

For Democrats, "there's no downside to this at all," said Keith Gaddie, chairman of the University of Oklahoma's political science department. "It costs them nothing." Erin Taylor, whose youngest of five children receives supplemental health insurance through a state program because of a disability, is fearful of seeing her benefits slashed.

At: https://www.mail.com/news/politics/5211498-oklahoma-crisis-offers-opportunity-hapless-democra.html#.23140-stage-hero1-1

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