‘Abolitionist’ candidates largely unsuccessful in legislative races

Carmen Forman The Oklahoman
Supporters of Senate Bill 13 rally at the Oklahoma state Capitol in support of abolishing abortion. The Oklahoman file

Most legislative candidates who sought to criminalize abortion were unsuccessful last week in their election bids.

At least eight self-proclaimed “abolitionists,” those who want to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade and abolish abortion entirely, lost their legislative bids Tuesday.

But in southeast Oklahoma, a barn burner of an election is shaping up between Sen. Larry Boggs, R-Wilburton, and abolitionist Warren Hamilton, who will face off in an Aug. 25 runoff primary election.

Hamilton, a McCurtain rancher, was one of the only outspoken abolitionist candidates who was semi-successful in Tuesday’s election.

Many of the “abolitionist” candidates challenged Republican incumbents who already oppose abortion. However, “abolitionists” support Senate Bill 13, which seeks to abolish abortion in Oklahoma. The controversial bill has never received a hearing in Oklahoma’s Legislature, but the measure has pitted Senate leadership against its supporters for years.

“I think the voters understand that just because you say you’re going to abolish abortion doesn’t mean that you can wave a magic wand and make it happen,” said Sen. Greg McCortney.

The Ada Republican, who opposes abortion, successfully fended off a primary challenge from “abolitionist” Carisa Roberson, who got about 25% of the vote. In a social media post, Roberson applauded that abolitionists got about 19,000 votes combined.

Russell Hunter, a lobbyist for Free the States, said it is difficult for first-time candidates to break through, considering all the political advantages incumbents have, including name identification and more campaign cash.

Free the States, which supports SB 13, aided some “abolitionist” candidates by distributing campaign literature, but did not coordinate directly with any campaigns.

While most didn’t win their elections, they do help convert some people to the cause, Hunter said. In an educational sense, the campaigns also taught more Oklahomans the difference between those opposed to abortion and “abolitionists,” he said.

“This is definitely the first time in history, in any state, where you have multiple abolitionist candidates running in primaries with the stated goal to challenge pro-lifers,” he said. “That in and of itself, people choosing to do that, that’s a victory.”

The race between Boggs and Hamilton is poised again to pit Senate leadership against supporters of SB 13.

“The sense among different abolitionist groups is ‘hey, now the field is narrowed, now we know where to put all our time and energy,’” Hunter said. “The crazy thing is, the establishment is going to do the same thing.”

Those on both sides of the Senate District 7 race say the other side is putting out misinformation. Neither Boggs nor Hamilton returned calls seeking comment.

Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said Tuesday’s election results were telling.

“There’s widespread support for the pro-life movement,” he said. “There’s not widespread support for a fringe movement, and that’s exactly what Senate Bill 13 is, and has been, and probably always will be.”

Treat and other Senate Republicans have campaigned for Boggs in Senate District 7.

The Senate Majority Fund reported spending just over $20,000 on mailers, text messages and auto-dial phone calls in support of Boggs ahead of Tuesday’s primary election.

Meanwhile, dark money group Advance Oklahoma Fund spent nearly $10,000 in support of Boggs or in opposition to Hamilton. Dark money groups don’t have to disclose their donors, meaning money from unknown sources is seeking to influence the outcome of an election.

Treat plans to remain involved in the race through the runoff election.

“I’m involved with all Senate Republicans running for re-election, so I will be heavily involved with Sen. Boggs,” he said. “It’s extremely important to me that he gets re-elected.”

Republican incumbents facing runoff primaries

• Sen. Larry Boggs, R-Wilburton, will face Warren Hamilton in Senate District 7

• Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, will face former state Rep. Shane Jett in Senate District 17

•Sen. Paul Scott, R-Duncan, will face Jessica Garvin in Senate District 43

Legislative incumbents who lost their reelection bids

• Sen. Wayne Shaw in Senate District 3

• Rep. Lundy Kiger in House District 3

• Rep. Darrel Fincher in House District 11

• Rep. Jason Dunnington in House District 88

Runoff elections will occur on Aug. 25.