Republican Official Flips Democrat to Run Against 'Extremism' of GOP Governor

A senior Oklahoma Republican is leaving the party and plans to become a Democrat as part of a bid to defeat Governor Kevin Stitt in the 2022 election.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister will leave the GOP on Thursday and register as a Democrat in the red state, where Stitt won more than 54 percent of the vote in 2018.

Hofmeister told Tulsa World on Wednesday that the governor "is running the state into the ground" and accused him of "extremism" and damaging aspects of Oklahoma.

"Through extremism, partisanship, ineffective leadership, he is hurting our education system, our health care, our infrastructure," Hofmeister said.

"And unfortunately, Governor Stitt has hijacked the Republican Party in Oklahoma," she said.

Hofmeister, a former public school teacher, is a lifelong Republican who defeated incumbent Republican State Superintendent Janet Barresi in the primary in 2014 and then won the general election. She was re-elected to the post in 2018.

Hofmeister cited her experiences of how Stitt handled the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason for her decision to run for governor.

"We have a global pandemic, and it mattered who was governor in 2020," she told Tulsa World. "We've had 10,000 Oklahomans lost. When you understand now how critical it was to have had a leader who contemplated expert advice and opinion and set an example to help protect Oklahomans, we could have avoided thousands of people dying."

Hofmeister explained what she would have done differently as governor.

"I wouldn't have churned through four state epidemiologists in the middle of a pandemic," she said. "The policy was that if you ignore reality, somehow it will go away—when leadership mattered in reducing spread. With that strategy, Oklahomans bore the brunt of COVID in their own lives."

"Our health care workers are disrespected and stretched to the limit. Just as we've seen the lack of respect for educators, our health care providers have been standing alone battling a pandemic without the kind of leadership needed from the Governor's Office," Hofmeister added.

Hofmeister serves on or leads more than 40 commissions and boards in the state, including the boards of Career and Technology Education and the Regional University System of Oklahoma, where she has observed the governor's involvement. She said Oklahoma lacks a long-term investment plan for items such as public education, health and rural infrastructure.

"I'm seeing these things erode and relationships are broken, and it all begins at the top," she said. "Oklahomans don't like partisanship or pitting neighbor against neighbor, family against family."

Donelle Harder, Stitt's 2022 campaign manager, issued a statement to Newsweek on Thursday in response to Hofmeister's comments.

"Under Governor Kevin Stitt's leadership, the State has increased its funding of public education to historic highs and enacted another teacher pay raise all while lowering taxes and building the State's largest savings account," Harder said.

"Oklahomans across the state overwhelming support Stitt's results-oriented, conservative leadership. After decades of politicians leaving us in last place, Stitt has already established a proven track record of progressing Oklahoma towards Top Ten in critical categories while protecting our freedoms and core values."

Hofmeister addressed her decision to change party on Wednesday and said that it was less important than her appeal to Republican, Democratic and independent voters.

"My loyalty is to Oklahoma families, not to structures or party," she said. "I am changing parties, but I haven't changed who I am. I have the same values, and they haven't changed."

"How do we move Oklahoma forward? It begins with strong families, providing access to quality health care, education and infrastructure," Hofmeister said.

Hofmeister acknowledged that trying to unseat Stitt would be a "tough fight" but "there is too much at stake to not fight for something better."

The state superintendent will first have to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary on June 28 where former state Senator Connie Johnson is also running. In 2018, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate was former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmonson. He was defeated and won just over 42 percent of the vote.

Kevin Stitt Speaks at a Roundtable
Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt speaks during a roundtable discussion with US President Donald Trump about economic reopening of closures due to COVID-19, known as coronavirus, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, June 18, 2020. Oklahoma's state superintendent is changing party to the Democrats in order to run against Stitt. SAUL LOEB / AFP/Getty Images