ENID, Okla. —
Buddy Wood always has been a Democrat. Always.
Just not now.
Like most voters in Beckham County, a rural plain that straddles Interstate 40 on the Texas line, Wood registered with the Democratic Party when it came time to vote. It’s a family tradition going back to when his father was in politics.
But as 2014’s election cycle approached, the Elk City superintendent wrestled with a decision that has crossed many educators’ minds this year. He checked the box to become one of Oklahoma’s newest Republicans.
“My dad would probably roll over in his grave,” Wood said last week.
It took about a second for him to rethink that statement.
“No, he wouldn’t, because he knows that I’m trying to make a good decision here,” he said. “I feel like the change that needs to be made from the state level is very necessary.”
Wood is one of dozens of superintendents who have become Republican in advance of the June 24 primary between incumbent Janet Barresi, Joy Hofmeister and Brian Kelly.
He plans to switch back after the election.
Local superintendents aren’t alone when it comes to switching parties. An Enid News & Eagle study of teacher certification and voter data showed more than 1,200 educators re-registered with the GOP since May 2013.
That’s somewhere between one in six and one-fifth of all converts.
Lawton school district had the most number of teachers join the GOP, but Elk City came in second with 50, roughly 27 percent of their certified staff.
These figures do not include teachers who already were Republican or who weren’t registered to vote last year.
“I made the switch because I want to do what’s best for Oklahoma. And what’s best for Oklahoma is getting somebody new in that position of state superintendent of public instruction,” said Enid High School government teacher Matt Holtzen, who was one of seven in his district to switch.
Voting in the GOP primary, he said, will ensure better options come November.
“We’re the ones on the front lines. We’re the ones who see the impacts of the decisions made by our elected officials,” Holtzen said. “Teachers are the first to respond to any problems they see coming down the pike.”
As Oklahoma’s superintendent of public instruction, Barresi has sustained withering attacks from the education community since she was first elected four years ago. She’s led a State Department of Education that has been criticized for the way it implemented student testing and evaluated school districts. She now faces a well-funded primary opponent in Hofmeister, who described Barresi’s first term as a “reign of terror.”
“The morale in public education, in Elk City, is as low as I’ve ever seen it,” Wood said. “Ever. In 34 years.”
Hofmeister previously served on the state Board of Education. The other Republican in the race, Brian Kelly, is a longtime educator who lives in Edmond.
Barresi has maintained her commitment to improve education and says the changes in education policy have been to raise the bar and increase accountability. In February, she told an Enid News & Eagle reporter that policy changes are hard to accept.
“My primary opposition is focused on making adults happy,” she said.
Barresi’s campaign was asked to comment on this story but had not replied before deadline Saturday.