Oklahoma House of Representatives District 88 contains many well-known OKC landmarks: Oklahoma City University, the Paseo and the Plaza District. In the primary election on June 28, Democrats and registered independent voters will choose who advances to the general election. The winner will face independent candidate Jed Green on Nov. 8.
Incumbent Rep. Mauree Turner (they/them) faces Joe Lewis (he/him). Both recently shared their stories and ambitions for making HD 88 and Oklahoma, a better place.
The candidates on what led them to advocacy and the issues that matter most to them.
Though they never imagined themself becoming a politician, when they look back, they see the path to public office was inevitable.
“Growing up as a Black Muslim-American Queer Womxn, in Oklahoma of all places, I shared the collective experience of not being seen or heard by the folks that make laws about our lives, like many Oklahomans that share House District 88 with me,” Turner said.
“My mother and my grandmother instilled in me the importance of community organizing early on in life, and a key component of that is bridge-building. One of the key things that I hear about what’s going on within our district, and even more so within Oklahoma as a whole, is that people don’t know what resources are available to them. They don’t know who provides what services and even more so we have so many people that fall through the cracks where services fall short,” they said on their website.
- Photo provided
- Lewis (left) at the Diapers for Dads event.
Two of Lewis’s greatest inspirations have been his mother and his experience in the Marine Corps.
“My mother is the hardest working person I know. She had me at 15 years old and faced tremendous adversity as a single mom. I have seen her struggle throughout my life, but she always managed to pull through. That’s why women’s issues are very important to me, including equal pay, maternity leave, and a woman’s right-to-choose,” Lewis said.
“My time in the Marine Corps shaped me and made me the man I am today by serving on the biggest stage. It showed me that a group of young people from all walks of life can come together and achieve greater things as a whole, than by themselves—we are a brotherhood and that can never be taken away,” he said.
The candidates on their legislative priorities
Turner explained that “toning down” the message is not always productive. Some fellow legislators “already don’t like the package” that is delivering the message, so it’s best to aim for the fully-realized vision of the policy changes that Oklahomans need.
The policy issues that Turner has dedicated their energy to include advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights, criminal justice reform, equity issues, voter rights, issues regarding bodily autonomy, and creating better access to services, resources, and housing.
“Ultimately to create more access to resources like night shelters, shelters for unhoused families, transitional housing, healthcare, quality education, guidance counselors and a safe space to talk about mental health issues and get release from difficult emotions, support to prevent and end dangerous self-medication, access to Narcan and clean needles...Even when you’re not doing well you still deserve to be here and be alive. Imagine a world where we had [sufficient] resources and didn’t have to rely on prisons to fill in the gap,” Turner said.
Turner also advocates for better access to voting, having already penned a bill that calls for automatic voter registration when people turn 18 years of age and another that would require county election boards to deliver absentee ballots to people in holding facilities or jails before their trials, while they’re still eligible to vote but unable to physically get to the polls. Ultimately, Turner believes that all people should retain the right to vote, even after a conviction, since encouraging people to stay engaged in civic matters could be an integral component toward rehabilitation.
Turner believes that our criminal justice system should be focused on rehabilitation, not revenge.
A big part of that, according to Turner, is helping people get services they need: shelters for unhoused families to stay together, transitional housing, better access to healthcare, better teacher compensation for the highest-quality education, more guidance counselors in schools to give students a safe space for mental health conversations, and other support that prevents dangerous forms of self-medication when people have nowhere else to turn.
In his door-knocking conversations, Lewis learned that the following issues are very important to HD 88 constituents: “Modernizing our school system, working on the homeless situation in House District 88, defending women’s rights, eliminating sales tax and property tax on the elderly and retired,” he said.
His long-term legislative goals include school reform, police reform, and better services and support for veterans.
“One of the issues I plan to focus on is our public school system. Our school systems are suffering and we need to start advancing into the 21st century in this technological age. Our school system was built around the Industrial Revolution, i.e., the eight-hour work day, where we sit down, shut up, and do what you’re told. I believe we need two pipelines: one for college prep, and the other into trade or vocational training to prepare students for trade careers even before they exit high school. We need to be teaching kids how to run a business, how to set up LLCs, and corporations, etc. Our youth is our future and we need to do everything we can to set them up for success in this world,” he said.
“We need to get back to re-funding our police force, but we also need to pay close attention and make sure that some of that money is being spent on mental health services and de-militarizing police. Also, getting rid of no-knock warrants. Even the military started moving away from these tactics later in the war,” Lewis said.
“Lastly and most importantly, I want to focus on our veterans. I’m sick of politicians using veterans for votes and doing very little for our community. We need programs for our veterans to transition their skills gained in the military into real world careers. For example, we need to remove the obstacles for our service members who provide health care support in the military to easily get licensed when they enter the civilian workforce. We also need better programs addressing veteran mental health and a better transition system for veterans returning home, because 22 veterans taking their own lives every day is way too many,” he said.
The candidates on how you can get involved in making your own community better
Turner recommends forming a bill-watching network with friends or community groups and taking action by contacting representatives or the authors of a bill with specific concerns. Turner has seen this work to successfully stop harmful legislation.
Turner encourages people to run for office.
“The new, better leadership you’re looking for might honestly be you,” they said. “Maybe we need people in leadership who look a little different, act a little different, and think a little bit different.”
“If you’re not sure where to start, you can first go to the people or groups in your community who are already working on the issues that matter to you. Maybe you live in a food desert, and you could work on finding resources for starting a public garden. Maybe your community needs better after-school programs to support working parents. Maybe the community needs more places to provide healthy release outlets after work or school,” they said.
“That question is going to be different for every person, so the question they have to ask themselves is, ‘What do I care about, what do I want to change in this world, and where do you want your impact to be?’ Once you can answer those questions, the easiest thing to do is volunteer, seek out organizations you care about, or put your own thing together,” Lewis said.
In his own volunteer work, Lewis has been active with Parent Promise in their “Field of Flags” event to advocate for loving and nurturing homes for children. He also recently worked with his American Legion post on an eight-mile ruck march on National POW/MIA Recognition Day to raise money for service dogs for disabled vets through Honoring America’s Warriors.