Are city governments becoming too partisan?


Larry Heikkila campaign sign in a Norman resident’s front lawn. Photo by: Emily Wilkerson

Emily P. Wilkerson

Mayoral and city council races are non-partisan in Oklahoma, but some candidates have made it clear they embrace party lines on issues such as mask mandates, police department funding and the banning of certain books from city and school libraries.

Three newcomers who won seats on the Enid City Council in February 2021, were endorsed by the Enid Freedom Fighters, which denies affiliation with the Republican party but espouses conservative values such as limited government and opposes mask mandates.

The grassroots Freedom Fighters took root in Garfield County because of a growing concern that freedoms across other states were being taken from the people and that local governments weren’t listening to the voices of the citizens, spokeswoman Melissa Crabtree said. 

I was watching freedoms be taken away one piece of legislation at a time (in other states) and didn’t want that to happen where I lived. We were founded in the midst of this,” Crabtree said.

The group led an unsuccessful attempt to recall outgoing commissioner Ben Ezzell, who didn’t seek re-election and who in 2020 said he planned to introduce COVID-19 mandates.

According to its mission statement, Freedom Fighters advocates for seeking the best representation at all levels of government, encouraging elected officials through their involvement, educating themselves on the issues and equipping themselves to positively contribute to the governmental process. The group also calls for limited government and more citizens being active in local politics.

“The more citizens there are involved, the more it accurately represents the people. Also the less money it takes from the people and the less regulation it sets forth, the better it is,” Crabtree said.

Freedom Fighters is not affiliated with a particular party, Crabtree said.

“Our city positions are all non-partisan. We don’t focus on party. We focus on one’s philosophy about the role of government,” Crabtree said. 

Freedom Fighters say they don’t know if they affected the Enid city council race, but the three candidates they endorsed won their races:  Keith Siragusa, Whitney Roberts and Scott Orr. None had any experience in city government.

Siragusa ran on supporting the Enid police department and improving infrastructure.  Roberts’ platform was to make city government more transparent and improve road safety, and Orr campaigned on economic growth and using tax revenue to support citizens’ wants.

Partisanship has also been an issue in cities such as Norman and Stillwater. 

In Norman, there has been growing tension over COVID-19 precautions and cutting the police budget, and it can be seen in the recent city council and mayoral elections.   

Mayoral candidate Nicole Kish posted on her campaign website that she had been endorsed by Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt.  

Incumbent Mayor Breea Clark posted a comment on her Instagram account declaring herself a “Proud Oklahoma Democrat.” Clark also backed the decision to cut the police budget when the Black Lives Matter protests sparked across the country.

Kish, a contender this year for Norman mayor, only earned 12.5% of the vote while Clark earned 36.46%. 

However, in the runoff election on April 5, Larry Heikkila, who ran on increasing police funding and changing how the city handles the homeless population, beat Clark by 6.78%.

Michael H. Crespin, director and curator at the University of Oklahoma’s Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center, says local governments focus primarily on non-partisan issues, but partisanship does leak into elections, such as with the city of Norman.

“I’d say over the last two to three years we’ve seen partisanship kind of move in a bit more. One thing I will say about local government and partisanship is sometimes some of the issues get flipped,” Crespin said.

Stillwater City Councilman Kevin Clark, who was appointed to the council to fill an unexpired term, says he does not see any partisanship going on in Stillwater city government.  

“I’ve not seen [partisanship] on the council, but we’re certainly seeing that fractionalization happen in our community,” Clark said. “We have people who come together individually or as a group to push an agenda.”  


Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. For more stories from Gaylord News visit