Novotny said constituents focused on jobs and education, not her gender identity; 2 gay candidates also running for Legislature
Brittany Novotny, 30, filed to run for Oklahoma State Representative in House District 84 on Tuesday, June 8.
Novotny is an attorney with her own law practice and is transgender. Her opponent is three-term incumbent Sally Kern.
Kern made headlines in 2008 when she called homosexuality more dangerous than terrorism. And for the Fourth of July last year, Kern issued her "Oklahoma Citizen’s Proclamation for Morality" blaming the country’s financial problems on same-sex marriage, divorce, pornography, sex trafficking, child abuse and "many other forms of debauchery."
In a written statement officially announcing about her candidacy, Novotny directly addressed her gender identity.
"I understand there are going to be some folks who try to make this election about the fact that my medical history includes a gender transition, but I’m running for office because I believe I’m the best candidate to fight for jobs, education, and transportation," she said.
Jim Roth, an Oklahoma County commissioner in private law practice since 2009, was one of Oklanhoma’s first openly gay elected officials. He said Novotny’s gender identity is not an issue.
Roth said he first met Novotny four years ago when she called to talk to him about running for public office, and that she got into politics for all the right reasons.
"Politics is a comparative sport," Roth said, when asked about Novotny’s chances at winning a seat in the state House.
Kern, he said, is a "one-issue attack extremist. She’s abused her public office by abusing people."
Novotny was born in Chickasha, Okla., about 40 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. She graduated from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma and earned her law degree from University of Californiaâ€“Hastings.
She has been an active member of Young Democrats and was recently recognized as Young Democrats of Oklahoma 2010 Woman of the Year.
If she defeats Kern, Novotny would be the first transgender person in the United States elected to a state legislature.
She would not be the first member of the LGBT community elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives, however. Al McAffrey was elected in 2006 and is running for his third term in November. His district includes downtown Oklahoma City, the Murrah Federal Building bombing site and the State Capitol grounds. McAffrey is a Navy veteran and former Oklahoma City police officer.
Kern’s district, for which Novotny is vying, includes Northwest Oklahoma City and the towns of Bethany and Warr Acres.
A second gay candidate is running for the Oklahoma legislature as well. Tom Kovach has served two terms on the Norman City Council and is running for an open seat. He is in a four-way primary race that will be held on July 27. The winner of the primary is expected to win in November.
Both McAffrey and Kovach have the endorsement of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
Novotny has taken Victory Fund candidate training but has not sought their endorsement.
"Tom is in a very good position to win," said Victory Fund spokesman Denis Dison. "He’s a known quantity with a good record."
Dison called that district, which is south of Oklahoma City and includes the Oklahoma University campus, one of the most liberal in the state.
"Right now I’m on the city council," Kovach said. "My ward is 40 percent of the district so most people here are familiar with me."
He said he faces three other candidates in the primary.
"Two of them are college students in their early 20s," he said.
The third person was a surprise last-minute filing and has mounted no campaign with just six week left before the primary.
Although his chances look good, Kovach is taking nothing for granted. He is taking the primary seriously, and he said the Republican challenger in the fall looks quite credible.
"There are enough independents in the district that there could be an upset," he said.
Dison had no comment on Novotny’s race because she has not applied for Victory Fund’s endorsement.
Novotny said Kerns is "out of touch with mainstream Oklahomans, ineffective at solving problems and bad for business."
"I think our chances are really great," Novotny said. "People are ready for a change."
Novotny has spoken to Houston Mayor Annise Parker and has taken a page from her campaign. She sticks to the issues and said she will focus on education and creating jobs.
"To execute the plan we have in place, we need $100,000," she said.
So far she has raised almost $20,000 for her campaign and has a very large small-donor base of people who have contributed $50 or less.
She said she did not think being transgender would become an issue in the race.
"The Oklahomans I know are not focused on that issue," she said.
The top news item on Kern’s website, however, is "President Obama Declares June ‘Gay Pride Month.’" The story begins, "Happy sexual deviance month."
Kern also warns her constituents about giving information to census workers. Her approach to healthcare is, "Individuals need to take more responsibility for their health by seeking to live more healthy lifestyles with an emphasis on disease prevention," according to her website.
Kern is a graduate of University of Texas at Arlington. Her husband is a Baptist minister. During her three terms in office, she has sponsored little legislation.
Of the three LGBT candidates running for the Oklahoma House, Novotny is in the most conservative district.
"I’ve never had anyone treat me any differently at the door," she said.
She said the Oklahoma Democratic Party has been very supportive and helped her find her campaign manager.
Novotny said she expects about 13,000 votes to be cast in the race, and "I plan to get to as many of those doors as I can."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 11, 2010.