Abby Broyles said she “was happy being a journalist” and new lawyer when she decided to jump into politics and challenge U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe for the post he has held since his election in 1994.
Broyles, who snagged the Democratic nomination June 30 with more than 60% of the votes cast in a four-way race, said Inhofe’s response to complaints about housing conditions at Tinker Air Force Base prompted her decision. The broadcast journalist who worked at Oklahoma City television station KFOR said while she had covered the Oklahoma Legislature and the state’s congressional delegation for some time, the story about mold and asbestos contamination at on- and off-base housing “really bothered me.”
“These families called and emailed his office for months and got no response, and the conditions were so bad they had to move in to RVs across the street from their homes,” Broyles said. “It was almost two years before he finally came to Tinker to address this ..., and I was watching him tell these families how nice their housing was and ... I just thought, ‘He is completely out of touch with the people he’s supposed to be representing.’”
Broyles, who was admitted on Sept. 24 to practice law, made the decision in October — shortly after Inhofe’s press conference at Tinker — to step down from her job. She launched her campaign for the Democratic nomination in November and has been criss-crossing the state since the June 30 primary drumming up support for her general election bid on Nov. 3.
“There’s lots of Democratic enthusiasm this year, and a lot of people are just really hungry for change,” Broyles said during a stop Tuesday for an interview with the Phoenix. “Sen. Inhofe has been in office in the Senate since ‘94 — he’s been in D.C. since 1987 — and folks think he’s out of touch.”
Broyles, who never expected to be campaigning during a public health crisis, said she has visited with people while sitting in their living rooms, “listening to families and the struggles they’re going through.” She said the incumbent “comes in here a few times a year” and “goes to his vacation home up on Grand Lake, but he’s not in tune with the needs and the wants of Oklahomans.”
The Democratic challenger said health care is her No. 1 priority and always has been. She said the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of that issue for so many people whose health insurance coverage is linked to their employment.
“I’ve stood in the unemployment lines in Tulsa and Oklahoma City and listened to people who are out of work,” Broyles said. “They’ve lost their health insurance because it was tied to their employer, and they simply can’t afford to go on the marketplace and shop for health insurance — I want to make health care more accessible and more affordable.”
Broyles said the passage of Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma was a good start, “but we need to do more to restore health care and the quality of health care in our rural communities.” Authorizing the “federal government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies to drive down those prices” on prescription drugs is also important component of her plan.
Broyles said steps must be taken to protect family farmers from a system of integrators “that do nothing to help our family farms” except “cut them out of the market.” She said many of the environmental issues related to agriculture are a result of “our leaders not stepping up and holding what she described as “The Big Four” integrators — like Tyson Foods and other meatpacking giants — accountable.
“I talk about uplifting family farmers,” Broyles said, recalling conversations she has had during the campaign. “They don’t want a handout, they want an open market to be able to sell their products, and I think we should be able to provide them with that.”