ELECTION 2012: Former school teacher emphasizes education
Growing up in rural Pottawatomie County, farming was not something Paula Roberts was particularly fond of. Visiting the hen house and coming face to face with its cackling chickens terrified the young girl.
“My siblings used to always tease me and tell me I was adopted because I didn’t like farm work,” Roberts said. Roberts never learned to like farm work, but she did learn from her parents the importance of education.
“Both my parents did not finish high school because they couldn’t, so it was important to them that their children get educated,” Roberts said.
Roberts eventually went on to achieve what her parents never had the opportunity to do — earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
That education afforded her the opportunity to teach and serve as the Cleveland County Election Board secretary.
Today, Roberts is using her education to enter something far more terrifying than a hen house: the political arena. She will run against incumbent Republican Aaron Stiles for a seat representing Norman House District 45.
Running against an incumbent poses an additional challenge.
“You need ammunition in order to beat an incumbent. Aaron has had his fair share of controversies, so that gives Paula some ammo, but that still might not be enough,” said Bill Nations, former state representative.
Facing a challenge is nothing new for Roberts, who used to be a military wife. During her husband’s service, the couple moved around and once was stationed in Okinawa, Japan.
“Arriving in Okinawa, the culture shock was huge,” Roberts said. “We were the minorities.”
She said this experience taught her to become more open-minded.
Another personal challenge came in February 1999, when Roberts went in for a routine check-up at the doctor’s office and learned she had breast cancer.
“It was devastating.” Roberts said. “You ask yourself, ‘Why me?’ But then you realize, ‘OK, this is the situation, and now I have to research, look at my options and deal with it.’”
Roberts did deal with it, fought and won. She credits the experience with leading her to a more positive outlook on life.
“You realize your time on earth is limited,” Roberts said. “You have to make the best of it.”
In the end, the office will be won or lost on the doorstep because voters will vote for the candidates who establish themselves as more likeable than their opponents, OU political science professor Gaddie said.
“People vote for the people they’d like to have coffee with in their living room,” Nations said. “Paula can make the argument that she is that person.”
Correction: The original version of this story did not properly introduce OU political science professor Keith Gaddie on the first reference.