'The Ultimate Loyalist'

This story was written by Jamie Bullus, Oklahoma Daily
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Daily is running a series of profiles on all of Oklahoma's superdelegates. The series was created and produced by a class within the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Betty McElderry always has been two things - an Oklahoman and a Democrat.

Growing up, she watched as her grandmother, who was on an election board, had political candidates come see her and try to line up her vote. These people went to a great deal of trouble to get her grandmother to the election.

"I just thought it was very fascinating that here was this woman that all these politicians came to see to get her vote," said McElderry, current Democratic National Committeewoman.

Now in 2008, McElderry, 69, has candidates lining up for her vote, too.

They are not just any candidates, but two U.S. presidential hopefuls trying to gain the support of as many superdelegates as possible before the Democratic National Convention in August.

The importance of superdelegate support in this election could turn out to be vital to the possible nominee, if neither Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., nor Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., have enough delegates for the nomination.

Yellow dog

McElderry defines herself as a "yellow dog" Democrat, a term used to describe a loyal Democrat - a person who is such a strong Democrat that he or she would vote for a yellow dog, if it was running, instead of the Republican candidate.

"The ultimate loyalist," she explained.

McElderry's career has included promoting women's rights and serving as Oklahoma Democratic Party chair.

Another highlight of her long political career includes being chairwoman of the Oklahoma State Election Board for 12 years, beginning in 1987.

"I was chairman when we were the first in the nation that went to computers [for voting]," McElderry said. "We really have one of the best election systems in the United States. We vote by computer but have a paper trail. There has never been an election overturned since our system has been in place."

Recently, McElderry was re-elected to her third term as Democratic National Committeewoman, focusing now on the presidential race.

McElderry said she has been surrounded and influenced by strong, independent women all of her life.

"My grandmother had a great deal of influence on me," McElderry said. "She had a career and ran a farm. I had an aunt who had her own design line. My mother was divorced and made her own way."

McElderry has been on the Governor's Commission on the Status of Women and on the board of the League of Women Voters. While serving as state president of the American Association of the University of Women, she directed a grant for education reform. She pushed for the Equal Rights Amendment, which never has been ratified in Oklahoma. For the last 30 years, she either has been a part of, or at times ran, the Oklahoma Girls State program, sponsored by The American Legion Auxiliary.

Girls State provides political and leadership citizenship training for girls between their junior and senior years of high school, McElderry said.

"I saw the inequalities in some of the things I had to go through, but here there are activities where I can open doors for young women that I didn't have," McElderry said. "When I've not been doing Democratic Party stuff, I've been doing Girls State."

A life of politics

It's hard for McElderry to imagine a time when she was not involved with politics, but in her early working years she was a sales clerk and a home economics teacher, she said. She got her first job at 15 and worked her way through college.

McElderry received a bachelor's degree in interior design and a master's degree in education from OU, she sad.

She married her husband, Neil, in 1958, between her freshman and sophomore years of college. After having two sons, she said she decided to stop teaching.

"It dawned on me that here I was teaching, and someone else was raising my children," McElderry said. "I turned down a promotion and decided that I could always go back to teaching. We had a real estate business on the family property, so I worked at home and was a mother."

Mike McElderry, her son, said his life would be drastically different without his mother, who has been an important influence in his life. He said he always marvels at how smart she is and takes her advice seriously.

"She has had a very distinguished political career," Mike McElderry said. "This has influenced me to major in government in college and gave me the opportunity to work for the Oklahoma State Senate."

Every vote counts

Currently, McElderry is one of two Oklahoma superdelegates committed to a candidate. She said she is secure in her choice for Clinton.

"She's a tough campaigner and a bright, experienced lady," McElderry said.

After following Clinton's career for a long time, McElderry said she is impressed with Clinton's politics and strength.

As a mother and former educator, McElderry said she admires the work Clinton did in Arkansas for children and education. She also was intrigued when Clinton introduced her health care reform plan.

"I've had the opportunity to be around her to a certain extent," McElderry said. "I've met her on a variety of occasions. I just think she's the strongest for the job and knows what she's doing."

McElderry is proud to say she has been involved in the election of several women, including the first female senator and the first woman elected to statewide office.

"Even though we didn't pass the Equal Rights Amendment in Oklahoma, I was very active then, and it has just been a natural thing to help move women into policy-making positions," McElderry said.

With McElderry's superdelegate vote for Clinton, Oklahomans will find out in August if she helped to do that again.
© 2008 Oklahoma Daily via U-WIRE