Republicans Make Gains in Legislature
A number of legislators were not able to run for reelection in 2020 due to term limits. Voters overwhelmingly adopted a State Question in 1990 that placed term limits on lawmakers. It took effect in 1992, but did not affect previous years of service. Legislators are limited to a total combined service in the House and/or Senate of 12 years.
In 2020 there were only five legislators who could not run for reelection because of term limits, all were Republicans. This was down considerably from 2018 when 18 seats were open due to term limits. This was largely the result of the large number of incumbents defeated two years ago who would have been term-limited this time. Four members of the Oklahoma House were ineligible to run this time. Term-limited representatives included: Lewis Moore (R-Arcadia), Charles Ortega (R-Altus), Mike Sanders (R-Kingfisher), and Harold Wright (R-Weatherford). Sen. Gary Stanislawski (R-Tulsa) was the only member of the Senate unable to seek re-election in 2020.
A number of other legislators decided not to run, even though they were not term-limited. Rep. Johnny Tadlock (R-Idabel), who changed his registration from Democrat to Republican after being re-elected without opposition in 2018, chose not to seek another term in 2020. Rep. Ben Loring (D-Miami) did not run, and Rep. David Perryman (D-Chickasha) also decided not to seek reelection. Sen. Joseph Silk (R-Broken Bow) chose not to run for reelection, opting to run for Congress in the second district. He lost in the Republican Primary on June 30 to Congressman Markwayne Mullin. State Senator Jason Smalley (R-Stroud) resigned on January 31, which created a vacancy in the Senate which was filled as part of the regular election. His replacement will serve the remainder of the unexpired term.
State Senate Elections
Senators serve four-year terms, with half of the seats up for election each election cycle. The even numbered districts will not be on the ballot until 2022. The odd numbered seats were up for election in 2020. Republicans held a 38-9 majority in the 48-member Senate with one seat vacant (Sen. Smalley). Republicans hold 19 of the even numbered seats that were not on the 2020 ballot (excluding the vacant seat), with Democrats holding four. The even numbered vacant seat, which was held by a Republican, was filled in the 2020 election. So, the GOP only needed to hold six of the 25 seats up for election in 2020 to maintain control.
Eight senators were automatically elected because no other candidates filed, or their opponents withdrew or were stricken from the ballot after filing. Seven of those were Republicans, and one a Democrat. Democrats did not field a candidate in four districts, so Republicans were guaranteed to win those seats in the primary elections. Therefore, Republicans were sure to hold 11 of the seats on the ballot. Voters cast ballots in 12 state Senate districts in the June 30 primary elections. Sen. Wayne Shaw (R-Grove) lost to GOP challenger Blake “Cowboy” Stephens after having held his northeastern Oklahoma seat for eight years. Stephens was among the candidates who ran for governor in 2018. Sen. Shaw had a 55 percent cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index, classifying him as a RINO (Republican In Name Only). Three other incumbents – Sen. Larry Boggs (R-Wilburton), Sen. Ron Sharp (R-Shawnee), and Sen. Paul Scott (R-Duncan) – failed to secure renomination in the June 30 primaries and had to compete in a runoff primary election for their seats on August 25. Based on their cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index, the three were considered RINOs and they were defeated in the runoff elections. Senator Boggs (62 percent conservative average) was defeated by Warren Hamilton of McCurtain. Senator Sharp (54 percent conservative average) was defeated by former state Rep. Shane Jett of Shawnee who served from 2005-2010. Rep. Jett’s conservative average was only 49 percent, but scored 70 percent in his final year. Senator Scott (49 percent conservative average) was defeated by Jessica Garvin of Duncan. The three victors in those races went on to win election in November. Four other Senate races, all of which drew only Republican candidates, were decided in the June 30 primary elections. Senate District 28, which has been vacant since former Sen. Jason Smalley stepped down to accept a job with Motorola Solutions Corp., saw a three-way race. Rep. Zack Taylor (R-Seminole) emerged victorious with 59 percent of the vote to take that seat. Rep. Taylor received a 90 percent score this year on the Oklahoma Conservative Index, which brought his cumulative average up to 73 percent.
There were still 13 senate seats to be decided in the General Election. The Libertarian Party only fielded a candidate in one race, and Democrats did not have a candidate for that seat.
One incumbent state senator was defeated in November. In Senate District 37, Democrat Sen. Allison Ikley-Freeman of Tulsa was defeated by Republican challenger Cody Rogers of Tulsa. Senator Ikley-Freeman won the seat in a special election and was one of the self-proclaimed lesbian’s in the Legislature. In Senate District 35, which was previously held by a Republican but vacant due to term limits, was taken by Tulsa Democrat Jo Anna Dossett. So, Republicans maintained their 38 seat majority, with Democrats holding 9 seats, and Senator Bice’s vacant seat to be decided in a Special Election.
State House Elections
All 101 House seats are up for election each election cycle. Prior to the start of the 2020 elections, the House had 77 Republicans, 23 Democrats, and one vacant seat that had been held by a Democrat.
Because no other candidates filed, or their opponents withdrew or were stricken from the ballot after filing, 42 members of the House were automatically elected. That number included 38 Republicans and just four Democrats. All but one was an incumbent. An additional 19 Republicans and 2 Democrats were elected in the June 30 primaries, since they had no opposition in the General Election. This included 18 incumbents – 16 Republicans and two Democrats. In addition, three House seats where there was not an incumbent, were secured by legislative newcomers who did not have opposition in the General Election. Those three seat were taken by Republicans.
Two Republican incumbent representatives lost in the primaries on June 30, along with one Democrat. Former state Rep. Rick West (R-Poteau) defeated Rep. Lundy Kiger (R-Poteau) to win back the House District 3 seat that he vacated in 2018. West had a 77 percent cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index, compared to Kiger’s 70 percent score. Also, first-term Rep. Derrel Fincher (R-Bartlesville), 50 percent conservative average, was defeated by Wendi Stearman of Collinsville in House District 11. The only Democrat incumbent to lose a House seat was Rep. Jason Dunnington (D-Oklahoma City). Dunnington had an 18 percent cumulative conservative average and scored a mere 6 percent on the Oklahoma Conservative Index this year, but was defeated by a more extreme liberal challenger, Mauree Turner. “Growing up as a Black, Muslim, queer woman in Oklahoma, I never thought that something like this would be possible,” said Turner following her win over Dunnington. All three victors in those races went on to win election in the General Election in November.
Republicans won a seat in the August 25 runoff primary with Preston Stinson capturing the House District 96 nomination. Stinson of Edmond was elected to the seat since the Democrat candidate dropped out earlier in the summer.
There were 37 seats at stake in the General Election. The Libertarian Party only fielded a candidate in one of the races, and there were independent candidates in two races. Republicans won 24 seats and Democrats were successful in 13. Three incumbent Democrats lost their races to Republicans, and Republicans also picked up two open seats vacated by Democrats. In the November election, 26 incumbents won reelection to the House.
In House District 4, Republicans took one of the few remaining rural seats held by a Democrat. Republican Bob Ed Culver of Tahlequah defeated Democrat Rep. Matt Meredith (31 percent conservative average), also of Tahlequah. In House District 83, Republican Eric Roberts of Oklahoma City defeated Democrat Rep. Chelsey Branham (12 percent conservative average) of The Village and some surrounding Oklahoma City areas. She was elected in 2018, flipping the prevciously Republican district. And, in House District 95, Republican Max Wolfley of Oklahoma City defeated Democrat Rep. Kelly Albright (10 percent conservative average) of Midwest City. She was elected in 2018.
In House District 56, Republican Dick Lowe of Amber defeated Democrat Craig Parham of Chickasha. The district was represented by Democrat David Perryman (34 percent conservative average) who opted not to run again.
So, Republicans ended up the year increasing their numbers in the House to 82 seats, while Democrats saw their numbers drop to only 19 seats.