2022 Elections Generating Interest
While both Stitt and Lankford are still considered early favorites in their respective contests, that is by no means certain.
One might have predicted that the 2022 elections in Oklahoma would have generated only mild excitement. After all, with a Democrat in the White House, Republicans are expected to pick up a host of seats in Congress nationally, and Republicans already in office in Oklahoma – in either Congress, the state legislature, or in statewide elective office – should have an easy time getting reelected.
Governor Kevin Stitt was a surprise winner of the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2018, and an easy winner of the general election (no Democrat has won the governorship since Brad Henry was reelected in 2006), and the electoral climate would seem to guarantee smooth sailing for him in 2022.
Likewise, Republican incumbent U.S. Senator James Lankford – first elected to the Senate in 2014 to fill the unexpired term of Tom Coburn, and easily reelected in 2016 – seemed a shoo-in for a second term.
While both Stitt and Lankford are still considered early favorites in their respective contests, that is by no means certain. Both recently gained additional challengers.
Lankford, 53, angered many ardent supporters of President Donald Trump when he chose NOT to support the effort to investigate the disputed 2020 presidential election on January 6th of this year, after initially saying he would do so. Many believe that in several states – Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin – there was organized vote fraud which prevented the reelection of President Donald Trump. But after the unlawful entry into the U.S. Capitol by some Trump supporters and others (it is in dispute exactly how many of those invading the building really were Trump backers), Lankford backed off of the investigation.
Lankford was attacked by some advocates of the Tulsa Race Massacre Commission, due to his support of the effort to investigate the charges of election fraud, and buckled under after the absurd insinuation that he was a racist. “What I did not realize,” Lankford wrote in a letter pleading for forgiveness, “was all the national conversation about states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, was seen as casting doubt on the validity of votes coming out of predominantly black communities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Detroit.” Lankford added, “I can assure you, my intent to give a voice to Oklahomans who had questions was never an intent to diminish the voice of any black American.” Finally, a contrite Lankford said, “I should have recognized how what I said and what I did could be interpreted by many of you. I deeply regret my blindness to that perception, and for that I am sorry.”
This, and some other statements and policies of Lankford during his tenure have caused opposition within his own Republican Party. While Lankford has hardly had a liberal voting record, many contend that he could be much better.
A 29-year-old Tulsa minister, Jackson Lahmeyer, announced on March 9 that he would run against Lankford in the Republican primary. Ordinarily, this would seem to be a delusional undertaking, but Lahmeyer has obtained the endorsement of the Republican Party’s state chairman, John Bennett, and former Trump National Security Advisor, retired General Michael Flynn. Republican Party officials have often tacitly supported incumbents over challengers, even if not publicly, but it is unheard of for a state party chairman to endorse a candidate in the Republican Party primary in opposition to the incumbent senator. Lahmeyer is pastor of the Sheridan Christian Center, and the owner of Lahmeyer Investment Company. He is a political newcomer and thus has no voting record to document his position on issues.
Even more threatening to Lankford is the recent announcement by state Senator Nathan Dahm of Broken Arrow that he, too, will challenge the incumbent in next year’s Republican primary. Dahm, 38, is considered the most conservative senator in the Oklahoma Legislature. He has a cumulative average of 99% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index published by the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper.
Dahm ran for the First District seat in Congress in 2010 prior to his election to the Oklahoma Senate in 2012, and ran again for the seat in Congress in 2018. He was reelected to the state Senate in 2020 and is term-limited and will not be able to run again in 2024. Dahm has sponsored legislation to protect the life of the unborn and to protect the right to keep and bear arms.
While Lahmeyer is tying himself to former President Trump as much as he can, so is Dahm. Dahm argues that Trump gave the country a booming economy, gained tax relief for the middle class, cut bureaucratic red tape, kept American out of foreign wars, and kept the nation safe. “What did he get for it?” Dahm asked, adding, “He got abandoned by spineless politicians. [No doubt a reference to Lankford]. They turned on President Trump ... They want Trump Republican like me to stay quiet and roll over as they usher in their new normal.”
Dahm vows not to “roll over.”
His campaign is based upon stopping Critical Race Theory, defending the Right to Life and the Second Amendment, securing America’s borders and opposing vaccine passports.
Lahmeyer is apparently miffed at Dahm’s entry into the race, and accused the Washington “Establishment” of recruiting Dahm as a “spoiler candidate,” to prevent Lahmeyer from beating Lankford.
A third Republican challenger has also announced intentions to run. Joan Farr, 65, of Tulsa is a pre-litigation consultant and legal reform activist. She ran for the U.S. Senate seat held by Jim Inhofe as an independent in 2014 and 2020. But, this time she is running as a Republican. In the 2020 General Election she received only 1.39% of the vote against Inhofe.
Three Democrats have also announced their intentions to run. Oklahoma City attorney Jason Bollinger, 29, received accounting and law degrees at the University of Oklahoma. He worked for the U.S. State Department in Washington in 2017 and 2018 before beginning his law practice in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma voters have not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1990, when David Boren won a third term.
Bevon Rogers, 32, of Hugo is a technical writer and is also running for the Democrat nomination. He ran for a seat in the Oklahoma Senate in 2020 and lost in the Democrat primary election. He is a member of the Cherokee Nation.
At the end of October, a third Democrat joined the race for U.S. Senate. Madison Horn says she was “called to fight against the political agendas that are weakening our democracy, with self-interest and putting politics ahead of what's best for our country.” For the last decade she has worked for various firms involving Cyber and Digital Security.
In 2018, Kevin Stitt ran as a businessman and a political outsider. Stitt received an accounting degree from Oklahoma State University in 1996 and after graduation worked in the mortgage loan industry. He started Gateway Mortgage Group in 2000 “with only $1,000 and a computer.” Gateway grew into an enterprise employing over 1,100 people, and had 145 offices in 40 states. In the 2018 General Election, Stitt won the governorship with 54.33 percent of the vote.
Stittt has generally received high marks from conservatives for his handling of the pandemic. He has exercised fiscal restraint and pushed to place more money in the state “rainy day” savings account. He has also carried through with his pledge to sign any anti-abortion bill that reached his desk.
Thus far, Governor Stitt, 48, faces no serious challenge within the Republican Party. But, he does have a challenger for the Republican nomination.
Dr. Mark Sherwood is a certified Naturopathic Doctor and he and his wife Michele, a Doctor of Osteopathy, founded the Functional Medical Institute, a wellness-based medical practice in Tulsa. The Sherwoods have authored three best-selling books on diet and health. He previously served 24 years in the Tulsa Police Department, including service on the department’s SWAT Team. He is a former Oklahoma state and regional bodybuilding champion, and an ex-professional baseball player. Sherwood says our children are being taught to hate people based on their race in publicly funded schools, hospitals are enforcing medical protocols that are killing people, and legal abortion is claiming thousands of lives each year in Oklahoma.
The first Democrat to announce for the race was former state Senator Connie Johnson of Oklahoma City. Johnson, 69, was the Democrat nominee against Senator Lankford when he ran for a full-term in 2014. She received 29% of the vote in that race. Johnson was among the most liberal members of the state Senate with a cumulative average of just 12% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. She ran for governor in 2018, and lost the Democrat nomination to former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson who went on to be defeated by Stitt in the General Election. She is opposed to the death penalty and has a solid pro-abortion voting record. She was one of the leaders of a failed effort to get an initiative petition on the ballot to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Oklahoma.
In October, State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, 57, announced that she had changed her registration to Democrat and would seek the Democratic Party nomination for governor. In 2014, Hofmeister was elected state school superintendent as a Republican, and was reelected in 2018. In 2014, the incumbent Republican state school superintendent, Janet Barresi, had supported Common Core’s implementation in Oklahoma’s public schools for months (until switching very late in her reelection campaign to opposition when activist Republicans strongly opposed it). At the time, Hofmeister told the editor of the Oklahoma Constitution that she opposed Common Core, and that she was a conservative Republican. Despite such assurances, Hofmeister has been more in the camp of the liberal school lobby than she was ever in the camp of Republicans, opposing Governor Stitt’s opposition to mask mandates in the schools, for example.
Most Democrats seem to be welcoming her with open arms. State House Minority Leader Emily Virgin of Norman acknowledged that some Democrats are wary of her sincerity in becoming a Democrat [after all, she has already switched once – Editor], “But in terms of education and healthcare, I think that Joy already has a pretty good handle on those issues and has been fighting for public education for a long time, which is always the number one issue that comes to me from Oklahomans and Democrats, specifically.” Virgin added that the Republican Party in Oklahoma has become “more and more radical and less and less open to people who might hold some different views.” [As though Virgin is wide open to the views of Republicans – Editor]. Other Democrats in addition to Virgin tended to express similar views about Hofmeister.
Hofmeister claims that Stitt has “hijacked the Republican Party here in Oklahoma.” She added, “I am confident that there are so many Oklahomans who are tired of extremism, and like me, they are fed up with partisanship and ineffective leadership.” The claims of Virgin and Hofmeister ring rather hollow, however, when one considers that since Stitt became governor in 2015, 80,000 Oklahomans have left the Democratic Party, and 100,000 others have registered as Republicans, according to Donelle Harder, Stitt’s campaign manager. She argued that Stitt is the most popular Republican official in the state. “Above all else,” Harder said, “Oklahomans want someone focused on the next generation and not the next election, and that’s the common-sense leadership Stitt brings to the governor’s office.”
The Oklahoma Libertarian Party also has an announced candidate for governor. Natalie Bruno, 35, has been a digital marketer and advertiser in Oklahoma for several years working for companies like Cox Media, Tyler Media, Gatehouse Media, the Oklahoman, and is currently the Director of Digital Strategy at Skyline Media Group. She was the Marketing Director for the Jo Jorgensen and Spike Cohen Presidential/Vice-Presidential campaign in 2020.
Two independent candidates have also announced for the race. Former state Senator Ervin Yen, 67, of Oklahoma City announced last year that he was going to challenge Gov. Stitt for the GOP nomination. But, in October he announced that he had changed his registration from Republican to Independent and will continue his gubernatorial race. He was a registered as a Democrat before changing to Republican prior to his run for the state senate. Yen was elected to the Oklahoma Senate in 2014 and served one term before being defeated for reelection in 2018. He was the first Asian American to serve in that body, and also the most liberal Republican to serve in the Senate with a cumulative average of just 24% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. Dr. Yen, an anesthesiologist, has been critical of Governor Stitt’s handling of the COVID pandemic and called for a statewide mask mandate. While serving in the Senate, he pushed for the elimination of religious and personal exemptions for the vaccination of children.
Paul Tay, 58, of Tulsa announced that he was running for governor as an independent. Tay has previously run for various offices in Tulsa including the Tulsa City Council and mayor. Last year Tay filed an initiative petition to place a State Question on the Oklahoma ballot for legalization of the use of marijuana and to exonerate and/or release from incarceration those previously convicted. The measure failed to reach the ballot. It is not clear if Tay will be continuing his campaign for governor. In August, he was arrested and charged with kidnaping and raping a woman in Tulsa who had responded to an ad for a job on Tay’s gubernatorial campaign.
An article exploring of the status of the races for other statewide offices and the U.S. House of Representatives is found elsewhere in this edition.