Special Elections Fill Vacancies in Legislature
There was some confusion due to legislative redistricting resulting from the 2010 Census. Because the redistricting act repealed the old legislative district lines effective November 1, 2011, questions arose as to who was entitled to run or vote in the elections to fill the vacancies. State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax posed the question to the Attorney General's Office in November. In a letter responding to Ziriax, Assistant Attorney General Janis W. Preslar instructed that the Legislature intended that the 2012 special elections be conducted using the new district boundaries.
Current legislators will continue in office until the next regular election. All seats in the Oklahoma House will be up for election in 2012. Since members of Oklahoma Senate serve four-year staggered terms, only half will stand for election in 2012, with the remaining seats not up until 2014. The odd-numbered Senate seats are up for election in 2012 However, special elections to fill vacancies before those regular elections will be conducted using the new state legislative districts lines.
HOUSE DISTRICT 1
One of the Special Elections was still based on the old district lines since the vacancy occurred and candidates filed for office prior to the November 1, 2011effective date for the new districts. The election to fill the vacant State Representative District 1 seat which covers the far southeast corner of Oklahoma followed the old boundary. Rep. Rusty Farley (R-Haworth) died last July 4 after suffering a pulmonary aneurysm. A Special Primary election was conducted on November 8, 2011, and the winners of the respective Democrat and Republican primaries, along with two independent candidates, squared off in the February 14 Special General Election.
The Democrat nominee, Curtis McDaniel, won the election, defeating Republican Joe Silk, and two independents. McDaniel, 59, is retiring from his position as Smithville High School principal as a result of his election. Silk is owner of a Broken Bow bed and breakfast. The independents included Farley's daughter, Bethany Farley, 28, who works at an Idabel law firm, and James Skipper, 20, a Smithville construction worker. McDaniel received 61.5 percent of the vote while Silk received 28.5 percent. Farley's daughter, Bethany, and Skipper garnered 7.4 percent and 2.6 percent of the vote respectively.
The seat had been considered safe for the Democrats until the unexpected election of Farley in 2010. But, without the advantage of Republicans at the top of the ticket providing "coattails" for those further down, the special election saw a return to past voting patterns. In the April filing for the regular 2012 election, McDaniel was the only candidate to file for the seat.
The other three Special Elections were based on the new districts: State Senator District 46 (Oklahoma County), State Senator District 20 (Kingfisher, Logan, Noble and Pawnee counties), and State Representative District 71 (Tulsa County). All three seats were assigned the same election schedule. The Special Primary Election for those seats was set for February 14 and the Special General Election was set for April 3. To win a Special Primary Election, a candidate just has to receive the most votes, unlike in regular primary elections where a candidate must win over 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff with the candidate who came in second.
SENATE DISTRICT 46
Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice (D-Oklahoma City) resigned the District 46 seat effective January 15, 2012. The district covers part of the northern Oklahoma City metro area. Rice, who has now moved to Tennessee, was elected to the post in 2006 and was reelected in 2010. The seat was not up for election again until 2014. The winner of the Special Election will serve the remainder of Rice's term. Since only two candidates filed, one Democrat and one Republican, the Primary Election was not necessary and the Special General Election was moved up to February 14. State Rep. Al McAffrey (D-Oklahoma City), 63, was first elected to the House District 88 post in 2006, and reelected in 2008 and 2010. He won the Special General Election for the Senate seat, defeating Republican Jason Reese, 33. McAffrey received 67 percent to Reese's 33 percent. Reese ran for state Labor Commissioner last year, but lost in the Republican primary. Sen. Rice had a cumulative average score of 16% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index, Rep. McAffrey's score is 11%.
While McAffrey vacated his House seat to become senator, because the vacancy occurred after the first of the year, the seat will remain vacant until filled in the regular 2012 election.
SENATE DISTRICT 20
Sen. David Myers (R-Ponca City) died November 11 after battling pneumonia. He was 73. Sen. Myers had a cumulative average score of 63% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. Since Myers was term-limited and could not have run for reelection, it became one of the districts selected to be relocated during redistricting. The new Senate District 20 covers Logan, Noble and Pawnee counties and parts of Kingfisher County. It used to cover Grant and Kay counties, and parts of Alfalfa, Garfield and Woods counties. Those areas are being absorbed by three adjoining Senate districts. Four Republicans and a Democrat filed for the relocated district.
Ann A.J. Griffin, 43, of Guthrie, won the Republican nomination in the February Primary Election and went on to defeat the lone Democrat in the race, Magnus Scott Sr., 58, of Langston in the April 3 General Election. Griffin received 79 percent of the vote and Scott 21 percent. Griffin is executive director of Logan Community Services, a nonprofit agency. The seat will be up for election again in 2014.
HOUSE DISTRICT 71
The House District 71 seat in Tulsa became vacant when House Floor Leader Dan Sullivan (R-Tulsa) resigned at the end of November to become chief executive officer of the Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA). Sullivan was first elected in 2004 and had a cumulative average score of 61% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. The new House District 71boundary includes a portion of the old House District 69.
Katie Henke, 31, gained the Republican nomination defeating four other candidates in the February Primary. She is a teacher at Riverfield Country Day School in Tulsa. Meanwhile, Democrat Dan Arthrell, 65, defeated the other Democrat in the Primary. Arthrell is an executive with a non-profit group.
The April 3rd General Election was very close. Arthrell led Henke by just three votes on election night. There were four provisional ballots which were later validated and counted, with each candidate receiving two of those votes. The initial returns, plus the four provisional ballots showed Arthrell with a 1,418-1,415 lead over Henke. After a manual recount tallied four fewer votes, all deducted from Arthrell, Henke as declared the winner by a 1,415-1,414 margin. However, two ballots were later found in a collection box under a voting machine, accounting for two of the ballots deducted from the original tally, making Arthrell the winner with a 1,416-1,415 margin.. It was also determined that two ballots which had been rejected by the vote counting machine had in fact been recorded, but election officials had issued two new ballots after those were spoiled, accounting for the two other votes missing from the manual recount. Eventually the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that a winner could not be determined and invalidated the election.
A rematch appears likely for the November election. During the April filing, Arthrell was the only Democrat to file for the seat. Henke is running for the Republican nomination again, along with perennial candidate Evelyn L. Rogers, 59, Tulsa who was one of candidates who lost to Henke in the Special Primary Election.