2018 Race for Governor
By: Constitution Staff
Oklahoma voters in presidential election years see what is known as the “short ballot.” But, in the off year elections, such as 2018, state voters have the “long ballot” which includes races for governor, lieutenant governor, a host of secondary offices, judges, congressional races, and seats in the Legislature. Since neither of Oklahoma’s two U.S. Senate seats are scheduled to be on the ballot in 2018, the statewide office that will focus the greatest attention is expected to be the gubernatorial race.
Gov. Mary Fallin, who is now entering the final two years of her second term, is prohibited by term-limits from seeking a third four-year term. On the Democrat side, the field is wide open with several prominent potential candidates already closing the door on the race.
Former state representative Joe Dorman was the Democrat nominee for the office in 2014. Dorman won 41 percent of the vote against Fallin in that race, despite being heavily outspent. In response to speculation that he might be considering another run in 2018, Dorman released a statement on November 30: “Thank you to all who expressed encouragement to look at another run in 2018, but it is just not the right time for me to consider it.” He reiterated his commitment to the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) and children’s issues saying, “I am passionate about the work we are doing at OICA on behalf of Oklahoma children and families, and I am focusing 100 percent of my attention on those efforts.” Dorman, became executive director of the OICA last September.
Former four-term Democratic congressman, Dan Boren, announced in November that he will not run in 2018. Last year, Boren said he was actively exploring the race and spent the past year visiting with civic, business, and political leaders across the state, but decided that now is not the time. However, he did leave the door open to a future return to public office. In the meantime, the 43-year-old Boren said he will continue working on business development for the Chickasaw Nation. Boren served one term as a state representative before being elected to Congress in 2004. He held the 2nd District seat in eastern Oklahoma for eight years before stepping down. His grandfather, Lyle Boren, was a congressman and his father, current University of Oklahoma President David Boren, served as Oklahoma governor and U.S. senator.
Former state Sen. Ken Corn is rumored to be looking at the race. He served two terms in the Oklahoma House, and then two terms in the Oklahoma Senate in southeastern Oklahoma. In 2010 he was the only Democrat to file for lieutenant governor and lost in the General Election to Sen. Todd Lamb. Corn had only a 26% cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index published by the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper. He is currently a lobbyist in Oklahoma and Arkansas for Blake Trucking.
There has been speculation that former Attorney General Drew Edmondson may be considering the race. Edmondson ran for governor in 2010 instead of running for reelection, but lost in the Democrat Primary to Lt. Gov. Jari Askins who went on to lose to Mary Fallin. Edmondson drew attention in 2016 as the spokesman for the successful effort which defeated State Question 777, the so-called Right to Farm measure.
Oklahoma House Minority Leader Scott Inman of Del City is the only Democrat expressing a strong interest in the race. Rep. Inman has a cumulative score of 44 percent on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. Inman leads a dwindling number of Democrats in the Oklahoma House, with a loss of three Democrat seats in the 2016 election.
The 2018 race is expected to draw much stronger interest on the Republican side. However, the election of Donald Trump as president has narrowed the field of candidates.
Due to term-limits, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt will not be able to run for a third term in 2018. He had already dismissed speculation concerning a possible run for the first district seat in Congress, but expressed a strong interest in a run for governor. However, in the weeks following the presidential election, President-elect Trump announced that Pruitt was his choice to head the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Pruitt has fought overreach by the EPA, filing lawsuits against the agency. He is being opposed for the position by liberals and radical environmentalists, but assuming he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate and takes the post, he is not expected to give up the position to make the 2018 race for governor. However, if liberals were to succeed in derailing his confirmation, he would likely renew interest in the race and could be a stronger contender after being viciously attacked by liberals. Prior to his election as Attorney General, Puitt was elected to the State Senate in 1998 and served through 2006. He had a 69 percent rating on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. In 2006 he sought the GOP nomination to replace Mary Fallin as Lieutenant Governor when she ran for Congress. Pruitt ended up losing the GOP nomination in the Runoff Primary with Speaker of the House, Todd Hiett who then lost in the General Election to Jari Askins.
While Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb is not yet an officially announced candidate, everyone would be shocked if he did not make the race. Due to term-limits, he cannot run for reelection. Lt. Gov. Lamb has made it a point to travel to all 77 counties in the state every year since being elected in 2010. Other than breaking a rare tie vote in the State Senate, a lieutenant governor can avoid being associated with partisan or controversial issues while being very visible to voters traveling the state and making speeches. Prior to his election as Lt. Governor, Lamb served in the State Senate from 2004 to 2010 earning a cumulative average of 66% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. He is an attorney who was born and raised in Enid. Prior to his election to the Oklahoma Senate, he worked for former Gov. Frank Keating and former U.S. Sen. Don Nickles. He was also a U.S. Secret Service agent.
When he was first elected to Congress in Oklahoma’s first district, Jim Bridenstine pledged to only serve three terms. Bridenstine says he intends to honor that pledge and will not run for reelection in 2018. Bridenstine is the most conservative of Oklahoma’s five members of the U.S. House of Representatives. He is on the short list of candidates to head the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the Trump administration. If he does not end up at NASA, many conservatives are urging him to run for governor. Bridenstine, a Navy combat pilot who flew missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, served as executive director of the Tulsa Air and Space Museum and left in 2010 to concentrate on his career in the Naval Reserve.
Attorney Gary Richardson of Tulsa is considering another run for governor. Richardson ran in 2002 as an Independent candidate, and spent more than $2.3 million of his own money in the effort. He says if he decides to enter the race, he will run as a Republican. Richardson, who is now 75, finished in third place behind the Democratic candidate, Brad Henry, and the Republican nominee, Congressman Steve Largent. Some Republicans blame Richardson for Largent’s loss, although many blame the loss on mistakes by the Largent campaign, including his unnecessarily taking a position on th e proposal to outlaw rooster fighting. Henry won a narrow victory over Largent, 6,866 votes with over 1 million votes cast in the election. Richardson received over 146,000 votes which is 14 percent. It is argued that Richardson siphoned off Republican votes that should gone to Largent. Richardson was the Republican nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives in Oklahoma’s second district in 1978 and 1980, losing both times to Democrat Congressman Mike Synar. He was appointed by President Ronald Reagan as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma serving from 1981 to 1984. He then founded a successful law firm in Tulsa.
In addition to Lamb and Pruitt, there are several other holders of statewide secondary offices who are term-limited and may be considering a run for either governor, or lieutenant governor, or perhaps a seat in congress. That list includes Treasurer Ken Miller, Insurance Commissioner John Doak, and Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones.
With the return of the Libertarian Party in 2016 as a recognized political party in the state, it is expected that one or more candidates will offer themselves for the party nomination. If their nominee does not earn at least 2.5 percent of the vote in the 2018 race, they would again lose ballot status as a party. Their 2016 presidential candidate, Gary Johnson, received 5.75 percent, which secured the party a place on the ballot in 2018. In order to maintain ballot status, a recognized party must poll at least 2.5 percent of the vote for their nominee for president in the presidential election years, or their candidate for governor in gubernatorial election years. Previously, a party had to poll at least 5 percent. The Libertarian Party lost their status as a recognized party after their candidate in the 2000 presidential election, Harry Browne, received less than the 5 percent threshold.
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