2018 Race for Governor
By: Constitution Staff
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 in 2018. With the seat open next year, a number of candidates are considering the race, while others have already stepped aside.
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, also announced in November that he will not run in 2018. Last year, Boren said he was actively exploring the race and spent the 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 Senator Connie Johnson (D-Forest Park) announced that she will be making the race. She is the current vice chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. Johnson, 64, was the Democrat nominee against U.S. Senator James Lankford when he ran for a full-term in 2014.Johnson was among the most liberal members of the state Senate. She had a cumulative average of 12% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index published by the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper, 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 use of marijuana in Oklahoma. Johnson received 29% of the vote in that race.
Oklahoma House Minority Leader Scott Inman of Del City announced on April 20 that he will run for the post. Rep. Inman, 38, 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. Inman is term-limited and cannot run for reelection next year.
Reportedly, the decision has all but been made by former Attorney General Drew Edmondson to make 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, 70, drew attention in 2016 as the spokesman for the successful effort which defeated State Question 777, the so-called Right to Farm measure. Sources told The McCarville Report that Edmondson has made the decision to run for the nomination and is readying an announcement. A Facebook page called Draft Drew Edmondson for Governor has grabbed the attention of political observers. UPDATE: On May 1, Edmondson annouced that he would in fact enter the race.
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 would 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 was confirmed by the U.S. Senate for the cabinet level department on February 17 and is not expected to give up the post to make the 2018 race for governor.
State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones is also term-limited in 2018 and is available to make the race. Jones, 62, created a social media buzz when he announced the formation of a committee to explore his future. Jones announced in a twitter post on March 25 that he was forming a committee to decide what is best for him to do in 2018. “Options range from going home to the farm to running for Governor.” During an appearance at the Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee (OCPAC) on April 12, Jones acknowledged that he could not match the spending of some other candidates considering the race, but said he could make a successful campaign with a third of the funds that others might spend. Prior to his election as Auditor and Inspector, Jones served as chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party.
In March, Oklahomans for Lamb, 2018, the campaign committee for Republican Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb, filed a “Statement of Organization” with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission for a possible campaign for Oklahoma governor in 2018. Lamb, 45, an Enid native, was elected lieutenant governor in 2010 and reelected in 2014, carrying all 77 counties. “I am strongly considering a run for governor in 2018, and this document allows me to initiate the process of establishing a campaign organization of Oklahomans from all corners of the state,” Lamb said. “Since being elected lieutenant governor in 2010 I have visited each of Oklahoma’s 77 counties on an annual basis, listening and talking to Oklahomans regarding issues of importance to them and our great state. I am extremely optimistic about Oklahoma’s future, and believe our best days lie ahead.” Larry Nichols, former chief executive officer of Devon Energy, serves as chairman of Oklahomans for Lamb, 2018.
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. Prior to his election to the Oklahoma Senate, he worked for former Gov. Frank Keating and former U.S. Sen. Don Nickles. He also worked as a U.S. Secret Service agent.
Attorney Gary Richardson of Tulsa formed an exploratory committee in February. On April 24, he made his official announcement for the Republican nomination for Governor at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. This is his second race for the state’s top job. He ran in 2002 as an Independent candidate, and spent more than $2.3 million of his own money in that effort. 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.
Richardson has been driving the issues in the race thus far. Following Gov. Mary Fallin’s proposal to extend sales taxes to services, Richardson drew attention with an internet video commercial opposing the plan. The next week, Lt. Governor Lamb announced his resignation from Governor Fallin’s cabinet, where he has served as the state’s Small Business Advocate, one of many roles filled by the Lt. Governor. “His decision to resign was made after yesterday’s cabinet meeting in which Governor Fallin maintained her support for taxing 164 services affecting every Oklahoma small business and family,”stated Lamb’s Chief of Staff, Keith Beall. And, when Lamb appeared at a ribbon cutting for the new state Lodge at Lake Murray State Park, Richardson blasted the use of state money to build a hotel when the state is in a budget crisis. “This is just an example of the problems we have with our current GOP leaders. We’re told that we can’t cut agencies anymore and have to raise taxes. But then they show up at a ribbon cutting for a $27 million state-run hotel just days later.”
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.
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.
Those who expect the Republican nominee to easily win re-election should bone up on their Oklahoma history. Since 1960, the norm has been for the party that wins the White House to lose the governor’s race two years later. Even with the exception of 1978, Democrat George Nigh just barely eked by a former state representative, Ron Shotts, in the governor’s race. With Governor Mary Fallin holding unusually low approval ratings (5th lowest in the country), the Republican brand has been damaged, and we can expect a close race, even with the Democratic Party in Oklahoma being so weak right now.
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