Special Elections to Fill Legislative Seats
By: Constitution Staff
Special Elections to fill vacancies in the Oklahoma Legislature are in progress. The vacancies are the result of the resignation of five legislators, three in the House and two in the Senate, and the death of a member of the House. Since all six seats have been held by Republicans, Democrats see an opportunity to add to their dwindling numbers after suffering losses in last year’s elections. Two of the resignations were the result of the lawmakers taking new employment opportunities, and two involved sexual indiscretions.
The process to fill vacancies is a little different in Special Elections. Unlike the regular primary elections to select a party nominee, the candidate that finishes first in the Special Primary is the nominee. In the regular primary elections there is a runoff if a candidate does not get over 50 percent of the vote.
House District 28
State Rep. Tom Newell (R-Seminole) announced his resignation from the Oklahoma House of Representatives in December. His announcement came just weeks after being reelected in the November General Election. Newell delivered his resignation letter to Gov. Mary Fallin with an effective date of December 31, 2016. The district covers Seminole County and the northern portion of Pottawatomie County in east-central Oklahoma.
Rep. Newell announced that he is now a senior fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative Florida-based think tank. Newell, a pastor, has served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives since he was first elected in 2010. He has been one of the more conservative members of the Legislature, earning an 82 percent cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index published by the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper.
The filing period for the Special Election was January 9-11. The Special Primary Election was held on March 7 and the Special General Election is scheduled for May 9. Four Republicans, five Democrats, and a Libertarian filed for the seat.
Seminole oil and gas producer Zack Taylor, 33, of Seminole won the Republican nomination in the Special Primary Election with 57% of the vote. He is part owner of RKR Exploration Inc. where he works in field operations and management of oil and gas wells with his dad and uncle. Mike Matlock finished second with 20% of the vote. Daniel Matthews came in third with 17%. Billy Choate received 5%.
Taylor will face Democrat attorney Steve Barnes in the May 9 Special General Election. Barnes won the Democratic primary with 41% of the vote. Barnes, 60, who is an attorney in Wewoka, recently moved back to the district with plans to run against Newell in the future. Marilyn Rainwater, who was the Democrat nominee against Newell last November, came in second with just under 34% of the vote. Yasminda Choate, also ran for the Democratic nomination last year, but lost to Rainwater in the Primary Election. She finished third this time with 9% of the vote. Jason Leonard was fourth with 8% and Blake Cummings finished last with 7 percent.
The sole Libertarian candidate is Cody Presley, 39, of Wewoka who is a Shawnee city employee. He switched his registration from Republican last year after the Libertarian Party regained recognition in the state, but was not able to do it in time to file against Newell in the last election.
House District 75
Governor Fallin set the dates for the Special Election to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Dan Kirby (R-Tulsa) who had come under scrutiny by a special investigative committee focused on sexual harassment complaints against House members. Kirby was investigated following allegations by his legislative assistant involving sexual harassment. When the committee released its findings, and recommended that the House expel Kirby, he resigned before that could happen. His resignation was effective on March 1. He was one of the more moderate members of the Oklahoma House, earning a 55 percent cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index.
The filing period for the special election was February 27, 28 and March 1. The Special Primary Election is set for May 9 and the Special General Election is scheduled for July 11. House District 75 covers part of eastern Tulsa County.
Four Republicans filed for the Special Election. Nik Berg, 21, of Broken Arrow has been actively involved in the local Republican Party and serves as a precinct chairman. Tressa Nunley, 49, of Tulsa is a real estate agent with a long history of involvement in local GOP activities. She has been endorsed by several present and past conservative legislators and has been endorsed by the Oklahoma Political Action Committee (OCPAC). AJ Oatsvall, 32, of Tulsa is a political blogger on Voices of Liberty who writes from a libertarian perspective. Skip Steele, 67, of Tulsa served on the Tulsa City Council from 2011 to 2014.
Two Democrats also filed for the seat. Karen Gaddis, 67, of Tulsa was the Democrat nominee against Kirby in last year’s general election where she received 40% of the vote. Jamie Smith, 29, of Broken Arrow was a student in the University of Oklahoma’s political science Ph.D. program where she worked as teaching assistant for Former Governor and OU President David Boren.
Senate District 44 and House District 46
Governor Fallin ordered special elections to fill the vacancies in Senate District 44, caused by the March 22 resignation of Sen. Ralph Shortey (R-Oklahoma City), and in House District 46, caused by resignation of Rep. Scott Martin (R-Norman) which is effective on May 31. The filing period for both special elections will be May 1-3. The Special Primary Election is set for July 11 and the Special General Election is scheduled for September 12. In the event that a Special Primary Election is not necessary (no more than one candidate from each political party), the Special General Election will be July 11.
Sen. Ralph Shortey resigned after being charged with child prostitution. City of Moore police said they found Shortey in a motel room with a 17-year-old boy on March 9. In his resignation letter, Sen. Shortey said, “I thank the constituents of Senate District 44 for the opportunity they provided to serve. Because I take that responsibility seriously, I recognize that the charges against me are a distraction to their interests and the remaining legislative session, which should serve all Oklahomans.” He was first elected to the seat in south Oklahoma City in 2010. He has been one of the more moderate Republican members of the Senate, earning a 62 percent cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index.
State Rep. Scott Martin announced that at the end of this legislative session he will resign his seat in the Legislature to lead the Norman Chamber of Commerce beginning June 1. He has tendered his resignation from the House seat in effective May 31. Term limits prohibited Martin from running for another term for the Norman area district in 2018. He has been one of the more moderate GOP members of the House, earning a 63 percent cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index published by the Oklahoma Constitution newspaper. “As I discussed this opportunity with the chamber search committee, I expressed my sincere desire to extend my service through this legislative session so that my constituents would continue to have their voice heard and represented until the very last vote is cast,” said Martin.
House District 76
The sudden death of state Rep. David Brumbaugh (R-Broken Arrow) created yet another vacancy. The district includes part of Broken Arrow and Tulsa. Brumbaugh had served House District 76 since 2010, winning the seat after former state. Rep. John Wright was term limited. Brumbaugh had a cumulative Oklahoma Conservative Index score of 93 percent, and had scored a perfect 100 percent rating for four years in a row. When we went to press, Gov. Fallin had not yet set the dates for the Special General Election.
Senate District 45
On April 27, state Senator Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) submitted a letter of resignation effective immediately. In the letter to Senate President Pro Temp Mike Shultz, Loveless said: “I tender this resignation with much regret. Mistakes I have made are the responsibility of no one other than myself.” It had previously been announced that Sen. Loveless was under investigation by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission for failing to properly report campaign contributions during the last two election cycles. Loveless was elected in 2012 to the District 45 seat that includes parts of southern Oklahoma City and Cleveland and Canadian Counties. Governor Fallin will need to set the dates for the Special Election to fill this latest vacancy.
Five of the six vacancies have left the citizens of the respective districts unrepresented during portions of the current legislative session. Since the winner of the Special General Election in House District 28 will be seated the week following the May 9 election, he will be there for the final votes at the end of the legislative session. Since the current session comes to a close at the end of May, the winners of the other seats at stake will not participate until next year’s legislative session, unless the governor calls a Special Session this summer. Gov. Fallin has indicated that if she is not satisfied with how the Legislature resolves the budget shortfall, she may veto the appropriations bills and call a special session.
UPDATE: After we went to press with our print version, Governor Mary Fallin ordered special elections to fill the vacancies in Senate District 45 and House District 76. The filing period for both special elections is June 5-7. The special primary election is set for Aug. 8 and the special general election is scheduled for Nov. 14. In the event a special primary election is not necessary, the special general election will be Aug. 8.
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