Special Elections for Legislative Seats
By: Constitution Staff
Special Elections to fill vacancies in the Oklahoma Legislature are progressing, with three of seven vacant positions now filled. The vacancies are the result of the resignation of six legislators, three in the House and three in the Senate, and the death of a member of the House. Since all six seats were held by Republicans, Democrats saw an opportunity to add to their dwindling numbers after suffering losses in last year’s elections. Three of the resignations were the result of the lawmakers taking new employment opportunities, and three involved scandals.
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 last 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 accepted a position as a senior fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative Florida-based think tank. Newell, a pastor, served in the Oklahoma House of Representatives since he was first elected in 2010. He was one of the more conservative members of the Legislature, earning an 82% 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 on 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. Democrat attorney Steve 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. The sole Libertarian candidate was 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.
In the May 9 Special General Election Taylor won with 1,221 votes (50.48%) over Barnes, who had 1,165 votes (48.16%), and Presley with 33 votes (1.36%).
House District 75
Rep. Dan Kirby (R-Tulsa) came 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% 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 was May 9 and the Special General Election on July 11. House District 75 covers part of eastern Tulsa County.
Four Republicans filed for the Special Election. Tressa Nunley, 49, of Tulsa won the Republican Primary with 64% of the vote. She is a real estate agent with a long history of involvement in local GOP activities. She had been endorsed by several present and past conservative legislators and by the Oklahoma Political Action Committee (OCPAC). Two Democrats filed for the seat with Karen Gaddis, 67, of Tulsa winning the nomination with 64% of the vote. She was also the Democrat nominee against Kirby in last year’s general election where she received 40% of the vote. In the July 11 Special General Election, Democrat Karen Gaddis won with 52 percent of the vote. Republican Tressa Nunley received 48 percent.
Senate District 44
Special elections dates were set to fill the vacancy in Senate District 44, caused by the March 22 resignation of Sen. Ralph Shortey (R-Oklahoma City). The filing period for the special elections was May 1-3. The Special Primary Election was set on July 11, and the Special General Election scheduled for September 12.
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.
Since only one candidate filed from each political party for the Senate seat, the Special Primary Election was not necessary, and the Special General Election was shifted to July 11. In that election, Republican Joe Griffin faced Democrat Michael Brooks. Brooks ran for the Senate seat in 2014 under the name Michael Brooks-Jimenez, and he also operates a law firm by that name. However, Brooks, 46, filed as Brooks for the Senate seat. Griffin, 37, was a television reporter who later served as the chief communications aide for the Oklahoma Speaker of the House. He was in law school last year when he unsuccessfully sought a House seat. In the July 11 election Brooks defeated Griffin by a margin of 55 percent to 45 percent.
House District 46
State Rep. Scott Martin (R-Norman) announced that at the end of this legislative session he would resign his seat in the Legislature to lead the Norman Chamber of Commerce beginning on June 1. 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 60% cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index, but only scored 30% in this year’s session.
The filing period for the special elections was May 1-3. The Special Primary Election was set on July 11, and the Special General Election scheduled for September 12. Three Republicans filed for the seat and Darin Chambers, 48, won the GOP Primary with 57 percent of the vote. He will face Joe Rosencrants, 39, who was the only Democrat to file. Both candidates are from Norman. The special general election will be on September 12.
House District 76
The sudden death of state Rep. David Brumbaugh (R-Broken Arrow) created 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.
The June 5-7 filing period attracted six Republicans and two Democrats. Rep. Brumbaugh’s widow, Shelley Brumbaugh, 53, is one of the Republicans seeking to fill the post. She has been endorsed by the Oklahoma Political Action Committee (OCPAC). The other Republican candidates are Cliff Johns, 37; Brian Elliot, 54; Ross Ford, 56; Suzanne Dodson, 36; and Jess Guthrie, 52. Democrats in the race are Chris Vanlandingham, 53, and Forrest Mayer, 24. All of the candidates are from Broken Arrow. The primary election will be held on August 8, 2017 with the general election on November 14
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.
The filing period was June 5-7. There are seven GOP candidates in the Senate race and two Democrats. Republicans include Oklahoma City residents Brian Walters, 41; Paul Rosino, 54; Duane Smith, 62; and Diane Means, 56. Scott Harris, 33, and Kerry Pettingill, 58, are residents of Mustang. And Mathew Hamrick, 36, is from Yukon. The Democrats are Steven Vincent, 51, of Mustang and Noah Ynclan, 43, of Oklahoma City. Brian Walters has been endorsed by the Oklahoma Political Action Committee (OCPAC). Walters previously served on the Oklahoma City Council from 2007 to 2011. The Special Primary Election will be August 8, with the Special General Election scheduled for November 14.
Senate District 37
State Senator Dan Newberry (R-Tulsa) is the latest legislator to announce that he is leaving early. He is leaving to pursue a professional opportunity with his resignation date effective January 31, 2018. Newberry was first elected to the seat in 2008. It is likely it will be scheduled so that the district will be represented during the entirety of the next legislative session. He has been one of the more moderate GOP members of the Senate, earning a 61% cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index, but only scored 36% in this year’s session.
Seven Republicans and one Democrat filed during June 26-28 filing period. The September 12 Republican Special Primary will include Grady Grant, 62, of Jenks; Brian Jackson, 34, of Sand Springs; Rick Hardesty, 56, Tulsa; R. Jay McAtee, of Sand Springs; Nicole Nixon, 31, of Tulsa; Phil Nollan, 56, of Sand Springs; and Brian O’Hara, 56, of Jenks. Jackson, a Sand Springs city councilor, lost in last year’s GOP primary to Senator Newberry. O’Hara is a field representative for First District Congressman Jim Bridenstine and is a former Jenks city councilor. Only one Democrat, Allison Ickley-Freeman of Tulsa, filed. The Special General Election will be on November 14.
Five of the vacancies left the citizens of the respective districts unrepresented during portions of the last legislative session. The new legislators selected this fall will not participate until next year’s legislative session which begins in February, unless the Gov. Fallin needs to call a Special Session.
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