Special Elections for Legislature Come to an End
By: Constitution Staff
After an election on March 6, Special Elections for the Oklahoma Legislature are now complete. The Legislature is now near full strength for the first time since 2016. However, there are two vacant legislative seats, one in the House and one in the Senate. A member of the House, Rep. Casey Murdock (R-Felt), won a seat to the Senate in a Special Election. The vacant Senate seat was created in April after Sen. David Holt (R-Oklahoma City) was elected mayor of Oklahoma City.
The vacant positions will be filled in this year’s regular elections since the vacancies occurred during a regular election year. Nine positions vacated since the 2016 elections and before 2018 have now been filled. The vacancies were the result of the resignation of eight legislators, four in the House and four in the Senate, and the death of a member of the House. Four of the resignations were the result of lawmakers taking new employment opportunities, and four involved scandals. Since all nine seats were held by Republicans, Democrats saw an opportunity to add to their dwindling numbers after suffering losses in the 2016 elections, and have in fact flipped four of the nine seats filled.
The process to fill vacancies is different in Special Elections. Unlike the regular primary elections to select a party nominee, the candidate who 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. In some of the recent special elections, multiple conservative Republican candidates split the conservative vote, enabling the one moderate candidate to gain the nomination even though they had less than 50 percent of the vote. Had the regular primary election rules been in effect, there would have been a runoff between the moderate candidate and the leading conservative candidate, with the conservative being the likely winner.
House District 28
State Rep. Tom Newell (R-Seminole) announced his resignation from the Oklahoma House of Representatives in December of 2016. His announcement came just weeks after being reelected in the November General Election. 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 House 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 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 and went on win the general election. 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. Taylor won with 1,221 votes (50.48%) over Democrat Steve Barnes, who had 1,165 votes (48.16%), and Libertarian Cody 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 House, earning a 55% cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. 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 and two Democrats filed for the Special Election. Karen Gaddis, 67, of Tulsa won the Democrat nomination with 64% of the vote. She was the Democrat nominee against Kirby in the 2016 General Election. In the July 11 Special General Election, Gaddis won with 52 percent of the vote over conservative Republican Tressa Nunley who received 48 percent.
Senate District 44
In Senate District 44, Sen. Ralph Shortey (R-Oklahoma City) 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. He was first elected to the seat in south Oklahoma City in 2010. He was one of the more moderate Republican members of the Senate, earning a 62% 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, 46, ran for the Senate seat in 2014 under the name Michael Brooks-Jimenez, and he also operates a law firm by that name. However, he filed as Brooks for the Senate seat this time. Griffin, 37, was a television reporter who later served as the chief communications aide for the Oklahoma Speaker of the House. In the July 11 election Brooks was the winner with 55 percent of the vote.
House District 46
State Rep. Scott Martin (R-Norman) announced that he would resign his seat at the end of the 2017 legislative session to lead the Norman Chamber of Commerce. Term limits prohibited Martin from running for another term for the Norman area district in 2018. He was one of the more moderate GOP members of the House, earning a 60% cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index, and only scored 30% in the 2017 session.
Three Republicans filed for the seat and Darin Chambers, 48, of Norman won the GOP Primary with 57 percent of the vote. Jacob Rosencrants, 39, also from Norman, ran against Martin in 2016 and was the only Democrat to file. Rosecrants won the seat in the September 12 election with 60 percent of the vote. Before taking his seat, Rosecrants had to resign his government school teaching position since legislators cannot hold a job paid for by state funds.
House District 76
The sudden death of state Rep. David Brumbaugh (R-Broken Arrow) created another vacancy. The district includes parts 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 was one of the most conservative members of the House, with a cumulative Oklahoma Conservative Index score of 93% and had scored a perfect 100% rating for four years in a row.
Five Republicans and two Democrats, all from Broken Arrow, filed for the seat. In the primary elections Ross Ford secured the Republican nomination, while Chris Vanlandingham won the Democrat nomination. Ford, 56, a retired Tulsa police officer, finished first in the Republican primary with 30.8 percent of the vote, while Shelley Brumaugh, widow of Rep. Brumbaugh, came in second with 29.9 percent of the vote. Vanlandingham, 53, won the Democrat nomination with 54.5 percent of the vote. Vanlandingham is a member of the social studies faculty at Cascia Hall Preparatory School. Ford was the winner in the November 14 General Election with 68 percent of the vote.
Senate District 45
On April 27, state Senator Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) submitted a letter of resignation effective immediately. 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. He was one of the more conservative GOP members of the Senate, earning a 73% cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index.
Seven Republicans and two Democrats filed for the seat. Republican Paul Rosino, 54, of Oklahoma City won the GOP nomination with 32.6 percent of the vote. Steven Vincent, 51, of Mustang won the Democrat nomination with over 92 percent of the vote. Rosino is the owner and operator of Rosino Realty. Vincent works as a 911 dispatcher for the Oklahoma City Police Department. In the November 14 Special General Election, Rosino defeated Vincent with nearly 57 percent of the vote.
Senate District 37
State Senator Dan Newberry (R-Tulsa) announced that he would leave the Legislature to pursue a professional opportunity with his resignation effective January 31, 2018. He was first elected to the seat in 2008. He was 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 the 2018 session.
Seven Republicans and one Democrat filed for the seat. In the Republican Special Primary, Brian O’Hara, 56, of Jenks won the nomination with 42 percent of the vote. O’Hara is a field representative for First District Congressman Jim Bridenstine and is a former Jenks city councilor. Democrat, Allison Ikley-Freeman, 26, was a therapist at a Tulsa community mental health agency. Her maiden name was Freeman and she is the wife of another woman, Dawn Ikley. In the November 14 Special General Election, Ikley-Freeman narrowly defeated O’Hara with 50.35 percent over O’Hara’s 49.65 percent of the vote. Ikley-Freeman is the second openly lesbian member of the Senate.
Senate District 27
State Senator Bryce Marlatt (R-Woodward) resigned on September 12, 2017, after the Oklahoma County District Attorney filed felony sexual battery charges. He was accused of grabbing a female Uber driver and kissing her on the neck while she was driving. He also is accused of making sexual advances toward the driver while being transported by her on the night of June 26 in Oklahoma City. Marlatt was first elected to the state Senate in 2008 and reelected in 2012 and 2016. He was one of the more moderate GOP members of the Senate, earning a 59% cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index, and scored 39% in the 2017 session. District 27 covers Beaver, Cimarron, Dewey, Ellis, Harper, Major, Texas, Woods and Woodward counties. The Special Primary Election was scheduled for December 12 and the Special General Election was set for February 13, 2018.
Six Republicans and one Democrat filed. With the conservative vote split among several conservative candidates, State Rep. Casey Murdock (R-Felt) won the Republican Primary Election with 33 percent of the vote. Murcock, 47, was elected in 2014 and reelected in 2016. He is one of the more liberal Republicans in the House with a 37% cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index, and only scored 10% in the 2017 session. Amber Jensen, 36, of Woodward was the only Democrat candidate. She is office manager of Jensen Renovation and co-owner of Maiden Name Designs. She is also the Chair of the Woodward County Democratic Party. Murdock won the General Election with 68 percent of the vote, compared to Jensen’s 32 percent. The election of Rep. Murdock to the Senate seat created a vacancy for his seat in the House. However, since the vacancy occurred during the regular election year, the seat will be filled by the regular election rather than a Special Election.
House District 51
A special election to fill the vacancy in House District 51 was caused by the resignation of Rep. Scott Biggs (R-Chickasha). The Special Primary Election was set for January 9, and the Special General Election for March 6. Biggs resigned to serve as the USDA Executive Director for Farm Services in Oklahoma. He has been one of the more liberal GOP members of the House, earning a 49% cumulative average on the Oklahoma Conservative Index, and scored 13% in the 2017 session. The district covers Grady, Stephens and McClain counties.
One Democrat and two Republicans filed during the November 13-15 filing period. Charles Murdock, 71, of Marlow was the only Democrat to file. Murdock spent 32 years as a teacher in Marlow and was the Athletic Director before his retirement. He was also the Democrat nominee for the seat in 2016, losing to Biggs in a landslide. Republican Brad Boles, 34, was serving his fourth year as the mayor of Marlow. He is the President of Wilco Machine & Fab, Inc. The other candidate for the GOP nomination was Dustin Payne, 35, owner of Paw Paw’s Hamburgers in Chickasha and Blanchard. In the Republican Primary, Bole’s won the nomination with 82 percent of the vote and went on to win the General Election with 72 percent of the vote over Murdock who received 28 percent.
The number of vacancies which have occurred in the Legislature over the past year is more than any other time in Oklahoma history. While Democrats have managed to flip four seats in the special elections, they are far from being in a position to regain control of either chamber of the Oklahoma Legislature. In the House there are now 72 Republicans, 28 Democrats, and one vacant seat. In the Senate there are 39 Republicans, 8 Democrats, and one vacant seat. If any additional vacancies should occur this year, as with the two current vacancies, the seat would be filled in the regular elections. The exception would be a vacancy in the Senate if it happens in one of the seats not up for election until 2020. Senators serve four-year terms, with half of the seats up for election every two years.
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