Race for Governor Continues
By: Constitution Staff
Mary Fallin was prohibited by term-limits from seeking a third four-year term in 2018. With the seat open for the first time in eight years, a large number of candidates entered the race. There were 15 candidates running in the June 26 primary elections, including ten Republicans, two Democrats, and three Libertarians. This is the largest field of candidates to run for the office since 1986.
With ten Republican candidates in the race, it was considered unlikely that one candidate would receive over 50 percent of the vote and secure the nomination in the June 26 primary election. So, the big question was, which two candidates would earn a spot in the runoff primary to be held on August 28. There were 452,606 votes cast in the GOP primary.
Four Republicans in the race were surprise entries during candidate filing and they did not run serious campaigns. Blake Cowboy Stephens, Christopher Barnett, Barry Gowdy, and Eric Foutch took the bottom four spots in the voting. Stephens, perhaps benefitted from the “Cowboy” name, and took seventh place, with 2.7 percent of the vote.
Six candidates made serious efforts to gain a place in the runoff. Attorney Gary Richardson of Tulsa made his second race for the state’s top job, this time as a Republican. He ran in 2002 as an Independent candidate. This time he finished in sixth place with 4.02 percent of the primary vote. State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones is term-limited and could not run for reelection in 2018. He took fifth place with 5.58 percent of the vote. Former state Rep. Dan Fisher decided not to run for reelection to the Legislature in 2016, after serving only two terms. With a cumulative average of 94 percent on the Oklahoma Conservative Index, he was considered to be the most politically conservative of the candidates. He took fourth place with 7.91 percent.
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb was elected lieutenant governor in 2010 and reelected in 2014. Most political analysts expected Lamb would either finish first in the primary election, or a close second, and thus secure a place in the runoff. Instead, he finished in third place, missing second place by just a few thousand votes. He received 23.86 percent of the vote.
Kevin Stitt, 45, is new to the political scene. He ran an impressive media campaign which earned him the second place spot with 24.41 percent of the vote. He ran as a businessman and a political outsider. Stitt received an accounting degree from Oklahoma State University in 1996 and after graduation worked in the mortgage loan industry. He started Gateway Mortgage Group in 2000 “with only $1,000 and a computer.” Today, Gateway employs over 1,100 people, has 145 offices nationwide, and is licensed in 40 states, serves 100,000 customers, and originated more than $6 billion in mortgages in 2017.
The first place spot went to Mick Cornett with 29.34 percent of the vote. Cornett, 59, spent 20 years in broadcast journalism as an anchor and reporter in the Oklahoma City market before making a successful run for Oklahoma City’s Ward 1 council seat. In 2004 he was elected as the city’s 35th mayor and was the first in the city’s history to be elected to four terms. In 2006, Cornett was a candidate for the Fifth District in Congress. In that year, Ernest Istook gave up the seat to run for governor. Cornett made it into the Republican Primary Runoff Election where he was defeated by Mary Fallin. This year, he decided to concentrate on the gubernatorial race and did not run for reelection as mayor. He just completed a term as president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and in that position lobbied to keep President Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare).
Since the primary, both have taken strong pro-life positions, with some differences. According to the Oklahoman, Stitt has said “he would sign every piece of anti-abortion legislation that came to him,” while Cornett told a Republican forum in May that he would sign legislation banning all abortions except in the cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. In its candidate survey, Oklahomans for Life asked, “Upon reversal of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, will you vote for a law that will protect the lives of unborn children and prohibit abortion except to prevent the life of the mother?” Cornett and Stitt both said they would support the legislation.
Neither candidate has a legislative voting record, and voters face the task of attempting to discern each man’s political philosophy more from public statements, rather than voting records.
Since only two candidates filed for the Democrat nomination, the nomination would be secured in the June 26 primary election. There were 395,494 votes cast in the Democrat primary. The large number of votes cast in the primary is credited to the participation of those who were registered as Democrats. Republicans have a closed primary, where only Republicans can vote to select the nominee of their party for an office. This year, Libertarians also limited their primary elections to only those registered as Libertarians, unlike 2016 when they first regained ballot status. The Democrats decided to again allow those registered Independent, which means not a member of a recognized party, to participate in their primary elections. As a result, many Independents who came to vote on State Question 788, the medical marijuana initiative, also asked for the Democrat primary ballot.
Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew 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, 71, drew attention in 2016 as the spokesman for the successful effort which defeated State Question 777, the so-called Right to Farm measure. The Edmondson name has been well known in Oklahoma politics. His father, Ed Edmondson, served in the U.S. House of Representatives. His uncle, J. Howard Edmondson, served as governor and then as U.S. Senator. Edmondson was the more moderate of the two candidates seeking the nomination.
Edmondson was challenged for the Democrat nomination by former state Senator Connie Johnson (D-Forest Park). She is the past vice chair of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. Johnson, 65, was the Democrat nominee against U.S. Senator James Lankford when he ran for a full-term in 2014. She received 29% of the vote in that race. Johnson was among the most liberal members of the state Senate. She had a cumulative average of just 12% on the Oklahoma Conservative Index. 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 recreational use of marijuana in Oklahoma.
As most expected, Edmondson finished first with 61.38 percent of the vote.
With the return of the Libertarian Party in 2016 as a recognized political party in the state, three candidates filed for the party nomination. 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. In order to maintain ballot status, a recognized party must now 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. Their 2016 presidential candidate, Gary Johnson, received 5.75 percent, which secured the party a place on the ballot for 2018. 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.
There were 3,558 votes cast in the June 26 Libertarian Party primary for governor.
Joseph Maldonado, 55, filed for office as “Joe Exotic,” his professional name. He is an animal handler who owns the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park south of Oklahoma City and is also an entertainer, actor, and musician. Although he suffered the loss of his “husband”due to a self-inflected gun accident last October, he decided to still make the race. He finished last in the primary election with 18.66 percent of the vote.
Rex Lawhorn, 46, of Broken Arrow is a telecommunications technician. He has been involved in state and federal levels of politics as an activist. He was chairman of the Americans Elect Party which was briefly on the ballot in Oklahoma. He is currently the Oklahoma State Director for the Our America Initiative and is involved in various other grassroots causes. He came in second, with 32.43 percent of the vote, which earned him a place in the August 28 runoff primary.
Chris Powell, 46, is an evidence specialist for the Oklahoma City police department. He ran for Oklahoma County Clerk in 2016 and received over 89,000 votes, which is more votes than the Libertarian Party presidential candidate received in the county. He has been active in the state party since 2000 and has served as chairman and vice chairman. He finished in first place, almost securing the nomination, with 48.9 percent of the vote.
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