Half of Oklahoma House members draw no opponent

SEAN MURPHY Associated Press

April 14, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Nearly five dozen legislative candidates can mothball their campaigns for another election cycle after failing to draw any opponents for Oklahoma’s June primary or the general election in November.

When the campaign filing season ended Friday, 58 candidates could already lay claim to seats in the 2015 legislative session. One of those is a Claremore man who will be new to the House.

In some districts that will have races, voters will see familiar faces; two former legislators hope to return to the Capitol after failed congressional bids, and a former local government official who pleaded guilty to a campaign-related misdemeanor wants to unseat an incumbent.

The politicians with a “free pass” to their legislative seats can avoid pounding the pavement in the hot, dry Oklahoma summer to knock on doors, raise money and drum up support.

“We know that we’re very blessed and fortunate not to have to go through a grueling campaign,” said state Rep. Marty Quinn, a Claremore Republican who will move to the Senate next year after no one challenged him for an open state Senate seat previously held by a Democrat. “You can focus on the people, rather than the campaign.”

Of 101 House seats, 50 won’t have contests in June or November. Of the Senate’s 25 races, eight are no-contest.

Contested races for open state House seats include attempts by former Republican state Reps. Kevin Calvey (who ran for the open 5th Congressional District seat in 2010) and George Faught (who ran for eastern Oklahoma’s open 2nd Congressional District in 2012). And in Midwest City, former Republican Oklahoma County Commissioner Brent Rinehart, who pleaded guilty to a campaign-related misdemeanor in 2009, is seeking to oust a Republican House incumbent.

The 50 already-decided seats in the House include 35 Republicans and 15 Democrats. Only one of those is not currently in the Legislature — Republican Mark Lepak of Claremore — who will take over Quinn’s seat without a race.

“It’s a relief from a campaign perspective, and it gives me a lot of certainty,” said Lepak, 57, a telecommunications manager and city councilman from Claremore.

Republicans enjoy huge advantages in the House (72-29) and Senate (36-12), and Democrats cannot mathematically win back the Senate in November. If every Democratic challenger for a House seat won their race, Democrats could win back control of the House they lost in 2004, but House Minority Leader Rep. Scott Inman would be pleased with a handful of pickups.

Inman, who didn’t draw an opponent this cycle, said many Democrats are motivated by what they see as Republican mishandling and underfunding of public education, a message he thinks will resonate with Oklahoma voters this cycle.

“You take that message and go back home, it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat, Republican or independent, if you care about education, you have to dislike what Republicans have done,” Inman said. “We’re going to run on that message, and I think our candidates will be successful.”

But with several high-profile Oklahoma Republicans expected to be at the top of the ticket in races for governor and U.S. Senate in November, Republican Party Chairman Dave Weston said the GOP will be able to sustain the positive momentum that has helped the party take control of state government over the last decade.

“People are smart enough to realize that a lot of problems we’ve inherited from four generations of Democratic control are going to be fixed through Republican leadership,” Weston said.