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Primary election upset puts state senate leadership in flux

Dan Dennis

The lawmaker set to become the next state Senate President Pro Tempore lost in his bid for re-election, sending the Oklahoma Senate into unprecedented territory.


Dick Pryor: This is Capitol Insider - taking you inside politics, policy and government in Oklahoma. I'm Dick Pryor with Quorum Call publisher Shawn Ashley. This year's primary elections produced some surprises on Tuesday. Incumbents - senators Jessica Garvin and Cody Rogers and representative John Talley - lost. But the real shocker was Senator Gregg McCortney of Ada. He was in line to become the next Senate President Pro Tem, but lost his primary race to Jonathan Wingard, also of Ada. And since no other candidates filed, Wingard won the seat. Shawn, where does McCortney's loss leave the Senate?

Shawn Ashley: The simple answer is that the Senate Republican caucus will elect a new pro tem designate in November, after the general election. Keep in mind, whoever the Republicans pick will be the next pro tem because they hold such a large majority in the chamber. The more difficult question to answer is who that will be. McCortney defeated three other senators in February's pro tem designate election - senators Dave Bullard, Casey Murdock, and Shane Jett. But McCortney's unprecedented defeat in the primary creates a never before seen situation in the Senate. So, I'm sure there are others who will throw their hats into the ring, and I guess we’ll know the answer for certain in five months.

Dick Pryor: Republican Representative Kevin Wallace of Wellston, who is the House Appropriations and Budget chair, did not lose, but he did not win, and faces a runoff challenger, Jim Shaw. Wallace holds a powerful leadership position. So, what happens if he loses the runoff?

Shawn Ashley: Representative Kyle Hilbert, who will be the next House speaker, will have to choose a replacement. And let's consider the situation that could create. The legislature will have a new House speaker and a new Senate President Pro Tem. The House would then have a new appropriations chair and the Senate appropriations chair, assuming he keeps that post, has just one month on the job. That's a lot of new leadership. And on the other side of the table will sit Governor Kevin Stitt.

Dick Pryor: A new task force created by an executive order from Governor Stitt met for the first time Thursday. What is the purpose of the Work Permits and Visas Task Force?

Shawn Ashley: Stitt created the task force when he signed House Bill 4156, the anti-illegal immigration bill approved by lawmakers in April. According to the executive order, the task force will study, evaluate and make recommendations regarding policies, programs and legislation that will allow immigrants in Oklahoma to secure work permits, work visas, or similar documents permitting them to remain and work in the state. Public safety is also a critical concern, said Tricia Everest, Stitt's chief public safety adviser.

Dick Pryor: Everest and most other cabinet secretaries are now being called chief advisers by the governor's office. What brought about this change in titles?

Shawn Ashley: Governor Stitt effectively dissolved his cabinet and replaced it with a panel of chief advisers. Abigail Cave, Stitt’s communication director, told me Governor Stitt, quote, “began to consider making this change when it became clear that a certain public official was increasingly interested in targeting public servants for political purposes. The sentiment was further solidified,” she said, “when the Senate chose to abdicate its duties to provide advice and consent to the governor's nominations, and not even hold hearings on two of his cabinet nominations.” Cave was referring in the first case to Attorney General Gentner Drummond, whose opinion in late February indicated that cabinet secretaries could not also be state agency directors, a position that was later affirmed by an Oklahoma County district judge. In the second instance, she's referring to the Senate's decision not to consider the confirmation of two of Stitt's cabinet appointees, Dr. Deborah Shropshire as Secretary of Human Services, and Dr. Corey Finch for Secretary of Health and Mental Health.

Dick Pryor: Thank you, Shawn.

Shawn Ashley: You're very welcome.

Dick Pryor: And that's Capitol Insider. Until next time, with Shawn Ashley, I’m Dick Pryor.

KGOU is a community-supported news organization and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

Dick Pryor has more than 30 years of experience in public service media, having previously served as deputy director, managing editor, news manager, news anchor and host for OETA, Oklahoma’s statewide public TV network. He was named general manager of KGOU Radio in November 2016.
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