Politics of Oklahoma

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This article is about political groups and tendencies in Oklahoma. For information on the political and administrative structures (executive, legislative and judiciary) of Oklahoma, see Government of Oklahoma.

The politics of Oklahoma exists in a framework of a presidential republic modeled after the United States. The governor of Oklahoma is both head of state and head of government, and of a pluriform two-party system. Executive power is exercised by the governor and the government. Legislative power is vested in the governor and the bicameral Oklahoma Legislature. Judicial power is vested in the judiciary of Oklahoma. The political system is laid out in the 1907 Oklahoma Constitution.

Presidential system form of government

A presidential system is a democratic and republican system of government where a head of government leads an executive branch that is separate from the legislative branch. This head of government is in most cases also the head of state, which is called president.

A republic is a form of government in which the country is considered a “public matter”, not the private concern or property of the rulers. The primary positions of power within a republic are not inherited, but are attained through democracy, oligarchy or autocracy. It is a form of government under which the head of state is not a hereditary monarch.

Governor of Oklahoma head of state and of government of the U.S. state of Oklahoma

The Governor of Oklahoma is the head of state for the U.S. state of Oklahoma. Under the Oklahoma Constitution, the governor is also the head of government, serving as the chief executive of the Oklahoma executive branch, of the government of Oklahoma. The governor is the ex officio Commander-in-Chief of the Oklahoma National Guard when not called into federal use. Despite being an executive branch official, the governor also holds legislative and judicial powers. The governor's responsibilities include making yearly "State of the State" addresses to the Oklahoma Legislature, submitting the annual state budget, ensuring that state laws are enforced, and that the peace is preserved. The governor's term is four years in length.


Oklahoma is currently categorized politically as conservative. The state has a history of Democratic state government dominance. Oklahoma came into being as a state at the height of the era of Jim Crow Laws and had a large Ku Klux Klan presence in the 1920s. Race politics gave way to Democratic political infighting over the New Deal in the 1930s and 1940s and the gradual growth of the Oklahoma Republican Party's power. Today, most of Oklahoma's federal and all of its statewide offices are all held by the Republican Party, which also holds supermajorities in both chambers of the state Legislature. However, with 8.6% Native Americans in the state, it is also worth noting that most Native American precincts vote Democratic in margins exceeded only by African Americans. [1]

Conservatism is a political and social philosophy promoting traditional social institutions in the context of culture and civilization. The central tenets of conservatism include tradition, human imperfection, organic society, hierarchy, authority, and property rights. Conservatives seek to preserve a range of institutions such as religion, parliamentary government, and property rights, with the aim of emphasizing social stability and continuity. The more traditional elements—reactionaries—oppose modernism and seek a return to "the way things were".

Ku Klux Klan American white supremacy group

The Ku Klux Klan, commonly called the KKK or the Klan, is an American white supremacist hate group. The Klan has existed in three distinct eras at different points in time during the history of the United States. Each has advocated extremist reactionary positions such as white nationalism, anti-immigration and—especially in later iterations—Nordicism and anti-Catholicism. Historically, the Klan used terrorism—both physical assault and murder—against groups or individuals whom they opposed. All three movements have called for the "purification" of American society and all are considered right-wing extremist organizations. In each era, membership was secret and estimates of the total were highly exaggerated by both friends and enemies.

The Oklahoma Republican Party is a political party affiliated with the United States Republican Party (GOP). Along with the Oklahoma Democratic Party, it is one of the two major parties in Oklahoma politics.

Political history

Until 1964, Oklahoma was considered a "swing state" in American politics, shifting back and forth in its support for the two major parties. This was in part due to Oklahoma's situation both as a part of the Great Plains states, which tended to be reliably Republican, and the South, which was heavily Democratic at that time. The Republican candidate has carried Oklahoma in every presidential election since 1968, often by large margins. However, Oklahoma voters would split their political allegiances (electing Democrats for local government, but Republicans for national office). In general, Oklahoma can be characterized as a politically conservative state.

Swing state In U.S. politics, a state where no candidate or party has overwhelming support, making the state a key determiner of electoral outcomes

In American politics, the term swing state refers to any state that could reasonably be won by either the Democratic or Republican presidential candidate. These states are usually targeted by both major-party campaigns, especially in competitive elections. Meanwhile, the states that regularly lean to a single party are known as safe states, as it is generally assumed that one candidate has a base of support from which they can draw a sufficient share of the electorate.

Political parties in the United States

Political parties in the United States are mostly dominated by a two-party system consisting of the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. The United States Constitution has always been silent on the issue of political parties, since at the time it was signed in 1787 there were no parties in the nation.

Great Plains broad expanse of flat land west of the Mississippi River and east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States and Canada

The Great Plains is the broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe, and grassland, that lies west of the Mississippi River tallgrass prairie in the United States and east of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and Canada. It embraces:

Early history

Oklahoma politics from statehood through World War I was dominated by the Democratic Party, with the Republican Party and the Socialist Party vying to challenge the Democratic Party's dominance. The 2nd Oklahoma Legislature included Oklahoma's first black member, Republican A. C. Hamlin, but passed legislation that made it nearly impossible for African-Americans and seek elective office, which limited him to one term. [2] In the 1910s, the Oklahoma Legislature included Socialists, but the only bill they sponsored that became law involved hunting. [3] Socialists were also elected to local office and received the nation's highest vote count per capita for the party's candidate, Eugene V. Debs in 1916. The Jim Crow Law in Oklahoma was struck down by the United States Supreme Court, but a special session was called by the Democratic governor and focused on voting laws that limited black voter participation. [3] The Ku Klux Klan and the civil rights struggles of the World War I era came to Oklahoma in the 1920s, leading to the Tulsa race riot, lynchings and other violence. [4] Following the practical destruction of the Socialist party in the aftermath of the Green Corn Rebellion, state politics became a two-party system that continued to exclude black voters.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Socialist Party of America multi-tendency democratic-socialist political party in the United States

The Socialist Party of America (SPA) was a multi-tendency democratic socialist and social democratic political party in the United States formed in 1901 by a merger between the three-year-old Social Democratic Party of America and disaffected elements of the Socialist Labor Party of America which had split from the main organization in 1899.

2nd Oklahoma Legislature

The Second Oklahoma Legislature was a meeting of the legislative branch of the government of Oklahoma, composed of the Oklahoma Senate and the Oklahoma House of Representatives, during the only term of Governor Charles Haskell. State legislators elected in 1908 met in the Guthrie City Hall Building from January 5 to March 12, 1909. The state legislature also met in special session from January 20 to March 19, 1910.

New Deal coalition

At the U.S. Presidential level, Oklahoma's electoral college vote was a reliable part of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "New Deal" coalition (which began in the U.S. election of 1932). Oklahoma did support President Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, but then returned to supporting the Democrats in 1964 (Oklahoma split its electoral college vote Nixon-Byrd 7-1, due to a maverick elector, commonly referred to as faithless elector in 1960).

President of the United States Head of state and of government of the United States

The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government of the United States of America. The president directs the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.

Electoral college Set of electors who are selected to elect a candidate to a particular office

An electoral college is a set of electors who are selected to elect a candidate to a particular office. Often these represent different organizations, political parties, or entities, with each organization, political party or entity represented by a particular number of electors or with votes weighted in a particular way.

Franklin D. Roosevelt 32nd president of the United States

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, often referred to by his initials FDR, was an American statesman and political leader who served as the 32nd president of the United States from 1933 until his death in 1945. A member of the Democratic party, he won a record four presidential elections and became a central figure in world events during the first half of the 20th century. Roosevelt directed the federal government during most of the Great Depression, implementing his New Deal domestic agenda in response to the worst economic crisis in U.S. history. As a dominant leader of his party, he built the New Deal Coalition, which realigned American politics into the Fifth Party System and defined American liberalism throughout the middle third of the 20th century. His third and fourth terms were dominated by World War II. Roosevelt is widely considered to be one of the most important figures in American history, as well as among the most influential figures of the 20th century. Though he has been subject to substantial criticism, he is generally rated by scholars as one of the three greatest U.S. presidents, along with George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

During this same period, Oklahoma's Governors, legislature, and delegation to Congress continued to be dominated by the Democratic Party. However, there was political infighting over deficit spending in the late 1930s, leading to a successful bipartisan push for a 1941 constitutional amendment requiring legislators to pass a balanced budget. [5] Leon C. Phillips, who opposed New Deal programs, rose to prominence, first as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and later as governor. [6]

Oklahoma Legislature

The Legislature of the State of Oklahoma is the state legislative branch of the U.S. state of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma House of Representatives and Oklahoma Senate are the two houses that make up the bicameral state legislature. There are 101 state representatives, each serving a two-year term, and 48 state senators, who serve four-year terms that are staggered so only half of the Oklahoma Senate districts are eligible in each election year. Legislators are elected directly by the people from single member districts of equal population. The Oklahoma Legislature meets annually in the Oklahoma State Capitol in Oklahoma City.

Leon C. Phillips lawyer and politician

Leon Chase "Red" Phillips was an American attorney, a state legislator and the 11th governor of Oklahoma. As a member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives and as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, Phillips made a name for himself as an obstructionist of the proposals of governors William H. Murray and E.W. Marland, including components of the New Deal. As governor, Phillips pushed for deep cuts, but was unable to avoid an unbalanced budget.

Southern strategy

Oklahoma State Capitol in 1963. 1963 Oklahoma State Capitol.jpg
Oklahoma State Capitol in 1963.

During the presidential campaign in 1968, Oklahoma was targeted by the Republican Party to be included in what was called the Southern Strategy. Beginning with the second Presidential campaign of Richard Nixon (who appealed to Oklahoma voters on the issue of law and order), Oklahoma gradually changed in its voting pattern in national elections to become an increasingly reliable Republican state for presidential tickets. President George W. Bush carried Oklahoma twice (by a wide margin), in 2000 and 2004, for example. Starting with the 2004 election results, every county in Oklahoma has gone to the Republican candidate. In 2008, Oklahoma was the only state in which every county was carried by John McCain.

Gradually, the success of the Republican Party began to translate into Congressional, legislative, and other local political races.

Oklahoma politics today

Party registration by county (January 2018):
Democrat >= 40%
Democrat >= 50%
Democrat >= 60%
Democrat >= 70%
Republican >= 40%
Republican >= 50%
Republican >= 60%
Republican >= 70% Oklahoma party registration by county.svg
Party registration by county (January 2018):
  Democrat >= 40%
  Democrat >= 50%
  Democrat >= 60%
  Democrat >= 70%
  Republican >= 40%
  Republican >= 50%
  Republican >= 60%
  Republican >= 70%

By the start of the 21st century, conservative Republicans increased their strength in Oklahoma on the statewide level, but Democrats were still a major factor in statewide politics.

This began to change in 2004, when the Republicans took control of the state House for only the second time ever, and the first time since 1921. In 2006, the incumbent Democratic governor won re-election by 66% over a former Republican Congressman, winning the popular vote in every county except the three in the strongly Republican Oklahoma Panhandle. Despite the landslide victory for the Democrats, the Republicans gained two seats in the State Senate (resulting in a 24-24 tie, though the Democratic Party held the tie-breaking Lieutenant Governor's vote) and increased their lead in the house of 57-44.

In 2008, the Republicans gained two state senate seats, taking control (26-22) of that chamber for the first time in state history, while increasing their membership in the state house to a 61-40 advantage. The Republicans thus had complete control of the state legislature for the first time ever. In addition Oklahoma was the only state where John McCain carried a majority in every county (even though Democrats still had a majority of registered voters). [7]

The 2010 statewide election saw a historic sweep for the first time in Oklahoma history the GOP won every statewide office up for election that year, and as a result currently holds all eleven statewide offices. The GOP increased its majorities in the House by six seats and in the Senate by five seats. [8] (One seat, State Senate District 47, was vacant, as incumbent Todd Lamb was elected Lieutenant Governor, and was filled by special election in January 2011.) The Republicans thus had complete control of state government for the first time ever. On the Congressional front, Tom Coburn held his United States Senate seat and the GOP maintained control of the four House seats it held, and came within 6 points of taking Oklahoma's 2nd congressional district (the only Oklahoman Congressional seat not held by the GOP).

In the 2012 statewide election, the GOP captured the 2nd District seat, and thus held every statewide office as well as the entire Congressional delegation. The GOP also increased its majorities in the Oklahoma Legislature by four seats in the Oklahoma House of Representatives for a total of 71 seats and one in the Oklahoma Senate for a total of 32 seats. In both cases, the GOP gained a supermajority. The 2014 statewide election saw the GOP maintain its hold of all the statewide and Congressional seats (all five House seats and, due to both James Inhofe's seat being up for re-election and Tom Coburn resigning his seat mid-term, both Senate seats), its hold of its 71 seats in the House, and increase its Senate bloc to 39 seats. In 2016, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump easily carried the state, with congressional representation remaining unchanged. In 2018, Republican Representative Steve Russell from the 5th congressional district was defeated in his second reelection bid by Democratic nominee Kendra Horn, marking the first time a Democrat had been elected to the seat since 1974.

Political institutions

As in the national government of the United States, power in Oklahoma is divided into three main branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.


The capital of the state is Oklahoma City and the Governor of Oklahoma is Kevin Stitt, a Republican. His first term began on January 14, 2019. The current Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma is Republican Matt Pinnell. Pinnell concurrently serves, by virtue of his office as lieutenant governor, as the president of the Oklahoma Senate. The offices of the governor and lieutenant governor have four-year terms. The Governor is assisted by a Cabinet consisting of the assembled heads of the various executive departments called Secretaries. Of the Secretaries, the highest in rank is Secretary of State, currently Michael Rogers (Oklahoma politician), a Republican, who is the only appointed executive office set out under the Oklahoma Constitution.

Other statewide executive offices are contested in elections and serving four-year terms that run concurrent with that of the Governor, with the exception of the three members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission. Those members serve staggered six-year terms, with one member's term up for election every two years.

Current executive branch

OfficeCurrent OfficerSinceParty
Governor of Oklahoma Kevin Stitt January 14,2019 Republican
Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell January 14, 2019Republican
Secretary of State Michael RogersJanuary 14, 2019Republican
State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd January 14, 2019Republican
Attorney General Michael J. Hunter February 20, 2017Republican
State Treasurer Randy McDaniel January 2, 2019Republican
State School Superintendent Joy Hofmeister January 12, 2015Republican
Labor Commissioner Leslie Osborn January 14, 2019Republican
Insurance Commissioner Glen MulreadyJanuary 14, 2019Republican
Corporation Commissioner (by length of tenure) Bob Anthony January 9, 1989Republican
Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy January 12, 2009Republican
Corporation Commissioner Todd Hiett January 12, 2015Republican


Chamber of the Oklahoma Senate Senate chamber of the Oklahoma Senate, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.jpg
Chamber of the Oklahoma Senate

The state legislature is a bicameral body consisting of the Oklahoma Senate and Oklahoma House of Representatives, with members elected directly by the people. There are 48 state senators, each serving a staggered four-year term and 101 members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, each serving a two-year term. Members of both houses are elected from single member districts of equal population.

The state has term limits for their legislature that restrict any one person to a total of twelve years service in both the House and Senate.

The state legislature convenes in regular session at noon each odd-numbered year on the first Monday in February. [9] However, in the odd-numbered years following an election, the state legislature must meet on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January for the sole purpose of determining the outcome of the statewide elections. The state constitution limits the state legislature to meeting 160 legislative days during each biennium. [10] In addition, the legislature may not meet in regular session after the last Friday in May of each year. [9]

Current composition

In the 55th Legislature (2015–2016), the Republicans control both houses (a 71-30 majority in the House and a 39-9 majority in the Senate).

The Oklahoma House of Representatives

Republican Party 75
Democratic Party 26
Seat Vacant0

The Oklahoma Senate

Republican Party 42
Democratic Party 6
Seat Vacant0

Current leadership

The Oklahoma House of Representatives

Main office holders
Speaker of the Oklahoma House Charles McCall Republican January 3, 2017
Speaker Pro Tempore of the House Harold Wright Republican
Majority Leader Jon Echols Republican
Minority Leader Emily Virgin Democratic

The Oklahoma Senate

Main office holders
President of the Senate and Lieutenant Governor Matt Pinnell Republican January 14, 2019
President Pro Tempore of the Oklahoma Senate Greg Treat Republican
Republican Floor Leader Kim David Republican
Democratic Floor Leader John Sparks Democratic

[11] [12]


The Judiciary of Oklahoma has six levels. Most cases start in the district courts, which are courts of general jurisdiction. The lowest level courts are the Municipal Courts which exist to oversee the administration of justice within cities and have jurisdiction only over the violation of city ordinances. Appeals from Municipal Courts are heard by District Courts. There are 77 District Courts, with each having either a single or multiple District Judges with at least one Associate District Judge to administer justice. Appeals from the District Courts and challenges to certain governmental decisions are heard by either the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals for civil appeals or the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for criminal appeals. The Court of Civil Appeals has twelve judges who sit in two-judge divisions and the Court of Criminal Appeals has five judges.

Two specialized courts within administrative agencies have been established, the Court of Tax Review hears disputes involving illegal taxes levied by county and city governments, and the Workers’ Compensation Court.

The nine-justice Oklahoma Supreme Court is the court of last resort for all civil appeals. The Court has appellate jurisdiction on all civil issues, the Court of Civil Appeals, the Court of Tax Review and the Worker's Compensation Court. The Court only has original jurisdiction when new first impression issues, or important issues of law, or matters of great public interest are at stake.

Within the Oklahoma court system there are two independent courts: the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary which monitors the actions of all judges and justices and the Oklahoma Court of Impeachment, which is the Oklahoma Senate sitting, which acts serves as the only court that can remove the highest levels of state government officials from their offices.

Federal court cases are heard in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma based in Muskogee, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma based in Tulsa, and the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma based in Oklahoma City. Appeals are heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit based in Denver, Colorado.

Federal representation

Map of Oklahoma showing all five congressional districts 113th U.S. House districts in Oklahoma.svg
Map of Oklahoma showing all five congressional districts
U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe Jim Inhofe official portrait (cropped).jpg
U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe
U.S. Senator James Lankford James Lankford official portrait 115th congress (cropped).jpg
U.S. Senator James Lankford

Oklahoma's two U.S. Senators, Republicans Jim Inhofe and James Lankford are elected at-large.

Oklahoma is currently represented by five congressional districts in the United States House of Representatives. At one point, Oklahoma had as many as eight congressional districts and as many as three at-large districts, but the state's sluggish population growth resulted in the state losing its seventh and eighth districts in 1953 and its sixth district in 2003.

Oklahoma's 1st congressional district is based in Tulsa and covers the northeastern corner of the state and it borders Kansas to the north. It is represented by Kevin Hern, a Republican.

Oklahoma's 2nd congressional district covers (approximately) the eastern one-fourth of the state, bordering Kansas to the north, Missouri and Arkansas to the east, and Texas along the Red River to the south. It is represented by Markwayne Mullin, a Republican.

Oklahoma's 3rd congressional district covers western Oklahoma, from the Panhandle to the Tulsa suburbs, and borders New Mexico to the west, Colorado and Kansas to the north, and the Texas panhandle to the south. It is represented by Frank Lucas, a Republican.

Oklahoma's 4th congressional district covers south-central Oklahoma and borders Texas along the Red River to the south. It is represented by Tom Cole, a Republican.

Oklahoma's 5th congressional district, centered in Oklahoma City, covers central Oklahoma and borders all of the other congressional districts except District 1. It is represented by Kendra Horn, a Democrat.

Presidential elections

In presidential elections, Oklahoma has consistently voted for Republican candidates since 1968.

Presidential elections results
Year Republican Democratic
2016 65.32%949,13628.93% 420,375
2012 66.77%891,32533.23% 443,547
2008 65.65%960,16534.35% 502,496
2004 65.57%959,79234.43% 503,966
2000 60.31%744,33738.43% 474,276
1996 48.26%582,31540.45% 488,105
1992 42.65%592,92934.02% 473,066
1988 57.93%678,36741.28% 483,423
1984 68.61%861,53030.67% 385,080
1980 60.50%695,57034.97% 402,026
1976 49.96%545,70848.75% 532,442
1972 73.70%759,02524.00% 247,147
1968 47.68%449,69731.99% 301,658
1964 44.25% 412,66555.75%519,834
1960 59.02%533,03940.98% 370,111

See also

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  10. Article V, Section 25, Oklahoma Constitution (accessed May 27, 2013)
  11. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-12-22. Retrieved 2010-12-23.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  12. http://www.oksenate.gov/Senators/Default.aspx?selectedtab=1