Oklahoma U.S. Sen. Jim Inhoff, a Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, will step down from the Senate in January, leading to a snap election to the seat he has held for decades.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Senior Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhoff is expected to step down from a post he has held for decades, sparking a flurry of political hopes that will jump in the race for his successor.
The 87-year-old Inhoff, a Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced his decision Friday and approved his chief of staff, 35-year-old Luke Holland, as his replacement. But many prominent Republicans in the state are also considering a possible choice, including U.S. officials Markwayne Malin and Kevin Hearn, which will lead to even more political dominoes if Republican candidates fight for the seats.
“I expect elementary schools to be very crowded,” said Michael Crespin, a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and director of the Carl Albert School Center for Congressional Studies and Research. “Rarely does a seat in the U.S. Senate open, and so … if you have ambitions to run, this is your chance.”
Other potential Republican candidates include former Oklahoma Speaker T. W. Shannon, who ran for the U.S. Senate in 2014; Lieutenant-Governor Matt Pinel; and Tulsa prosecutor Gentner Dramand, who is currently running for attorney general. Tulsa Pastor Jackson Lamaier, a political newcomer who has made a right-wing candidate for another Oklahoma Republican senator, James Lankford, also said he was considering a candidate for Inhoff.
Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Steet said in a statement that he was “fully committed” to running for re-election in the fall. It was expected that the race for governor of Oklahoma, which includes the head of state education Joy Hofmeister, who changed the party to run for Democrats, would be most closely watched, but that changed with the announcement of Inhoff.
“It really shocks things up,” Crespin said. “What looked like an election with a small amount of competitive racing, at least in the primary phase, we will now have very competitive primaries.”
Inhoff was not present at the press event on the occasion of his announcement in Oklahoma City on Friday because he had a “mild COVID case,” Holland said on behalf of his boss.
Inhofe, who was elected for a fifth term in the Senate in 2020, said he would continue in office until January 3, 2023.
“As far as I’m concerned, nothing will change,” Inhoff said, calling for a press release. “We’re going to continue the work we’re doing.”
Inhoff, a staunch conservative, has long dismissed global warming as a hoax and famously threw a snowball on the Senate floor during a storm in Washington to prove himself right. On Friday, Hollande said he agreed with Inhoff’s position on man-made climate change.
“Jim Inhoff is right about that,” Holland said. “It’s just the left’s attack on oil and gas.”
Inhoff said he decided to retire a few weeks ago to spend more time with his wife Kay.
The time of Inhoff’s announcement is related to Oklahoma’s new law, which requires the governor to call early elections if the legislature announces its intention to resign by March 1. Extraordinary elections will be held simultaneously with the primary, second and general elections in the state, part of the interim powers of the nation.
This means that Oklahoma voters will elect both U.S. senators in November because Lankford will also be re-elected.
“The Senate is losing a warrior,” Lankford said. “His absence will be felt and he will be missed.”
Oklahoma has not sent a single Democrat to the Senate since 1990, and Republicans will prefer to retain Inhoff’s seat in the Republican Party column.
The three-day application deadline in Oklahoma begins April 13.
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