OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Mary Fallin, a force in Republican Party politics for more than two decades and Oklahoma’s first female governor, formally launched her bid Thursday for a second term in office.
“We can teach Washington a lesson or two about what it takes to be a successful state and a model government,” Fallin said to cheers from dozens of supporters packed inside the Old School Bagel Cafe in midtown Tulsa. “I promise you, no one will work harder for Oklahoma than I will.”
Fallin kicked off her re-election campaign in Tulsa and planned similar stops later in the day at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City and the Museum of the Great Plains in Lawton. But her announcement came as no surprise, considering she raised about $550,000 during the second quarter and had more than $970,000 in her campaign fund by the end of June.
Fallin touted her accomplishments to the crowd. She noted that when she took office in 2011, state unemployment was at 7 percent and the state’s “rainy day” fund was empty, with a mere $2.03. Today, she said, unemployment is 5.3 percent and there is more than $500 million in the rainy day fund.
‘We’re in the middle of what I call an Oklahoma comeback,” Fallin said.
In a brief interview after her announcement, Fallin implied that her campaign was not concerned about fallout at the state level over the recent federal government shutdown that’s left voters angry and blaming politicians in both parties.
“Oklahoma is different than Washington D.C. And I’ve had the opportunity to serve in Congress, and I know those kinds of policies don’t work. That’s why they do things differently in Oklahoma.
“Let me just put it this way: I hope what happens in Washington stays in Washington,” she said.
Fallin served two terms in the state House before being elected as the state’s first Republican and first female lieutenant governor in 1994. She served three terms before winning a U.S. House seat in 2006. She ran for Oklahoma’s open governor’s seat in 2010.
That race was sure to result in the smashing of a gender barrier when she faced Democratic nominee and then-Lt. Gov. Jari Askins. With the help of a conservative tide that year in which Republicans took every Democrat-held statewide elected office in Oklahoma, Fallin won with more than 60 percent of the vote and became Oklahoma’s first female governor.
Fallin campaigned on creating the best business climate possible and streamlining state government, and has followed through on both of those campaign pledges to some degree. She has signed bills to overhaul both the state’s workers’ compensation and civil justice systems, and to consolidate several state agencies under the administration of the newly named Office of Management and Enterprise Services.
Fallin also pushed an income tax cut through the state’s Legislature this year, although the drop in the top personal income tax rate from 5.25 percent to 5 percent isn’t scheduled to go into effect until Jan. 1, 2015.
A serious challenger to Fallin has yet to emerge, either in the GOP primary on the Democratic side of the ticket. The only Democrat to announce plans to run is R.J. Harris of Norman, who ran for Congress as a Republican in 2010 and an independent in 2012. Harris has not filed any paperwork indicating that he’s raised any money, according to filings on record with the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.
“I think there’s a possibility we may have at least one other Democrat come out of the woodwork and become a serious candidate,” said Wallace Collins, chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party. “There is work going on behind the scenes to entice somebody else to get in the race. There is a movement. R.J. Harris may not be the only Democrat to run for governor.”
Small business owner Masoud Moazami, one of Fallin’s supporters who gathered early Thursday morning for her announcement, said he supports Fallin because she has “a bold vision” and is determined to make Oklahoma a better place to live.
“(It’s) her belief in Oklahoma that we can do better and should do better,” he said.
An opponent, retiree Jess Bowers, represented a group of about a dozen people who protested Fallin’s visit. The group opposes the state’s adoption of common core standards, a national benchmark for what students should learn in math, English, history, social studies and science.
Bowers and many of the protesters voted for Fallin in 2010, but he said Fallin’s support for the program was a deal-breaker.
“Common core will kill our educational system in this country because it’s the dumbing-down of our educational system by the federal government,” Bowers said.
Fallin’s spokesman, Alex Weintz, said the “the governor supports more rigor for schools, and common core does that. It’s delivering results and improving student performance.”
Associated Press writer Sean Murphy contributed to this report from Oklahoma City.