Senate race

Shown are U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, left, and challenger T.W. Shannon vying for U.S. Sen. James Inhofe’s seat.

OKLAHOMA CITY — T.W. Shannon said he’s proof that America is “not the home of systemic racism,” but rather the “home of systemic opportunity.”

Shannon, 44, who is Black and a Chickasaw Nation citizen, said by the time he turned 40 he’d finished college and law school, worked for two congressional representatives, had been elected to the state House, served as House speaker and became the CEO of an Oklahoma City bank.

“I don’t tell that to brag on me,” Shannon said. “I tell that to brag on the United States of America. Anything is possible in this country. We just have to have leaders that can find solutions, and who aren’t more concerned about the next election in order to restore what made America great again.”

He said he’s running for U.S. Senate in part to combat the narrative coming out of Washington D.C. now that he views as “such an effort to pit Americans against Americans.” He said he wants to change the direction the country is headed.

“I would say I’m a Christian. I’m a capitalist. I’m a conservative, and I’m the Democrats’ worst nightmare,” Shannon said. “Me being in the room pushes against the fake narrative that we hear out of Washington that in order to be successful in America you have to come from a specific zip code or specific heritage.”

Shannon said he believes what makes America great is what he calls “the three C’s” — capitalism, Christianity and the Constitution.

His Christian upbringing, he said, shaped his views on life and will play a critical role if he’s elected the U.S. Senate. He faces an Aug. 23 runoff for the Republican nomination against Markwayne Mullin.

Shannon said his father was a teacher and a coach and his mother was a state social worker. They raised him in a predominantly African-American church — Bethlehem Baptist Church in Lawton — where both his father and grandfather served as deacons.

Every Sunday, women would walk up to him and say, “You’re going to be a preacher one day.”

“So, I grew up with the expectation,” Shannon said. “I used to resent it as a kid because I didn’t think God had called me to be a preacher, but what I later came to understand that they were really saying to me is we expect something from you and we expect something of you.”

Shannon said in his mind there are only two worldviews, and it’s important that people understand the worldview that he’s coming from.

“I believe you either believe that God created man or you believe that man created God, and if you believe that God created man, then you also believe that every person you meet was created in His image, and our Founding Fathers believed that every person was endowed with certain inalienable rights.”

The reason Shannon said that Christian worldview is so important is because he wants Oklahomans to know that he’ll be making decision based upon that.

“There’s no way to have a worldview that is representative of every single person,” Shannon said. “But the good news about a Judeo-Christian worldview is that you understand that even people who disagree with you, that they are not your enemy. And, I think, that is the skill set that I bring as a candidate to the United States Senate — because you disagree with me, I don’t believe that makes you evil.”

Shannon is a lifelong Oklahoman, and his Chickasaw ancestors were forcibly moved to the state on the Trail of Tears.

Russell Perry said he first met Shannon nearly 20 years ago when he hired him to work as a hip-hop disc jockey and salesman at a Lawton radio station.

“One of the interesting things that I discovered early on was T.W. was very energetic, extremely smart, self-motivated, and had a drive,” Perry said.

Perry, who is Black, said that he incorrectly thought that since Shannon was a young Black man, he’d love to DJ hip hop. But about a month into the role, Shannon approached him and asked to move to the gospel station instead.

That was the first time, Perry said, he saw Shannon’s “heart and soul.”

“It showed a lot to me,” Perry said. “He was his own person.”

He’s remained in contact with Shannon over the years. He watched as Shannon met his wife of nearly 21 years and became a father to two children. Perry said he was among those who encouraged Shannon to run for the open U.S. Senate seat.

“I thought it would be a very unique opportunity for the citizens of this state to get behind this young African American man and support him for a number of reasons,” Perry said.

Shannon said his focus would be on making the U.S. military the strongest in the world, reducing the size of the national debt and securing the southern border. In his mind, securing the border should be a multi-pronged effort that includes building the southern wall, better tracking who is entering and exiting the country and ending birthright citizenship, which he said was never intended for “people who broke our laws and came to our country illegally.”

He also remains a big defender of former President Donald Trump’s “America First agenda,” even though Trump ultimately endorsed his opponent. While he still considers Trump to be a friend, Shannon also said Trump doesn’t always get his endorsements right.

“The endorsement that I’m really paying attention to, that I’m really focused on, is the endorsement of the Oklahoma voters because that’s the one that is going to matter on Aug. 23,” he said.

Shannon says that he’s “a strong, strong proponent of term limits” and has signed a pledge to support any legislation seeking limits. He said if federal lawmakers can’t get their job done in a couple of terms, then they probably need to let someone else have a try.

He also said longer tenure doesn’t mean more effectiveness because he believes the national debt is increasing, the country’s enemies have gotten stronger, the country’s military capabilities have been undermined and the economy is weaker.

He also believes any agreements dealing with the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision, which decided that large swathes of eastern Oklahoma remain reservation land, need to be “an Oklahoma-first decision.” That means the governor and other state leaders need to be working with tribes to come up with a solution. The last thing Shannon said he wants is out-of-state Democrats deciding what’s best for the state.

Todd Lamb of Guthrie said Shannon is “charismatic, sincere, kind, and he’s got a good heart.”

He also said Shannon is a “visionary” who led the state House at a time when the Republican Party was still beginning to hold majorities in state government. The two met nearly two decades ago while in law school and then worked closely together while serving in the Legislature, and then after Lamb was elected lieutenant governor.

“I think his leadership qualities are special, and he’s a fantastic communicator,” Lamb said. “I think that’s very important for any candidate, particularly anybody that’s holding office. He’s a gifted orator.”

He said Shannon had been mulling a potential run for Senate long before Jim Inhofe announced plans to step down.

“We’ve been diverse locally in our state for a very long time,” Lamb said. “But I think in light of national politics, T.W. Shannon could say things and communicate in ways that a lot of candidates and a lot of U.S. senators can’t.”

Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at jstecklein@cnhinews.com.

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