The Oklahoma House of Representatives will feature 11 freshmen Republicans for the 2021 legislative session, which is scheduled to start February 1.
With 82 Republicans and 19 Democrats in the House, the incoming freshmen Republicans will have a significant supply of seniority upon which to rely.
In a series of interviews with NonDoc, Rep. Wendi Stearman, R-Bartlesville; Rep. Mike Dobrinksi, R-Kingfisher); Rep. Anthony Moore, R-Clinton; Rep. Bob Ed Culver, R-Tahlequah; and Rep. Dick Lowe, R-Chickasha, all weighed in on their transitions to the Capitol and their priorities moving forward. Common themes included constituent concerns about the presidential election and Medicaid.
After defeating incumbent GOP Rep. Derrel Fincher in June and Democrat Emilie Tindle in November, Rep. Wendi Stearman now represents House Disrict 11, a narrow strip of land stretching from northern Tulsa to Bartlesville.
Stearman ran her campaign on the commitment to protect individual liberties and her family history of military excellence. Her campaign merchandise featured a Word War II-era biplane to symbolize those values.
She said her first weeks of calls have centered on constituents asking her to protect their individual liberties by fighting for Donald Trump, who lost his 2020 re-election bid.
“A majority of my calls have been about the presidential election,” Stearman said in a phone interview. “More often than not, it’s, ‘You’ve got to do something to make sure that there are fair elections.’ They want me to do something nationally.”
Stearman joined Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter in supporting a lawsuit challenging the 2020 election results. The Texas attorney general’s lawsuit claimed Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin violated the Fourteenth Amendment and the Elector’s clause.
The Supreme Court rejected the Texas lawsuit December 11.
“I want the truth to be known, whatever it is, but that’s the case in all things,” Stearman said.
Moving forward, Stearman said her top priorities will continue to be individual liberties, economic freedom and limited government regulation of private industry.
Rep. Mike Dobrinksi represents HD 59, which stretches from Kingfisher to Woodward. After defeating Adam Masters in the June 30 primary with 71.7 percent of the vote, Dobrinski began working with term-limited predecessor Mike Sanders to take the reins.
“Rep. Sanders didn’t take his foot off the gas, but people started reaching out to me (in July),” Dobrinski said. “While I had really good friends busting their tails through run-offs and the general, I tried to take advantage of the opportunity I had to better prepare for the job.”
Now fully sworn into office, Dobrinski said the majority of his constituent calls have been concerned with “the unemployment situation” and Medicaid expansion.
“In our district, obviously rural Oklahoma, (Medicaid expansion) was voted down pretty soundly,” Dobrinksi said. “But everybody realizes as a part of the constitution now, we are going to have to address it.”
Dobrinksi said the timeline for a plan funding the expansion is progressing quickly, as is Gov. Kevin Stitt’s managed care effort for the Medicaid program, which several Republican lawmakers oppose. He said he is interested to see how the legislative and executive branches work together to craft a plan “the right way.”
“If we do anything that jeopardizes or harms our rural providers in any way, that’s certainly very concerning,” Dobrinksi said. “We cannot afford to lose any more facilities or providers in the rural parts of our state.”
While monitoring Medicaid tops Dobrinski’s list of immediate priorities, broadband access in rural areas and redistricting follow closely. Although HD 59 is a large district in terms of landmass, its current boundaries are a few thousand constituents too small based on 2020 Census estimates. Dobrinski said “maintaining the rural consensus” while redistricting is absolutely necessary.
“After I represent District 59, I don’t have aspirations to serve anywhere else in any other capacity,” Dobrinski said. “All I want to do is serve the folks of House District 59 and the folks of Oklahoma.”
Rep. Anthony Moore defeated Democrat Juan Garcia with 70.4 percent of the vote this November after both candidates advanced to the general election without a primary. Moore now represents HD 57, a district stretching along Interstate 40 from west of El Reno to Elk City and encompassing Clinton and Weatherford.
“It’s honestly surprising how quick you get into it fully,” Moore said. “But I’m glad to be on this side of the election.”
Like Stearman, Moore has received constituent calls regarding the validity of the 2020 presidential election. In response to his constituents’ reservations about the election, Moore said his focus if Oklahoma.
“I haven’t seen anything which said the Oklahoma results were unfair or fabricated,” Moore said. “If there was something in that process which was wrong, I’d want to address it or have it investigated, but there has been no mention of that.”
Aside from constituent concerns, Moore’s transition to office has been a balance between the past and present. Moore is a practicing attorney and plans to maintain his job while in office.
“For a lot of freshmen, this is their one, singular full-time job,” Moore said. “Trying to balance that is a trial by fire experience a little bit.”
Being an representative and practicing attorney may seem like a lot, but Moore said his “why” makes it worth it As a fifth generation native of Custer County, Moore wants his three children to grow up and build prosperous lives in Western Oklahoma. By serving as a state representative, Moore said he hopes to help build that future for them.
“Oklahoma has done a good job of pushing for growth, but the rural areas have lagged behind,” Moore said. “I want to continue to push for better opportunities here in Western Oklahoma.”
Moving forward, Moore’s biggest priorities are economic development, education and infrastructure. Creating new jobs, improving rural broadband and fixing rural roads and bridges are the top projects within those three categories.
Bob Ed Culver
Rep. Bob Ed Culver represents HD 4, which includes Tahlequah and the majority of Lake Tenkiller. Culver was not shy to list the major concerns Oklahoma’s government needs to address: education, infrastructure, health care, prison reform and higher education.
Overall, his goal in running for office was to give Cherokee County better representation.
“Cherokee County deserves better than this,” Culver said referring to his predecessor having missed various votes. “We have no representation at the State Capitol.”
Culver ran against his predecessor, Democrat Matt Meredith, in 2016 and lost by 326 votes. He did not plan to run again, skipping the 2018 election, but ultimately decided to challenge Meredith again in 2020. In November, Culver defeated Meredith with 55.2 percent of the vote.
A former University of Oklahoma football player, Culver is the first Republican representative for HD 4 since 1929. His father held the same seat as a Democrat two decades ago.
Rep. Dick Lowe represents HD 56, which runs north of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge through Anadarko. Lowe defeated Democrat Craig Parham with 67 percent of the vote. In a phone interview, Lowe explained that his main constituent concerns moving forward include public school districts and their budgets.
“I feel like our public schools need to be in on the talk,” Lowe said. “They’re the ones dealing with the day-to-day.”
Aside from education, he plans to aim his efforts toward decreasing Oklahoma’s economic dependence on the energy industry. Lowe said assets in energy “are not flowing,” and he hopes to transfer energy investment to industries such as aerospace. Like Stearman and Dobrinksi, Lowe also plans to focus on the state’s Medicaid program. With only two full-time hospitals in his sprawling district, Lowe said health care is a major concern for his rural constituents.
Approaching the first session, Lowe said he’s working to balance his values and goals with the pressure of transitioning into office.
“It’s like drinking from a fire hose,” Lowe said, laughing. “You get everything thrown at you in a hurry.” Working together to move forward
Like Lowe, Stearman had similar things to say about the approach of their first session: There’s a lot to learn.
“Every day I realize I know less today than I thought I knew yesterday,” Stearman said with a laugh.
Yet this Republican freshmen class has a lot of seniority to work with.
“I’ve been very impressed with how I’ve been welcomed by both my constituents and the House leadership to help me prepare,” Dobrinksi said.
Despite the learning curve, Stearman, Dobrinski, Moore, Culver and Lowe all expressed eagerness to work together to solve main concerns regarding Medicaid and education.
“I think we have a fabulous freshmen class,” Stearman said. “I look forward to getting to know them and working with them.”
Acknowledging their differences, Moore mirrored Stearman and Dobrinski’s sentiment.
“We’re very different, Moore said. “But at the end of the day, we all really care about Oklahoma. We’ve got a lot of really sharp individuals.”