OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Former state Sen. Gene Stipe is “a legend in Oklahoma politics,” Gov. Mary Fallin said Sunday.
Stipe, “a man of the people” whose nearly half-century tenure in the Oklahoma Legislature ended amid a congressional campaign finance scandal and a series of legal troubles, died Saturday. He was 85.
Barry Moore, a longtime family friend, said Stipe died following a long illness at his home in McAlester. Stipe’s wife, Mary, his daughter from his first marriage, Beth, and other family members were with him, Moore said.
Fallin, a Republican, served in the Oklahoma House in the early 1990s before being elected lieutenant governor, a position she held in 2003 when Stipe, a Democrat, resigned.
My thoughts and prayers go out to his children and family during this difficult time,” Fallin said.
“He seemed to be on a first name basis with every one of his constituents,” Fallin said in a statement. “His sense of humor was well-known, and anyone who worked at the Capitol during his tenure has their own set of ‘Gene Stipe stories’ to share. He will certainly be remembered.”
Stipe was elected to the state Senate in 1957 and remained in that role until 2003, giving him the longest continuous run as a state senator in U.S. history.
Among sitting lawmakers, only Georgia state Sen. Hugh Gillis’ 56 years of legislative service eclipsed Stipe’s, according to records of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
When Stipe received the Oklahoma Democratic Party’s Carl Albert Award in 1999, former Gov. George Nigh drew applause when he said, “If there ever was a man of the people, it’s Gene Stipe.”
His resignation came as the FBI probed his connection to illegal campaign contributions to the 1998 failed congressional campaign of fellow Democrat Walt Roberts. Stipe eventually pleaded guilty in 2003 to federal campaign violations and perjury and was given probation and fined more than $735,000.
As a senator, Stipe was considered a champion of working people and was an ardent foe of Oklahoma’s right-to-work question that passed in 2001. He was a longtime advocate of increased funding for education and highways, as well as his constituents.