OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — As Oklahoma’s senior member of the U.S. House, Republican Rep. Frank Lucas touts his influence as chairman of the House Agricultural Committee as a prime reason for re-electing him to an 11th term in Oklahoma’s sprawling 3rd Congressional District.
But a pair of Democratic candidates who are vying for their party’s nomination in the June 26 primary election say it’s time for a change in the western Oklahoma congressional seat.
Democrats Timothy Ray Murray and Frankie Robbins are competing for the chance to face the Republican nominee in the Nov. 6 general election. Lucas faces primary opposition from fellow Republican William Craig Stump for the GOP nomination.
The primary winners will face each other and independent candidate William Sanders of Stillwater in the general election.
The 3rd District includes more than 34,000 square miles is Oklahoma’s largest congressional district, stretching from the suburbs of Tulsa to the Oklahoma Panhandle, from Yukon to Altus in the southwest and from the Kansas state line to the Red River. The district comprises all or part of 32 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties and takes up almost half the state’s land mass.
It is also one of the largest agricultural regions in the nation, a fact that Lucas said makes his chairmanship of the House Agricultural Committee all the more relevant.
“I try to put an Oklahoma perspective on this,” said Lucas, 51, of Cheyenne, whose family has lived and farmed in Oklahoma for more than a century. “I’ve worked very hard to represent the people of the 3rd District of Oklahoma.”
Lucas, who also serves on the House Financial Services and Science and Technology committees, is the first Oklahoman to chair the House Agriculture Committee, an accomplishment he said is due to his seniority in Congress and his experience in the field.
Lucas said his leadership on the committee helps determine national agricultural policy when Congress writes legislation that impacts farmers and ranchers across the nation.
“It takes time to work your way,” Lucas said. “I have now, with the help of my neighbors, worked to get to this point.”
Lucas said he also support the region’s oil and natural gas industry, a major employer in the district, but also emphasizes alternative energy sources such as wind and solar energy.
First elected in a special election in 1994, Lucas is the only candidate in the race who has raised any significant amount of money with which to wage his campaign.
Online records of the Federal Election Commission indicate Lucas had about $701,000 on hand at the end of the last reporting period March 31. Murray, the only other candidate to raise any money, had $1 on hand, according to the FEC website.
Stump, Lucas’ primary election opponent from Drumright, did not respond to requests for an interview by The Associated Press. Telephone calls to a number for Stump on file at the Oklahoma Republican Party during the past week were not returned. Party Chairman Matt Pinnell said Stump had not reached out to the party and that he was not familiar with him.
In an interview with www.newsok.com, the website of The Oklahoman newspaper, Stump said during the filing season that he considered himself a constitutional conservative and that he believed Lucas concentrated too much on agriculture and not enough on the oil industry.
“I’ll be dedicated to the people,” Stump told the website. “If you’re not in the state, then you’re not taking care of business.”
Murray, 45, of Moore, was critical of Lucas’ agricultural leadership and said his policies favor large farming companies instead of the individual family farm.
“I look to serve all the people, independent farmers and ranchers,” Murray said.
Murray said he wants to create more high paying jobs in the region and create incentives for businesses. He also said he supports the federal health care overhaul legislation that has been challenged in federal court.
“We definitely need regulation and procedures as far as insurance companies being accountable,” Murray said.
Murray said he has 18 years of professional experience in the pharmacy business and currently runs a non-profit organization that helps support underfunded churches. Although he is seeking the 3rd District nomination, Murray said his home is actually in the 4th District. Election guidelines do not require a congressional candidate to live within the district he is seeking.
Robbins, 66, of Medford, has run for the 3rd District seat twice before, in 2008 and 2010.
A retired civil engineer in the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service, Robbins said he has worked with oil and natural gas companies in the past to produce on federal lands.
“I certainly appreciate stewardship of the land,” Robbins said. “I know it can be done in an environmentally sound manner. You do need common-sense regulation.”
If elected, Robbins said he will work to change the tone of political discourse and put an end to partisanship and misinformation.
“It continues to get worse,” he said. “It’s hard for the public to know who to believe. For our country to move forward, we’ve got to quit sending people who all they want to do is work for the party.”