Former state Sen. Gene Stipe, one of the most powerful and controversial figures in Oklahoma political history, has died in his hometown McAlester. He was 85.
Stipe served more than a half-century in the Oklahoma Legislature, first winning election to the state House in 1948 at age 21.
He served six years in the House, left politics briefly, then captured a special Senate election in 1957, serving until 2003 when he resigned, just prior to pleading guilty to federal charges involving campaign finance violations.
Stipe, an attorney, was renowned in his hometown as a soft touch – unable in most instances to turn down someone in need. Without fanfare, he would help pay utility bills to ensure natural gas, electricity or water wasn’t cut off.
He also was a Democratic Party power broker long vilified by the uber-right publishers of the state’s largest newspaper, the Daily Oklahoman. In fact, Stipe was often scorned by the Oklahoma City Powers-That-Be as the “Prince of Darkness.”
Stipe, a vocal and ardent supporter of Democratic presidents from FDR to Barack Obama, seemed to relish the target on his back, routinely getting things done at the Capitol despite the Oklahoman’s page one editorial foot-stomping and incessant sniping.
There can be little doubt that Oklahoma became the nation’s first state to enact term limits because the urban elite and financial power brokers had been unable to unseat him.
Stipe was indicted three times in federal court between 1968-79 but was never convicted of any charges, ranging from tax evasion to fraud. His guilty plea in 2003 involved steering illegal contributions into Walt Roberts’ unsuccessful 3rd Congressional District campaign in 1998.
For complete coverage of the life of Gene Stipe, see the Aug. 10 Observer.