BY ARNOLD HAMILTON
Shannon’s sermonette [12 minutes-or-so] wasn’t nearly as long as the stereotypical tent revivalist’s. Hymnals weren’t opened. And there wasn’t an altar call.
But the state House speaker and Lawton Republican wove more than the usual amount [even by Oklahoma standards] of Holy Scripture into his anti-Obama, anti-federal government announcement speech – eliciting more than a few full-throated Amens! from supporters gathered at the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame near the Capitol.
He didn’t mention his Republican primary rival by name, but it sure seemed U.S. Rep. James Lankford was on Shannon’s mind.
Shannon’s always worn his religion on his public sleeve, but quoting specific verses from Romans and Proverbs suggests he’s clear about Lankford’s political base: Oklahoma’s 1,800 Southern Baptist churches.
Lankford, of course, was longtime director of Falls Creek, the nation’s largest Christian youth camp, before entering politics four years ago, and remains a popular guest preacher at SBC churches across the state.
Shannon also appeared to take aim at Lankford when he urged Oklahoma voters not to send “status quo politicians to Washington.” Lankford has come under fire from the Tea Party right – which helped propel Shannon to the speakership – for voting in favor of the federal budget agreement in December.
Shannon is primed to cash in on Tea Party energy and money [think Koch Brothers, Club for Growth and other deep-pocketed, far-right interests] now that Tea Party darling/rookie Congressman Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa has bowed out of the race to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn.
It’s also politically significant that Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby was alongside Shannon for Wednesday’s announcement. Shannon, African-American and Chickasaw, has appeared in a Chickasaw TV ad that undoubtedly helped improve his political visibility/name ID beyond his hometown.
But there are potential headaches for a state House speaker seeking higher office – namely, speakers can’t help but make enemies. After all, they decide which bills are heard and which aren’t, often leaving a trail of embittered lawmakers and special interests.
Shannon has at least one very public GOP critic in the state House – gadfly OKC Rep. Mike Reynolds, who set up a web site that asks: Who is Tahrohon W. Shannon? It includes civil and criminal background checks, income and work history, home ownership details, legislative record and raises campaign finance questions.
As the Republican lineup solidified Wednesday [it also includes Norman paramedic Jason Weger, a political novice], the Democratic field remains uncertain. Former state Sen. Kenneth Corn and former U.S. Rep. Dan Boren are passing it up. Neither ex-Gov. Brad Henry nor ex-AG Drew Edmondson seem inclined to run.
Here’s an intriguing candidate: state Sen. Constance Johnson. Best known for her efforts to decriminalize marijuana and end the death penalty, the OKC Democrat is a hard-working, progressive legislator who would certainly offer a stark alternative to the likely far-far-far right or far-far-far-far right GOP nominee. Johnson is thinking about it – seriously.
– Arnold Hamilton is editor of The Oklahoma Observer. For more on the 2014 Senate campaigns and Coburn’s legacy see the February Observer, available on newsstands the week of Feb. 10.
U.S. Capitol photo courtesy of Architect of the Capitol