Republicans take control of state Senate

Wednesday, November 5th 2008, 1:01 am
By: News 9

Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Republicans took control of the Oklahoma Senate for the first time in state history in legislative races Tuesday in which the GOP also tightened their grip on the state House.

The 48-member Senate, evenly divided with 24 Republicans and 24 Democrats the past two years, switched to GOP control as Republicans won two seats controlled by Democrats and control of the chamber for the first time since statehood a century ago.

Republicans took control of the state House four years ago. On Tuesday night, they gained control of the state Senate by at least one seat and possibly two.

Incumbent Republican Sen. Jim Reynolds of Oklahoma City was struggling against Democratic opponent David Boren of Moore, who is not related to the former governor and U.S. senator who now serves as president of the University of Oklahoma.

"History was made. For the first time ever, you've got a Republican-controlled Legislature," said Senate co-President Pro Tem Glenn Coffee, R-Oklahoma City.

"We broke the tie," said Randy Swanson, executive director of Oklahoma Republican Senatorial Committee. "It was our goal for two years. It's exciting for the state of Oklahoma."

The minority party for the first time, Democrats will work to make sure that working people still have a voice in the state Senate, said Sen. Kenneth Corn, D-Poteau, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.

"You see a very divided state," Corn said. "Republicans will have to work with Democrats to get the people's business done.

"They've got to govern and we wish them well."

In the key races, Republican Jim Halligan of Stillwater, former president of Oklahoma State University, defeated Democrat Bob Murphy of Stillwater, a former judge, for the seat vacated by term-limited Senate President Pro Tem Mike Morgan, D-Stillwater.

Halligan won with about 60 percent of the vote.

Sen. Nancy Riley of Tulsa had been the target of Senate Republicans since she switched from Republican to Democrat in 2006 after the primary election, when she was an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor.

"There's no question that her action cost us the majority for two years," Coffee said.

With most of the votes counted, Riley was losing to Republican Dan Newberry, a mortgage broker, in a district where Republicans hold a significant edge in voter registration. Newberry had 63 percent of the vote.

Boren led with 51 percent of the vote with most of the votes counted.

In the House, where Republicans enjoy a comfortable 57-44 majority, GOP candidates pick up four new seats as they headed to victory in hotly contested races waged in open seats vacated by incumbent Democratic lawmakers.

"It's a very good night. It's been as good as we could have hoped for," said Republican House Speaker Chris Benge of Tulsa.

"I'm obviously ecstatic about the results. It confirms to us what the people of Oklahoma asked us to do," Benge said.

The speaker said the historic gains in the House and Senate create "a new historical marker for us."

"We're very proud and excited to be able to control the House four years ago. That was historic -- and this is more so," he said. "We're looking forward to working with Senate Republicans."

The chairman of the House Democratic caucus, Rep. Chuck Hoskin, D-Vinita, said he believes the candidacy of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama in a state that heavily supported Republican John McCain hurt Democratic candidates for the House.

"Our state is deeply red," Hoskin said. "I think that we had a great slate of candidates.

Obviously, they did too.

"I deeply respect the people of Oklahoma, and I respect their vote."

In the key races, Republican Corey Holland of Marlow defeated Democrat Tommy Cosgrove of Marlow with about 57 percent of the vote. Incumbent Rep. Ray McCarter, D-Marlow, is term limited.

Republican Charles Ortega of Altus defeated Democrat Dan McMahan of Altus with 64 percent of the vote. The seat was vacated by term-limited Rep. David Braddock, D-Altus.

Republican Mike Christian of Oklahoma City defeated Democrat David Castillo and independent Jack Cherry for the seat vacated by term-limited Rep. Al Lindley, D-Oklahoma City. Christian had 54 percent of the vote.

In another open seat, Republican Harold Wright of Weatherford defeated Democrat Perry Adams of Custer City with 54 percent of the vote. The seat was vacated by term-limited Rep. James Covey, D-Custer City.

Democrat Cory T. Williams of Stillwater narrowly defeated Republican Aaron Carlson of Stillwater for the seat vacated by term-limited Republican Rep. Terry Ingmire. With all the votes counted, Williams won by just 63 votes out of more than 14,000 cast.

But Republican Eddie Fields of Wynona was leading Democratic Rep. Scott BigHorse of Pawhuska with about 59 percent of the vote with most of the precincts reporting.

After an early lead, Democrat Dana Orwig of Oklahoma City lost to Republican Jason Nelson, who had just under 51 percent of the vote for the seat vacated by two-term Republican Rep. Trebor Worthen of Oklahoma City.

A total of 11 Senate seats and 58 seats in the House were up for grabs in the general election.