OKLAHOMA CITY —
Oklahoma’s Republican House Speaker T.W. Shannon told colleagues Tuesday that he will run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated early by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn but remain speaker “for the time being.”
In an email to GOP House members that was obtained by The Associated Press, Shannon wrote that he would announce his run on Wednesday.
“I want you to know that I will remain Speaker for the time being. I am not stepping down immediately because I want to ensure a smooth transition that does not disrupt the important business of the state, nor distract from the legislative goals of our caucus,” Shannon wrote.
An official with Shannon’s campaign confirmed the authenticity of the email but declined to speak on the record ahead of the formal announcement.
Shannon, 35, from Lawton, joins two-term U.S. Rep. James Lankford of Edmond in the race for the Republican nomination for state’s first open Senate seat since Coburn was elected in 2004. Republican Jason Weger, a 31-year-old paramedic from Norman, also says he will run, and U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Tulsa says he’s considering it.
Oklahoma has not elected a Democrat to an open U.S. Senate seat since David Boren in 1978, and Republicans will be heavily favored to maintain it. No Democrats have formally announced their candidacy.
A member of the Chickasaw Nation, Shannon was the first African-American and the youngest speaker of the Oklahoma House when he was elected last year. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus last year called Shannon a “rising star” within the GOP, and Shannon has participated in several RNC-sponsored events across the country.
Shannon, who previously worked as congressional field director for former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts and current U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, was first elected to the Oklahoma House in 2006. He was the first Republican to represent District 62, which includes the west side of Lawton, the state’s fifth-largest city.
He won a close race for House speaker with the help of the Republican caucus’ right wing, and he has staked out several conservative positions that occasionally rankle GOP leaders in the state Senate and governor’s office.
Shannon has consistently opposed any effort for a bond issue to pay for state infrastructure improvements, and he has pushed for deeper cuts to the state’s income tax, despite projections that the state will have about $170 million less to spend next year. He also is pushing to make permanent a generous tax subsidy to the oil and gas industry that is costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
“If we’re serious about addressing the needs of state government, we need to be serious about growing our economy, and raising taxes is not the way to do that,” Shannon told the AP in an interview earlier this month. “You do that by allowing people and businesses to keep more of the money they earn. When they do, they either spend it or invest it, and that’s how you grow your state, not by raising taxes.”
Shannon also targeted several of the state’s welfare programs last year, pushing one bill that would require some food stamp recipients to perform at least 20 hours of “work activities” each week and another to divert federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families funds to create a public service campaign promoting marriage.
Shannon, who earned his bachelor’s degree at Cameron University and a law degree from Oklahoma City University, has jokingly described himself as a “recovering attorney” who currently works as a public relations and human resources consultant. He previously worked as chief administrative officer for Chickasaw Nation Industries.