Matt Pinnell has made a name for himself within the republican party.
As the youngest state republican party chairman in the country at the time of his election, he helped the party secure all five congressional seats and every statewide elected office simultaneously for the first time in Oklahoma history.
Now, Pinnell wants to put what he calls his unique skill set to work for the State of Oklahoma.
Pinnell, an Oral Roberts University graduate and "northeast Oklahoma man," is running for the office of lieutenant governor.
He took his first steps into the political arena during college, he said.
"I worked for Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn and Scott Pruitt—those are some of my mentors," he said.
In 2013, Pinnell "went to work for conservatives as National State Party Director at the Republican National Committee, helping elect a republican majority to the U.S. Senate in 2014 and helping Donald Trump win the White House in 2016.
"I was running just Oklahoma, but was hired by the Republican National Committee to run all 50 states. I oversaw all 50 states the last couple years. My job was Mr. Fix It, essentially, for the RNC. I had to go in, identify problems, get people who maybe didn't get along, to get along. I have a unique skill set, I think, proven at both the state and national level, of brining people together and solving problems and I think we need that right now at the state capitol."
Pinnell said his campaign has raised money in every state— "and that's kind of unheard of in a lieutenant governor candidate. But, I think those national connections are helpful if you're going to be the economic development director for the state."
Pinnell said he and his wife have been small business owners going on four years—"My wife is the inventor of the Binxy Baby Shopping Cart Hammock. It's kind of an American Dream story. We are in the baby product manufacturing business and ship our products all over the world. That's really what our campaign is about."
He said he sees the role of the lieutenant governor as being the economic development director for the state.
"If they're going to be the economic development director and be an advocate for small business growth then it makes sense for them to be small business owners as well. Since that's a lot of what we talk about around the state- how we're going to get people off our roads and bridges and spending money in our communities via tourism and tourism dollars, and how are we going to retrain/recruit jobs to our state. And that's the lieutenant governor's job, to be the salesman for the state and to really, ultimately, be the economic development director for the state," he said.
Essentially, he said seeing a lack of branding for the state was the catalyst that pushed him to run for the office now.
"Traveling around the country and getting feedback of what people thought about Oklahoma, is really what gave me the itch to run. In every state in the country I'd give speeches and say I'm from Oklahoma and it would either be a negative reaction or no reaction at all because they didn't know anything about Oklahoma," he said. "That told me that we had a branding problem. We were not selling as a state. Because the lieutenant governor is the sales and marketing director for the state that really spoke to me. I feel like I'm uniquely qualified to serve in this role, to champion our state and all the great assets we have both from a tourism perspective and a business climate. We should be, as a state in the crossroads of America, where people want to re-locate their businesses to. Right now we're not and we need to fix that."
The state's skills gap is another problem Pinnell wants to solve.
"The gap between what employers need and the skills of the workforce is growing. It should be the lieutenant governors job to champion closing that gap. That means middle school and high schools getting connected with a vo-tech or career tech. This means connecting middle school and high school kids with employers already. That is something this state has to do a better job of. I think the lieutenant governor is perfectly positioned to be that advocate," he said.
When asked what he would first want to tackle if elected, Pinnell, without hesitation, said "a sales and marketing plan."
"I would start by putting a sales and marketing plan together for our tourism department as well as an economic development plan for retaining and recruiting businesses. Part of that plan is filling the skills gap. We've cut the tourism budget in half. So, some of this is making sure we dedicate the dollars necessary from a tourism perspective. This is money well spent. For every dollar spent on tourism advertising we get $7 back. It's a 7-1 return on your investment. You don't see this return on investment in any other government agency. So what people need to realize is both legislators and people in the community—tourism creates revenue for cities. We generate $650 million in local and state tax revenue off of tourism. But I think Claremore understands this more than most small communities," he said.
He said he hopes "people would want a lieutenant governor that is an advocate for a healthy sales and marketing budget for the tourism department because that will help fund schools and roads and bridges."
During his campaign, education is the topic he has been asked about the most.
"If we're not investing in the future, i.e. our kids, it's going to be difficult to have a workforce to recruit from and to build the kind of state we need to build. I've got four kids in the public school system, I'm well aware of the issues and looking forward to addressing them," Pinnell told the Progress.
Pinnell, a "proud dad of four" said he plans to champion the foster care program if elected.
"We're foster care parents as well. We just had our fourth biological so we're in between fostering right now but that is an issue that's near and dear to my heart and my wife's heart and is something I'll be championing as lieutenant governor—the recruitment of more families to stand in the gap in the foster care system," he said.
Pinnell's campaign has brought him to Claremore a handful of times already, including a meet-and-greet at Hugos last week.
He said another Hugos event is scheduled for April, though the exact date has not yet been determined.
"We've never had a lieutenant governor from northeast Oklahoma in the history of the state," he said. "To have an economic development director that's from the area—I think it's time."