Open seats make for competitive legislative elections

Wednesday, July 28th 2004, 5:32 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- An August runoff will determine which candidates advance to the November general election for a shot at filling 51 open seats in the Oklahoma Legislature.

Many of Tuesday's primary races featured relatively unknown candidates slugging it out to fill the seat of incumbents forced out by term limits. As a result, some of the primaries featured as many as eight candidates and 23 -- four in the Senate and 19 in the House -- resulted in runoffs.

Although Republicans hope to gain some seats in Democrat-held Senate, the real battle is in the House, where Democrats have a 52-48 advantage over the GOP. One seat is vacant.

If Republicans can hold their current seats and flip three districts to the GOP side, they will control the House for the first time since 1921.

Although no incumbents were knocked out Tuesday, Republican state Rep. Wayne Pettigrew is headed for an August GOP runoff in Edmond's House District 39.

Pettigrew mustered just over 45 percent of the vote, falling short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. He will face Edmond real estate agent Marian Cooksey, who had a little more than 44 percent. Businessman Tom McBride received almost 10 percent.

Pettigrew, who drew the ire of fellow Republicans when he voted for a controversial gaming bill, said the close race was the result of a late series of personal attack ads unleashed by Cooksey.

"We ran a totally positive, nice-guy race," Pettigrew said. "Unfortunately, our opponent hit us late with negative ads and we were unable to respond to them appropriately."

Cooksey said her campaign was not negative and that she has focused on issues.

"Everything I've sent out has been very positive and mostly about me," she said.

She acknowledged that Pettigrew's votes in favor of the gaming measure and a state lottery played a role in her decision to take on the 10-year legislative veteran.

In another high-profile race in Tulsa, former Secretary of Health Tom Adelson will face Tulsa oilman Dewey Bartlett Jr. for a seat in the state Senate. The race is expected to be one of the most expensive legislative races in state history.

Adelson received 52 percent of the vote to edge out Tim Gilpin, the former chairman of the Tulsa County Democratic Party who received 48 percent.

"I hope we can keep this seat in the hands of the Democrats and carry on the legacy of Senator Penny Williams, who represented the district very well for 12 years," Adelson said.

Term limits prevented Williams from seeking re-election.

Bartlett, the son of a former governor and U.S. senator, easily handled Tulsa attorney Nancy Rothman in the Republican primary, taking more than 73 percent of the vote.

"I started walking the neighborhoods and knocking on doors two months ago," Bartlett said, "and that's what I'm going to continue to do until this is settled in November."

The most recent finance reports show the four candidates combined to raise more than $364,000 on July 12.

Two political newcomers are bound for a seat at the State Capitol after winning winner-take-all primaries Tuesday.

Midwest City Republican Gary Banz won the open District 101 seat outright after getting 61 percent of the vote in a three-way GOP primary race. No Democrats filed for the seat vacated by Rep. Forrest Claunch.

And in the Senate, Tulsa businessman Mike Mazzei emerged from a crowded five-way GOP primary with nearly 62 percent of the vote to capture the Senate District 25 seat outright.

Mazzei's closest competitor was former Tulsa County Clerk Joan King Hastings with 16 percent. With no Democrats, Mazzei will succeed term-limited Sen. Charles Ford, who has served in the Legislature since 1966.

In the closest race of the night, Larry Gooch of Del City narrowly edged Amy Gorley of Oklahoma City by just four votes, 1,100 to 1,096.

Results of all races are not final until they are certified by the state Election Board on Friday.

House Republican leader Todd Hiett, who is expected to be voted the next speaker if the GOP takes over, said he's confident Republicans can take over the House in November.

"We certainly have a strong set of candidates coming out of these primaries and we fully expect to take the majority," said Hiett, R-Kellyville.

House speaker-elect Jari Askins was also excited about Tuesday's results, saying she is pleased with the quality of candidates who emerged on the Democrat side.

"I'm really excited about the 19 candidates that have already been decided," said Askins, D-Duncan.

Although Askins didn't disclose specific districts Democrats were targeting, she said she was confident a few GOP incumbents would be picked off in November.

"I don't think there's any question about that."