James Mountain Inhofe: A Look At the Career Of Oklahoma's Longest Serving U.S. Senator

Friday, February 25th 2022, 8:54 am


“We’ve tried winning and tried losing and winning is surely more fun,” James Mountain Inhofe told a celebratory crowd in 1994 after winning his first statewide election to the United States Senate. 

Inhofe, now 87, was first elected to the Oklahoma State Legislature in 1967, becoming desk-mates with Democrat David Boren, the man who would beat out Inhofe in the 1974 race for Governor. 

“Let me tell you, it wasn’t a red state then,” Inhofe said on the U.S. Senate floor years later. “We had a House of Representatives of 100 people and only seven of us were Republicans.” 

After 10 years in the Statehouse, Inhofe became Tulsa’s 34th Mayor in 1978 beating Democrat Rodger Randle, 51% to 46%. 

However, Inhofe, an avid aviator, set his political sights higher, running for Congress in 1987 then U,S, Senate in 1994. 

His love of aviation was prominently featured in contemporary campaign ads. 

“I’ve always set out to serve you as a United States Senator as long as I can fly upside down,” Inhofe said in a 2020 campaign ad. 

A climate change denier, Inhofe rose to Chairman of the Senate Environmental Committee in 2015 often sparring with his close friend and rival colleague Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA. 

“It is our mission now to stop the EPA and it’s job-killing agenda,” Inhofe told constituents in a 2010 video. 

The same year he assumed the chairmanship, video of Inhofe tossing a snowball across the 163-year-old Senate chamber went viral. 

“It’s very, very cold out,” Inhofe said. “Very unseasonal, so here Mr. Chairman, catch this,” he said. 

After the 2018 death of Sen. John McCain, Inhofe became chairman of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee and was steadfast in pushing for increased military spending. 

“No bill is more important to protecting our freedoms than the national defense authorization act,” Inhofe said of the annual military budget bill in 2021. 

Inhofe's political prowess was noted by Presidents of the United States from time to time. 

“Mayor Jim Inhofe of Tulsa has been especially supportive,” President Ronald Reagan said of his 1982 federalism plan, addressing told a joint session of the Oklahoma legislature. 

“I’d also like to thank Jim Inhofe, who’s been so terrific in so many different ways,” President Donald Trump during a 2017 executive order signing, marking his first step in the effort to undo the Waters of the United States Obama-era clean water rule.  

One of the most conservative men in Congress, Inhofe was also able to make friends across the aisle. 

“He is really, really conservative,” Sen. Bernie Sanders told CNN during the 2020 presidential campaign. “But you know what, he’s a decent guy and I like him, and he and I are friends.” 

In Washington Inhofe often spoke of his 20 kids and grandkids and his wife Kay.