Gary Richardson plans to announce a 2018 campaign for Oklahoma governor this spring, the Tulsa attorney has stated on social media.
“I’m looking at it pretty hard,” Richardson told NonDoc via phone on Monday, though declining to repeat the announcement he made in a Facebook comment days earlier.
That comment came on his own post about “Gary’s Gun Giveaway,” a contest to increase page followers that will result in one person winning an AR-15 rifle at an unstated time in the future.
“I don’t know what the date on that is,” Richardson said of his gun giveaway. “My consultant’s handling it for me.”
The son of a sharecropper who served as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Oklahoma from 1981 to 1984, Richardson is the lead partner of plaintiff’s firm Richardson, Richardson and Boudreaux in Tulsa. He ran for governor in 2002 as an independent, receiving 146,200 votes (14 percent). Democrat Brad Henry ultimately defeated Republican Steve Largent by fewer than 7,000 votes.
Richardson said Monday that he will run as a Republican in 2018 if he does formally announce.
“I ran in 2002 as an independent,” Richardson recalled. “Been a Republican pretty much all my life, but I didn’t feel at that point in time that change was in the cards — change that needs to be made. But I feel like today, seeing what’s happened in Trump’s case (…) I think the Republicans are ready to see the changes that need to be made.”
Asked what those changes would be, Richardson said he would like to “hold that off until I make my announcement.”
“This is the only thing I will disclose because I talk about it pretty often anyway: There’s got to be some changes made with regard to the turnpikes,” the 75-year-old attorney said. “And the state prison system. There are other things. But that’s the kind of thing I’m talking about that needs to be cleaned up.”
Pundit: ‘He absolutely owned Steve Largent’
OU political science professor and de facto state pundit Keith Gaddie was unaware of Richardson’s plans, nor had he seen Richardson’s gun giveaway, but he summed up a potential Richardson run by saying, “It’ll be fun.”
“When I lived in Georgia 25 years ago, I watched a 74-year-old Lester Maddox run for governor against Roy Barnes and Zell Miller,” Gaddie recalled. “Old Lester stole the show. So sometimes having an old guy with nothing to lose in there can really fire up the political environment. It can be interesting, because he becomes the wild-card among the serious contenders.”
Gaddie said Richardson’s criticism of the state’s turnpike system could appeal to Oklahoma’s populist sentiments.
“If he had been a party nominee in 2002, he would have won in that environment,” Gaddie said. “He absolutely owned Steve Largent. Just owned him. He had a decent little issue to work with on that turnpike thing. It was a wonderful piece of populism. It was very Oklahoma.”
The political science professor said Richardson’s biggest obstacle may be the presumed front runner for the GOP 2018 primary.
“There’s always a possibility (Richardson) could do well. He’s pretty much undefined,” Gaddie said. “The thing is that Todd Lamb has been out there on the ground running for governor for seven years. That’s what lieutenant governors do — they run for governor.
“Lamb is a candidate who has appeal across different parts of Republican politics. He’s generally a positive personality, which I think bodes well for him. He’s able to raise money.”
Gaddie said Lamb’s status as an incumbent statewide-office holder would likely help him, despite mounting public criticism of Gov. Mary Fallin and the GOP-controlled Legislature in the face of the state’s continuing revenue problems.
“What are you going to tie him to? What policy decision has Lamb made?” Gaddie asked rhetorically. “That’s the one thing about lieutenant governor: Nobody knows what you do, nobody knows that you did it, but they know you did something, and they know you’re the lieutenant governor.”
Lamb’s office has denied multiple NonDoc requests for an interview since mid-2016.
“If you were you, would you talk to you?” Gaddie said with a smile.
Richardson: ‘I would see the people as clients’
Richardson did not reference any potential opponents by name this week, but he did discuss Oklahoma’s budget problems.
“I think there’s a lot of money in this state being misspent,” he said of the budget. “When you compare us to some other states around us, it doesn’t look well.”
He noted his years prosecuting corrupt county commissioners as U.S. attorney, adding that he thinks he probably prosecuted more of them than anyone else.
“If there is corruption in this state, I will go looking for it,” Richardson pledged as a potential candidate.
Richardson was born in Caddo, a small community near Durant. After moving to Texas at age 9, he graduated from Southern Nazarene University in Bethany. In the 1970s, he twice ran for Congress in eastern Oklahoma’s 2nd District, losing as a Republican in a deeply Democratic area.
“I connect fairly well with the grassroots people — the rural people,” Richardson said. “I grew up on a cotton farm working hard, picking cotton, driving tractors and all that.”
Asked what the highlight of his legal career has been, Richardson said, “Representing the people. I have a passion to help people who have been abused.”
To that end, Richardson’s legal website lists 19 case results that have returned verdicts of $1 million or more. In 1991, he won a $58 million libel judgment for a Texas district attorney who had been maligned by a television reporter.
“I would see the people as clients,” Richardson said of how he would govern Oklahoma.
On Trump: ‘He has a good heart’
Richardson’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign website can still be viewed through a Library of Congress archive. The site featured a lengthy explanation of his Christian faith, as well as the sale of Richardson Renegades T-shirts sporting a muddled logo of what appears to be an eagle clutching a donkey in one foot and an elephant in the other.
Richardson recently attended the inauguration of President Donald Trump. He said he had donated to Trump’s campaign and had “supported him from the first day on.”
“I’ll tell you what I told my wife when I first saw him (campaigning),” Richardson said. “I believe this man really has a heart to do what he believes is best for the people of this country, and that’s what I’m for.
“He has a good heart.”