After three hours of legal theatrics, political posturing and questions about his colonoscopy, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter has been deemed eligible for the 2018 ballot. Three members of the Oklahoma State Election Board voted to affirm his status as a “bona fide resident” early this afternoon.
Attorneys for Hunter and GOP challenger Gentner Drummond rankled each other for nearly three hours Monday, with Drummond attorney Garry Gaskins repeatedly calling Hunter a former “lobbyist” for his work in Washington, D.C. with former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating.
“I didn’t consider myself a legal resident of the state of Virginia. I am a legal resident of the state of Oklahoma,” Hunter said during almost two hours of testimony in a packed second-floor room at the Oklahoma State Capitol. “I object to your characterization of me as a lobbyist.”
Drummond challenged Hunter’s eligibility to run for the office April 17, offering three pieces of evidence for the claim that Hunter had resided in Washington and not Oklahoma for the 10 previous years required by law.
In a news release, Drummond said he filed:
- Notarized documents signed by Mr. Hunter and his spouse, purchasing a home(s) in Virginia and agreeing to “occupy, establish and use the Property as Borrower’s principal residence…”
- Official documents from the Oklahoma County Treasurer’s office indicating Mr. Hunter’s property tax statements were sent to his primary residence in Virginia from 2010-2014.
- A direct quote from Mr. Hunter in 2017, where he told a local TV show “For most of the last 10 or 12 years I was in Washington, D.C. with Governor Keating working for financial services principally, life insurers, banks and uh two years ago this spring, I moved back and was talked into going to work for Scott Pruitt, and here I am.”
Mike Hunter’s attorney: ‘He maintained a home here’
Hunter was represented by two attorneys, Bob Nance and Neal Leader, who argued that past case law showed Hunter had never given up his Oklahoma residency.
“The evidence in this case will show that there was an honest intent to return to Oklahoma and never establish a residence anywhere else on the general’s part,” Leader said. “The evidence here will show he maintained a home here in Oklahoma at considerable expense. (…) They left all furniture, all books, most clothes (…) in their Oklahoma home.”
Leader ran through a long list of facts he said showed that Hunter never relinquished his Oklahoma residence.
“He voted in 41 Oklahoma state, municipal and school board elections and never voted anywhere else,” Leader said. “He has maintained his Oklahoma driver’s license since 1972. (…) He maintained his Oklahoma bank account. (…) He paid out-of-state tuition when one of his son’s went to college in the state of Virginia.
“He even came back to Oklahoma for his colonoscopy.”
Nance said he and Leader had debated whether to mention the colonoscopy, which Leader said offered “levity” to the situation.
Afterward, Hunter called the hearing “fair and impartial” and said he looks forward to campaigning.
“I’m going to run on my record. I’ve got a great team that I’m very proud of,” Hunter said. “I think that we have done much to protect the people of the state, whether it’s rate-making proceedings at the Corporation Commission, whether it’s getting a handle on the opioid epidemic, whether it’s protecting people from scammers and frauds, that’s what we’re focused on.”
Drummond said he was unsure if he would appeal the Oklahoma State Election Board’s decision to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, but he critiqued Hunter’s time as attorney general.
“He advocates small government, yet his office is 300 percent bigger than it was under Attorney General (Drew) Edmondson,” Drummond said. “Two, I find it very curious that the Tar Creek audit was released just before the filing and, coincidentally, after the statute of limitations had run for criminal prosecution.”
Other arguments and background
The Oklahoma State Election Board opened its hearing of the Drummond v. Hunter case by hearing arguments about a motion to quash subpoenas issued by Drummond to Oklahoma County Assessor Larry Stein. A member of the board made a motion to “deny” the motion to quash, which passed 3-0. But Chairman Steve Curry announced the vote to say it was a motion to “approve.” After brief discussion, Curry made a separate motion to “approve” the motion to quash, which also passed 3-0.
Then, Nance argued for the board to excuse Hunter from having to respond to a separate Drummond subpoena that sought tax return information for the current attorney general. The board ruled in Hunter’s favor then, too.
Hunter was appointed attorney general in February 2017 following the selection of Scott Pruitt as director of the environmental protection agency.
Both Republican candidates have been airing TV advertisements ahead of the June 26 primary election. The race has already grown contentious, with The Oklahoman reporting Monday morning about a divorce case in which Drummond was an attorney.