George Burns is running for Senate District 5, but he doesn’t want to talk about it with NonDoc.
Upon mention of the words “reporter” and “media outlet,” he twice hung up the phone with no explanation and did not respond to multiple emails and texts requesting an interview.
Burns, whose descriptions below have been derived from publicly available information, is one of two candidates in a runoff election for an open seat in SD 5 in August. The other candidate, Justin Jackson, overcame a shortened campaign period and personal tragedy to appear on the ballot with Burns. Jackson agreed to an interview for this story.
SD 5 spans five counties in southeastern Oklahoma. The seat has been represented by Sen. Joseph Silk (R-Broken Bow) since 2014, but this election cycle Silk unsuccessfully challenged to U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK2) in eastern Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District, leaving SD 5 up for grabs.
Burns finished first in the June 30 primary, with 2,093 votes or 38 percent of the total. Jackson trailed him by just under 300 votes. A third Republican, Jimmy Westbrook, finished another 350 votes behind Jackson.
Because Burns fell short of earning an outright majority, he and Jackson will compete in a runoff for the nomination on Aug. 25. The winner will go on to the general election to run against Democrat Randy Coleman, who won his primary with three-quarters of the vote.
SD 5 includes parts of McCurtain, Choctaw, Pushmataha, Atoka and LeFlore counties. An overview of all five original candidates can be found here.
Jackson’s biggest fan
Coming into the primary election, Jackson said he was already concerned he was behind. While Westbrook announced in 2019 and Burns followed in early 2020, Jackson did not make his candidacy public until he filed to run in April.
Jackson works at his family’s fundraising business, where he helps Future Farmers of America, 4-H groups, nonprofits and schools raise money. While doing that, he also became involved with trying to protect natural resources and water in the southeastern part of the state. Through this, he told NonDoc, he made contact with state government officials, including ones in power today.
“I realized that they are the ones that are making the decisions at the Capitol, that have an impact on our future,” Jackson said.
As he continued to build those relationships, Jackson said he became interested in running for office himself and was encouraged to do so by those he knew.
“I just felt like the political timing was right with me because I had built those relationships,” Jackson said. “I love Southeast Oklahoma first and foremost, I have a vision for what I think we can become.”
But Jackson said the personal timing was not right.
Jackson’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer five years earlier. After he announced, Jackson said he began campaigning, delivering packages to elderly neighbors and helping out where he could. On April 20, his mom took a turn for the worse, and everything campaign-related stopped.
“From April 20 to May 20, on the day that she passed, I was in the hospital with her, which is exactly where I had to be,” Jackson said.
After his mother died, he hit the campaign trail again, with only a month until the election.
“I basically campaigned for three and half weeks, hard, in the month of June,” he said.
Jackson said that thinking about his mother kept him dedicated to the campaign.
“One of the things my mother said to me when we had one of our last conversations was that she hated that she wasn’t gonna be able to vote for me,” Jackson said. “She was my biggest fan, so I’m definitely a little extra motivated now with my mother’s passing to make her proud still.”
Passengers on the ‘Trump train’
Burns, who owns part of an engineering and construction firm, previously served as the head of his local electric cooperative. Though he stepped down when he announced his candidacy, he has cited his experience there as important in his mission to “root out corruption” at the State Capitol, a message that may seem familiar to those who remember promises to “drain the swamp.”
Both Burns and Jackson have made notable allusions to President Donald Trump in their campaign materials. The homepage of Burns’ website mentions his support of the president three times and includes the quote, “George Burns will get the job done for southeastern Oklahoma, just like Donald Trump did for America!”
In 2015, NonDoc spoke to Jackson at a Trump campaign rally in the state. Jackson was then promoting a song he wrote titled “Trump Train,” which features lines such as “the Trump train is telling it like it is” and “Donald’s gonna bring jobs back from China, have Mexico pay for the wall, hang a big ol’ sign saying ‘keep out all you terrorists.’ We’ll let ‘em know Ms. Liberty’s still standing tall.” The song can be found on Jackson’s website.
Jackson said he takes pride in having supported Trump from the beginning and sees him as a model to emulate.
“I resonate with Trump because of his business background. He certainly tells it like it is, and he is not beholden to any person, party or country,” Jackson said. “He’s doing what’s best for America, and that’s what I want to bring to the table at the Capitol is to do what’s best for southeast Oklahoma and fight for what’s right here.”
Though the race has remained fairly civil, Burns’ campaign Facebook page did share an account from an event in Heavener on June 22 that refers to his opponent as a politician, saying he is “in the hip pocket of the Governor.”
Jackson admitted he had relationships with officials, but said this was a positive.
“With my business background and with the relationships that I have in place currently, I just feel like I would be the better candidate to be able to get a seat at the table and build a stronger coalition,” Jackson said.
From the other side, Jackson has attacked Burns’ conservative credentials. One video on his campaign website states, “Others claim to be Trump Republicans. Justin Jackson was the only one who was registered GOP and with President Trump since day one.”
On the issues
Burns’ website describes him as a “champion for rural schools, 100% pro-life, promoter of rural businesses, protector of our religious freedoms, fighter for SE Oklahoma natural resources, advocate for law enforcement, vets, farmers and ranchers.” He mentions multiple times in campaign materials that members of his family are supplying materials for Trump’s border wall.
Jackson has proposed an eight-point plan to improve the district, which can be seen below.
The most important of these points, he said, is protecting resources, growing the district’s economic footprint and ensuring broadband connectivity.
“It just seems like we’ve always been at the bottom when it comes to economic growth, and I feel like to change that tourism is our number one industry,” Jackson said. “Going along with that means protecting natural resources.”
SD 5 is a largely rural district, which means the area has different concerns than cities, according to Jackson.
“It’s no longer Democrat versus Republican, it’s urban versus rural,” he said.
Jackson comes from a long line of teachers and works with public schools, he mentioned, and has seen recently how crucial broadband connectivity is, not just for education but for business and telemedicine.
“[Covid-19] shined a very bright light on a very dark problem as far as not being up with 21st-century technology,” Jackson said.
Both candidates express support for Christianity and traditional conservative values on their websites. They both promise to work for jobs, rural education and infrastructure. They also both received an “AQ” rating (the Q indicates they do not yet have proven records) from the NRA.
Jackson has earned the majority of local endorsements, with support from Oklahomans for Health and Parental Rights, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and the Oklahoma 2nd Amendment Association.
Burns was endorsed by the Hugo News, whose editorial praised his experience in business and leadership. He was given a 100 percent pro-life score by Oklahomans for Life. His Facebook features endorsements from community leaders.