With a “screw you” heard across southeastern Oklahoma, the political fight for the GOP nomination in Senate District 7 between incumbent Sen. Larry Boggs (R-Wilburton) and Republican challenger Warren Hamilton turned ugly last month.
Boggs and Hamilton have been competing for the McAlester-area seat for several months now, but video from a July 14 county Republican meeting captured a tense interaction between the two men and some of Hamilton’s supporters.
In the June 30 primary, Boggs finished with 46 percent of the vote, while Hamilton earned 42 percent. A third candidate, Kevin Woody, kept either man from winning the race outright, so the two will face each other in a Republican runoff Aug. 25. (Woody has since endorsed Boggs). The winner will run in November against Democrat Jerry Donathan, a military veteran and retired munitions plant employee who won his primary with 65 percent of the vote.
Boggs has represented SD 7 since 2012, and 2020 marks the first election cycle in which he has faced a fellow Republican in the primary.
‘All that other bullshit’
On July 14, Hamilton and Boggs were both attending a meeting of the Haskell County Republican Party to discuss Senate Bill 13, a measure proposed last session by Sen. Joseph Silk (R-Broken Bow) which would have banned abortion in the state under any circumstance.
According to a press release from Boggs’ campaign, the meeting was interrupted by members of an “aggressive radical group,” some of whom were sporting Hamilton shirts and accusing Boggs of supporting abortion, a charge he denies.
After further heated discussion of SB 13, the meeting calmed down until one attendee accused the leader of the Haskell County Republicans of unfairly favoring Boggs.
The meeting was adjourned soon after, and Boggs approached Hamilton and his supporters to discuss his record on abortion and the tenor of the campaign.
“And you’ve got to quit telling all these lies and putting crap out about me having dementia and all that other bullshit,” Boggs said to Hamilton.
Hamilton replied directly: “I haven’t said a word of that.”
With his hands behind his back, Boggs responded sarcastically.
“No, I’m sure you haven’t,” the incumbent told his challenger.
Then, a Hamilton supporter named Daniel Nevejas repeatedly told Boggs he needed to repent. Boggs said he repents every morning.
“You ain’t never going to be the judge of my repentance,” Boggs said. “Screw you.”
Boggs’ frustration with Nevejas grew, and he ultimately offered to “step outside” with the man.
Following the meeting, Nevejas filed a complaint with the Stigler Police Department, accusing Boggs of verbally attacking him. In a tweet, Nevejas, a minister who often travels with Hamilton, shared a video of the incident and accused Boggs of pushing Hamilton. (The video shows Hamilton putting his hand on Boggs’ shoulder and Boggs shaking him off.)
— Daniel Navejas (@Navejas24) July 16, 2020
Pittsburg County District Attorney Chuck Sullivan has declined to file charges, according to a press release from the Boggs campaign.
“Two people disagreeing, however sharp the language used, does not amount to criminal behavior,” the release quotes Sullivan as saying. “During the meeting, there was much spirited debate as the contest(s) of ideas were exchanged. Unfortunately, some took to insulting those who disagreed with them, forgetting for a moment that the protections of the First Amendment go both ways.”
A video of the full meeting can be found here. The altercation begins 53 minutes in.
He said, he said in Senate District 7
Boggs and Hamilton both spoke to NonDoc about the July 14 incident, offering considerably different interpretations.
“They started that,” Boggs said, adding that the meeting was calm until his opponent’s “cronies” caused a disruption. “They began to try to mob me and others there, shouting vile names at us and calling me a baby-killer and a liar. Then they started in on some of my senior women who were supporters of mine and they started intimidating them, and I couldn’t in good conscience walk away from that scene. Someone had to stop them.”
According to Boggs, his comment to Nevejas about taking their dispute outside was an effort to stop the public disruption, not a threat.
“All he kept saying is, ‘Repent, repent,'” Boggs said of Nevejas. “I feel like they were waiting on that and that was their intention from the start — to disrupt this meeting.”
Boggs’ campaign has alleged Hamilton bussed in 30 supporters, but a testimonial published in local papers said the total attendance was only 30 in total, most of whom were not from the Hamilton campaign.
On his Facebook page, Hamilton shared a witness account from a man saying Boggs was the instigator of the incident, a claim he echoed to NonDoc.
“We don’t and we never have intended to agitate or create a disruption for really anything,” Hamilton said. “The purpose of the meeting was to discredit (abortion) abolition and thereby discredit my platform.”
Hamilton’s account of the incident framed Boggs, not Hamilton, as the instigator.
“Sen. Boggs was the one who really started raising his voice. He asked Sen. Silk the same question with increasing volume each time,” Hamilton said. “What incenses the opposition the most is at some point they’re going to have to answer the question: If you really want abortion gone as much as you say you do, then why haven’t you done as much to make it go away?”
Hamilton said he had hoped the meeting would serve as an opportunity to inform voters of what SB 13 contained and that he never intended for the interaction to become heated.
“I reached over to pat Sen. Boggs on the shoulder and basically tell him you’re messing up big time,” Hamilton said. “He threw my arm off. He didn’t push me in the sense of the word, but he had already turned around to leave the meeting and then decided to come over to where we were standing and sitting and say some things to us. This exchange was one that he created.”
Part of a pattern
Though the incident at the Haskell County GOP meeting was the only time an in-person conflict has arisen between the two campaigns, it was indicative of a larger theme in the SD 7 GOP race: a dispute over the issue of abortion.
Hamilton is one of about half a dozen GOP “abortion abolitionists” who challenged Republican incumbents this election cycle. Those candidates, most of whom were soundly defeated in the June 30 primary, believe Oklahoma should outlaw and criminalize abortion.
“The big reason that I got into this was I want to see an end to abortion,” Hamilton said.
Although he acknowledged Boggs has voted in favor of traditionally pro-life stances, Hamilton said he doesn’t think that’s enough.
“We need to end this immediately because innocent people are being killed,” Hamilton said. “I don’t believe in an incremental approach.”
Silk, who authored SB 13 and has been the Legislature’s strongest anti-abortion voice, has indicated he supports Hamilton.
Nevejas, the man who filed the police report, is also a staunch opponent of legal abortion. The video he shared on Twitter was created by an organization called Free the States, whose mission is to “free as many states as possible from their participation in the American Abortion Holocaust.” The organization gave Boggs an “F” on its scorecard.
Boggs characterizes himself as “100% pro-life” and referenced his opposition to abortion when asked the top three priorities of his campaign.
“I believe we should end all abortion with the exception of maybe one of them when the mother’s life is at stake,” Boggs said, clarifying that if both the mother and infant are likely to die during the pregnancy, abortion should be an option. “Being pro-life means preserving life, not taking it, and that includes the mother and the baby.”
Hamilton said he has heard the argument before that SB 13 does not make a provision for the life of the mother.
“That’s false. It does,” he said.
The bill would prohibit abortion “in any circumstance” and declare “any abortion procedure that results in the death of an unborn child is subject to the same laws governing homicide, manslaughter, justifiable homicide, and excusable homicide.”
The provision for the life of the mother, Hamilton said, lies in the intent of the procedure in question.
The bill would define abortion as “the act of using or prescribing an instrument, drug, medicine or any other substance, device or means with the intent to cause the death of an unborn child.” Procedures that are aimed to save the life of the mother but risk ending the pregnancy would not be defined as abortion, according to proponents of the bill.
“There’s a difference there where you’re trying to save two lives instead of intentionally going in and taking one,” Hamilton said.
Though consideration for the life of the mother may not have been explicit in SB 13 (or included at all, according to GOP Senate leaders), Hamilton said it could be in the next bill of that nature.
“We’re going to introduce a new bill of abolition, and in that bill of abolition, if that’s the only problem you have with that, then problem solved,” Hamilton said.
The incident at the meeting, Boggs said, indicated to him that Hamilton, who is originally from Texas and came to Oklahoma 10 years ago, “doesn’t understand how we do things here.” Combined with Boggs’ experience, that makes Boggs a better candidate for the district, he argued.
“He wouldn’t be an effective legislator,” Boggs said. “His style is too combative and too disruptive.”
Hamilton disputed that description.
“He’s the one that raised his voice and upset the apple cart,” he said.
Hamilton said he chose to move to Oklahoma partially because he felt his values did align with the state’s.
“If I am not voted in, this is my home,” Hamilton said. “It’s where I am going to live.”
On the issues
The two candidates have surprisingly similar backgrounds. Boggs is a veteran of the Vietnam War and a retired general contractor. He served in the Air Force and Army Reserves and currently runs a cattle operation with his wife.
Hamilton is a West Point graduate and Iraq veteran who spent most of his young adult life overseas. He also served as a military contractor in Iraq and now runs a local ranch.
Hamilton appears more outspoken on social issues than Boggs. In a recording on his website, Hamilton expresses disgust with “drag queen story hour.” But the two men also share a litany of traditional Republican positions, including supporting the Second Amendment, rural businesses and lower taxes.
For Hamilton, the SD 7 race all comes back to abortion, which he characterized as a litmus test for other policies.
“I believe that really everything we do is kinda interrelated,” he said. “If we get it wrong on abortion, then we’re gonna get it wrong everywhere.”
His other top priorities include ending government overreach and supporting gun rights.
“You’re in the militia. If you’re an American, you’re in it,” Hamilton said. “Every American has a duty to contribute to it, to know how to be a part of their community, to protect themselves and their people with the weapons of the day.”
Hamilton opposes new restrictions on gun ownership on both the state and national levels.
“Every time those restrictions have been imposed on a group of people, it hasn’t worked out well for the group on which those restrictions have been imposed,” he said, citing cases of Jewish citizens before the Holocaust and Black Americans in the South.
Boggs did not hesitate when asked his top issue: “It is and always has been jobs, jobs, jobs.”
If re-elected, Boggs said he wants to focus on getting people back to work, especially those whose employment may have been affected by COVID-19.
The vice chairman of the Senate Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, Boggs also said he intends to continue representing the veterans in his district and help the state deal with what he sees as an impending budget crisis.
Boggs’ complete legislative record can be found here. Last session, he co-authored six bills that were signed into law, including one allowing damages to be sought against a physician who performs an abortion without following certain limitations.
While Hamilton has been vocal about the government response to the coronavirus — including arguing against mask mandates and telling NonDoc the pandemic should be treated like flu season — Boggs said he is just focused on getting the state “back on track.’
“I respect regulations the governor and the Department of Health and everybody puts out,” Boggs said, “and I try to follow them as much as I can, and I expect our people to do the same.”
Path to November
Boggs has garnered the vast majority of establishment and organizational support in the race, receiving more than $15,000 in donations from political action committees. Hamilton hasn’t received any PAC money. Boggs also has been endorsed by Oklahomans for Health and Parental Rights, the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, the State Chamber of Oklahoma and the NRA, according to his website.
Support has also come from both Oklahoma City and D.C., with Gov. Kevin Stitt, Oklahoma Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC), U.S. Sens. James Lankford (R-OK) and Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-CD2) all speaking in favor of Boggs.
Before the primary, Treat came forward to defend Boggs from what he saw as a mischaracterization of his stance on abortion. He told the McAlester News-Capital that SB 13 included no allowance for abortion even in circumstances where the mother’s life was in danger, meaning Senate Republican leadership did not believe it would stand up in court and did not support it as a result. According to Treat, lack of support for that bill from any member of his caucus was not indicative of opposition to banning abortion effectively.
“It’s a goal I support and so does Boggs,” Treat said.
Hamilton, for his part, will continue to appeal to voters mainly on the issue of abortion, which he brought up in response to nearly every question NonDoc asked him.
“I wish people were more upset about the 20 Oklahoma citizens who were legally murdered today than about someone’s hurt feelings about being called to repentance,” he ultimately said of the altercation at the Haskell meeting.
Regardless, Boggs said he hopes he can keep representing SD 7.
“My work in the Senate isn’t finished yet, and I never quit until a job is done,” Boggs said. “I think we in southeastern Oklahoma are still facing unique challenges, and I feel like I am in the best position to help in those areas.”