GOP Senate candidates
From left to right: Luke Holland, Scott Pruitt, Nathan Dahm and T.W. Shannon participate in a debate among Republican primary candidates for Oklahoma's open U.S. Senate seat Thursday, June 9, 2022. (Screenshot)

Working hard to establish their conservative credentials, GOP candidates in Oklahoma’s open U.S. Senate election touted their hardline stances on the Second Amendment and the National Commission to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack, while also offering viewers a contrast in how best to move forward following the McGirt decision, during a 60-minute debate Thursday night hosted by News 9.

Former Attorney General Scott Pruitt, State Sen. Nathan Dahm, Luke Holland and former Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon were the evening’s four participants. U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin, considered to be the frontrunner in the race, did not participate, despite an offer from the television station to allow him to answer questions remotely from Washington.

Mullin announced his decision Thursday morning in a video posted on Twitter:

Mullin made a similar decision and recorded a similar video in May when he did not attend a U.S. Senate primary candidate forum hosted by the Petroleum Alliance of Oklahoma.

Candidates differ on McGirt approach

When it came to what’s next following the landmark 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision in McGirt vs. Oklahoma, views differed on who should sort it out. Some candidates favored federal intervention, while others said it’s up to the courts to decide.

Pruitt said the decision poses a threat to Oklahoma and could have an impact well beyond criminal jurisdiction.

“Let’s be very clear: The McGirt decision poses an existential threat to the sovereignty of the state of Oklahoma,” he said. “It’s a jurisdictional threat. It’s not just about criminal jurisdiction. This affects many matters of taxing authority, regulatory authority, mineral interests and title interests.”

Pruitt said it’s up to Congress to provide clarity.

“We shouldn’t be relying on the courts,” Pruitt said. “The Congress has every right and every authority to disestablish reservations in the state of Oklahoma and to restore sovereign boundaries of the state of Oklahoma.”

Shannon, who is Chickasaw and who has been endorsed by Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby, offered a different view than Pruitt, emphasizing the need for state and tribal leaders to work together in the world of criminal justice. He said the court decision does not apply to civil matters.

“It’s clear McGirt was a decision about criminal jurisdiction in Indian country,” he said. “I certainly believe that the state of Oklahoma and the Native American tribes in Oklahoma have a history of working together. Whether we’re talking about compacting on issues of gaming or hunting or fishing or gasoline Oklahoma has been a model of how states and tribes work together. The last thing we need is for Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to decide what’s best for Oklahoma. Any decision about Oklahoma should be an Oklahoma-first decision, and that includes all four million Oklahomans and many tribal members like myself, and Congressman Mullin, who is not here tonight.”

In a rebuttal, Pruitt re-iterated his belief that the federal government should decide what happens with the Indian Country reservations in eastern Oklahoma. Pruitt said he is aware of efforts from Gov. Kevin Stitt to have conversations with the tribes that have not been reciprocated.

“Congress is the only entity that can solve this problem,” Pruitt said.

Holland said the issue should be decided by the courts. Dahm said that, if he is elected, he would introduce legislation in the Senate to re-establish tribal borders within the state.

Jan. 6 hearings called a ‘sham’

Thursday night also marked the opening of a congressional commission’s hearings regarding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol Building. That bipartisan committee is examining former President Donald Trump’s role in the attack on the U.S. Capitol by a group of his supporters. During Thursday night’s debate, all four of the GOP Senate candidates said the hearings were a waste of time.

Dahm said those being held on charges for attacking the Capitol Building were “political prisoners” before encouraging those watching the debate to do their own research. He also slipped in a dig at Mullin.

“Rather than watching the false media narrative and what the Democrats are pushing, I encourage people do their own research and you will see that there were Capitol police officers that held open the doors,” Dahm said. “There were federal informants involved in this who seemed to encourage this. And you will see Ashley Babbitt was murdered by a Capitol police officer and Congressman Mullin praised that police officer for murdering an unarmed veteran.”

Holland, who has served as Inhofe’s chief of staff and who has been endorsed by him, said the hearings were a planned distraction by the media to hide the real problems facing the country.

“The media is really working overtime to distract the American people from the challenges we’re facing right now,” he said. “Inflation is sky high. Runaway government spending. There is chaos all over this country. They want everyone to be focused on this crazy issue.”

Shannon said the hearings are an effort to thwart a 2024 presidential run by Trump.

“It’s a sham, and I won’t be watching it, he said.

Pruitt repeated debunked claims of widespread election fraud that he claimed prevented Trump from being re-elected in 2020.

“We know there was fraud, and we know that actions were taken by certain individuals across the country, and there was no prosecution or focus on that,” he said.

Candidates oppose gun restrictions

In the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, Texas, and most recently Tulsa, candidates were asked how best such events could be prevented while maintaining gun rights. All four of the candidates present said there was no need for new restrictions on firearm access. All four of the candidates opposed so called “Red Flag” laws, which are intended to delay or prevent mentally ill people from being able to purchase guns.

Dahm touted his credentials as a state legislator in expanding Second Amendment rights for Oklahomans, and he promised to do the same federally if elected.

“What this is about is disarming law-abiding citizens. That’s what the left is trying to do, and I’m going to stop them from doing that,” he said.

Shannon said that, even in the wake of mass shootings, now is not the time to abandon the Second Amendment.

“What we know to be true is that Joe Biden and their agenda is an anti-police, anti-gun agenda and now is not the time for Republicans or anyone else to bend one inch on our Second Amendment rights,” he said.

Pruitt said rather than taking away gun rights, it’s time to fortify schools to make them unappealing targets for would-be shooters.

“The first focus is to secure our schools,” he said. “These are soft targets. We need to make sure kids are protected throughout the school day. We had an assault rifle ban, and there was no appreciable change in outcomes. We need to make sure we’re dealing with the evil in society and not taking away gun rights from law abiding citizens.”

Holland said hardening schools and bringing God back into people’s lives were possible solutions to mass shootings.

“When you think about the cause of these challenges, it comes down to issues that we see in society,” he said. “We need to look at hardening our schools and providing armed police officers for our kids when they go to school. But the fact the left has been so good at kicking God out of everything is one of the challenges we face.”

Other GOP Senate candidates running

Shannon, Dahm, Holland and Pruitt are not the only Republicans running for Inhofe’s U.S. Senate seat. The other candidates include: ,

  • Alex Gray, a former Trump White House staffer
  • Adam Holley, a Bixby resident,
  • Paul Royse, a Tulsa resident,
  • Jessica Jean Garrison, an Owasso resident,
  • Laura Moreno, an Edmond resident,
  • Michael Coibion, a Bartlesville resident,
  • John Tompkins, an Oklahoma City physician, and
  • Randy Grellner, a Cushing physician.

Grellner filed a lawsuit in late May alleging that News 9 had violated its own offer to candidates because the news station had said it would include the top six candidates in terms of polling and fundraising. But when Grellner and Holley tied for sixth in the station’s independent poll, News 9 only offered five candidates the opportunity to participate. (Mulling was one of those candidates.)

Last week, a judge ruled against Grellner and declined to issue an injunction that would have allowed Grellner to participate.

The winner of the Republican primary will face former Democratic Congresswoman Kendra Horn, Libertarian Robert Murphy and independent Ray Woods in the November general election. If no Republican receives more than 50 percent of the vote on June 28, the top two finishers will head to an Aug. 23 runoff.

Watch the debate among GOP Senate candidates