(Update: On Tuesday, June 28, Todd Gollihare won election to represent Senate District 12.)
On June 28, Republican voters in Senate District 12 will pick the Tulsa-area district’s next state senator from two candidates, one who has spent his career in government jobs and the other with a background in the private sector.
Both Todd Gollihare, 57, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, and Rob Ford, 48, who works in the energy industry, say their professional experience makes them the best candidate for the State Senate.
No other candidate filed to run in Senate District 12, so the winner of the June 28 Republican primary will win the seat. Senate District 12 lies southwest of Tulsa, covering most of Creek County as well as part of western Tulsa County. Its biggest city is Sapulpa. The current senator representing District 12, James Leewright (R-Bristow), announced on April 6 that he would not seek reelection.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, and early voting will run June 23-25. This article was written following interviews with the two Senate District 12 candidates.
Both candidates have held office before
In addition to his military background, Gollihare is a retired U.S. District Court probation officer, according to a Facebook post announcing his candidacy. He is currently a leadership teacher at Kellyville High School and has previously served on the Kellyville Public Schools Board of Education.
Ford is an operator at Holly Frontier, a Tulsa oil refinery. He previously served as a trustee for his hometown of Mounds from 2017 to 2020, and he was chairman of the Creek County Republican Party from 2019 to 2021.
As the primary election approaches, Gollihare, who lives in Bristow, has touted his experience as a reason why he should win the seat.
“What got me into this race is my desire to continue serving my country and my community,” he said during an interview. “What separates [me from my opponent] is the wealth of experience, the know-how, the actually having been in government service and working with budgets, working with other people.”
Ford also argued that his background would help him be successful as a state senator. As someone who works in the private sector, he said he understands “the local people, people’s work ethic and the types of opportunities that are available (in Senate District 12).”
Additionally, Ford worked to craft the Creek County GOP platform as a member of its platform committee. Because of that experience, he said he understands the issues important to the Republican Party better than his opponent does. Ford also said his time as a Mounds trustee gave him more experience writing laws and making budgets.
‘We need to find new, relevant issues for the people’
Ford says his biggest motivation for entering the Senate District 12 race was to protect Oklahomans from “overreach.”
“The federal government is in every aspect of our lives,” Ford said. “And I think that Oklahoma as a state should push back a little on that.”
Ford did not offer specifics on how to push back against overreach, but he praised the work of the Republican Party on issues such as gun control and abortion. He commended Gov. Kevin Stitt for signing laws allowing permitless carry and banning almost all abortions. But he said the party cannot continue to run solely on those issues.
“I think in the past, a lot of hype has been made on the Republican Party side about life and guns,” Ford said. “Well, Gov. Stitt did constitutional carry, and he just signed the heartbeat bill. So the GOP needs to pivot. We need to find new, relevant issues for the people.”
For Ford, one of those issues is state spending, which he said is “out of control.”
Ford said he wants to see the Oklahoma’s Constitutional Reserve Fund — also called the rainy day fund — replenished and the state sales tax on groceries eliminated. (The rainy day fund, however, is on pace to reach its maximum constitutional cap when Fiscal Year 2022 concludes at the end of this month.)
Ford received an “A” grade from Oklahomans for Health and Parental Rights, a political action committee that supports parental choice in health care and education and campaigns against school mask and vaccine mandates.
In a May 5 Facebook post, Ford indicated support for police officers, saying that “law enforcement across the state of Oklahoma need our respect and support!”
Both Ford and Gollihare have an “A” grade from the Oklahoma Second Amendment Association.
If elected senator, Gollihare said he wants to use his experience in different areas of government to focus on education, law enforcement and spending.
He said he supports giving parents vouchers to send their kids to a school of their choice, but he said he also believes in the importance of rural public schools.
“Public schools are the lifeblood of these small towns,” Gollihare said. “The public schools are the biggest employer, the biggest transporter of people. They’re the biggest entertainment venue, and they’re the biggest restaurant in town, because we feed all the kids.”
Gollihare said he wants to support public schools but also ensure that they have competition.
“Competition for state dollars is always good, and it will help the public schools to up their game,” he said.
Gollihare currently teaches a leadership development class at Kellyville High School.
Regarding law enforcement, Gollihare said he supports police officers and that his time as a probation officer will allow him to help make “community policing” a reality by trying to build trust between different aspects of the criminal justice system.
“I want to look at public safety, making sure the police officers are supported, making sure they have all the continuing education, have all the tool sets and abilities to be able to talk to the people in the community and actually do community policing,” Gollihare said.
In the fiscal realm, Gollihare said the state needs to prepare for a recession. He also said he wants to put money into the state rainy day fund — which will reach its constitutional cap at the end of the month — to support farmers and small-business owners, should the economy start to decline.
“We really need to make sure that the surplus the state of Oklahoma has right now gets put into the rainy day fund because we really need to support our small business leaders and our farmers and ranchers,” Gollihare said. “They need to weather this rough patch we’re going to go through because once we’re through with it, there’s gonna be a brighter day and we need to be ready.”