(Update: On Tuesday, June 28, Jack Stewart won election to represent Senate District 18.)
The race for the newly relocated Senate District 18 is a contest between “the steady hand of experience” and “fresh leadership.”
Jack Stewart, 72, and Hunter Zearley, 27, are competing in the Republican primary election June 28. No candidate from any other party is running, so this election will decide the new District 18 state senator.
Created in the course of redistricting after the 2020 census, the new SD 18 lies west of Oklahoma City, centered around Yukon. It is located in eastern Canadian County and includes a small portion of western Oklahoma County.
The previous SD 18 has been southeast of Tulsa and includes most of Wagoner County as well as parts of Cherokee, Mayes, Muskogee and Tulsa counties. It is represented by Sen. Kim David (R-Porter), who has reached her term limit and is running for an open seat on the Corporation Commission.
Polls will be open on Election Day 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 18 candidates.
The ‘steady hand of experience’
Stewart has been a Canadian County commissioner for the past 12 years. Before that, he worked for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation for 31 years and has served on the Yukon Traffic Commission, according to his website. His LinkedIn page and bio on the Canadian County Board of Commissioners site also show that he spent five years in the private sector with Garver, an engineering firm.
Stewart said he believes he is the stronger candidate because he has more “experience and knowledge” than Zearley.
“County commissioner is absolutely a government job, that’s for sure.” Stewart said. “But you are absolutely out in the real world. Those citizens are calling you, they want solutions.”
Zearley works at the State Capitol as a staffer. Currently, he is the appointments and leadership assistant for House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka). He argued that his relationships in the Legislature and his familiarity with the legislative process will be assets if he becomes a senator.
“I’ve been around the (Capitol), I’ve been around the process.” Zearley said. “I understand how things work in that place, and I have relationships and friendships with a lot of these Republican House members as well as some Republican senators.”
The son of longtime Oklahoma Public Employees Association director Sterling Zearley, Hunter Zearley said he got into the race because it is an open seat in a new district.
“It’s a good opportunity,” Zearley said. “I want to give back to my state and back to my community.”
Zearley said he is endorsed by McCall, House Majority Leader Jon Echols (R-OKC) and Sen. Zack Taylor (R-Seminole), as well as by the State Chamber of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma City chapter of the International Association of Firefighters.
Stewart said he is running to help make changes at the state level.
“There are so many things you cannot do (as a commissioner), because there’s not a particular law that says you can do something,” Stewart said. “Your hands are tied like crazy.”
He said transportation would be his highest priority as a legislator, with public safety as his “secondary focus.”
Stewart graduated from OSU in 1974 with a degree in civil engineering. After spending much of his career working for ODOT, he wants to find ways to improve the state’s infrastructure, particularly in Canadian County.
“Traffic congestion is just getting horrible,” Stewart said. “And so looking at ways that we can help the city traffic departments, ODOT, whatever it is to help start getting a handle on this congestion, which, at the same time, when you do that, they’ll automatically get a handle on safety.”
Additionally, Stewart said he wants to expand broadband access in the state and make sure police departments are adequately funded.
On his website, Stewart said that he will “fight for Oklahoma and American energy independence” and “defend life and Second Amendment freedoms.”
Oklahomans for Health and Parental Rights, an anti-mask, anti-vaccine mandate organization, has endorsed Stewart.
Asked about which issues are most important to him, Zearley did not name any. Rather, he said he is knocking on doors to hear from constituents so that he can better represent them.
One goal Zearley did say he would have if elected is to find and get rid of any “outdated, antiquated laws” Oklahoma may have, though he could not name any particular laws that might fit this description.
On his website, Zearley also says he is pro-life, pro-Second Amendment and pro-law enforcement. Additionally, he says he will “push back on federal overreach.”
Both candidates are clear in their desire to represent the community in the new Senate District 18.
After almost 55 years in Canadian County, Stewart said he wants “to continue to serve the citizens of this area in the best way possible.”
“(There are) a lot of things in the state that we could fix,” Zearley said. “I just want to serve my community and give back to my state.”