(Update: On Tuesday, June 28, Gabe Renfrow and Clay Staires advanced to the GOP primary runoff, which will occur on Aug. 23.)
(Correction: This article was updated at 2:22 p.m. Monday, June 27, to remove reference to a video inaccurately attributed to one of the House District 66 candidates. NonDoc regrets the error.)
House District 66 representative Jadine Nollan (R-Sand Springs) has reached her 12-year term limit, and four Republicans are running to replace her.
The four candidates represent a relatively broad range of ideologies, from Mike Burdge voting for a mask mandate during his time as a city councilman to Clay Staires calling COVID-19 a “fake pandemic.”
The winner of the GOP primary will face James Rankin, the lone Democrat in the race, in November. If no single candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote on June 28, the top two finishers will go head-to-head in a runoff on Aug. 23.
House District 66 covers the southernmost part of Osage County, including Skiatook, and the western branch of Tulsa County, including Sand Springs.
The following overview of the candidates is derived from publicly available information and presented in alphabetical order. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, and early voting runs June 23-25.
Town: Sand Springs
Background: Burdge is currently a city councilman in Sand Springs. He has held public office since 1996, including 13 years as mayor and six years as vice mayor. He retired after 36 years as an electrician in 2009. Burdge is a veteran of the Vietnam War. In addition to his responsibilities on the City Council, he is the cross country coach at Charles Paige High School and a wedding photographer. According to a Facebook post, Burdge attended protests at the State Capitol during the 2018 teacher’s strike.
Platform: In a candidate forum hosted by the Osage County GOP, Burdge took issue with the state’s legislative efficiency. Burdge claimed that “We don’t need 3,000 pieces of legislation every year. We need to look at the way the government operates, and what we need is less legislation and more leadership.” He says that he would reject legislation addressing issues he believes would be better solved at the municipal level. Burdge says another issue limiting efficiency at the Capitol is a lack of bipartisanship. In the Osage County GOP forum, he called for cooperation between parties, saying, “We’ve got to work together. These problems are all of ours.”
At a forum sponsored by the Sand Springs Chamber of Commerce, Burdge opposed private school vouchers, saying supporters “want to burn down public education” and expect a “phoenix [to] come out of the ashes” instead of creating a meaningful plan to improve education. At the same forum, Burdge said the state should create a stronger mental health infrastructure in order to keep mentally ill people out of the justice system.
Background: Hill has a master’s degree in health care administration from Oklahoma State University. He has worked in health care for the past 40 years, mostly in the oncology pharmaceutical market. Hill is currently the chairman of the Osage County GOP, which called for Sen. Jim Inhofe and Sen. James Lankford to be censured for “failure to delay the certification of fraudulent electoral votes in the 2020 presidential election.”
Platform: On the page of his website detailing his platform, Hill begins by saying, “All efforts to redefine the United States of America as a ‘Democracy’ will be soundly rejected by me.” Hill says it is important to classify the United States as a republic in order to establish that the country is not affected by the “whims of democracy.”
Many of the issues that Hill lists as most important to him pertain to shrinking the role of government. He is a proponent of eliminating vaccine and masking requirements, and he says that he will never vote in favor of any legislation that would create a raise in taxes. Hill claims that “the federal government has unconstitutionally burdened our industry with unwanted regulation and laws” and that it is the state government’s responsibility to combat federal overreach. He also says the state must be “preemptive” in legally defending the Second Amendment from “Progressives, Communists, and Marxists.”
In regard to education reform, Hill says “there should be options provided to allow for alternative placement” of “habitually disruptive students.” Hill is also a proponent of school vouchers. One of Hill’s greatest concerns is voter fraud, going so far as to say “illegal votes are far more dangerous than illegal guns” on his Facebook page.
Town: Sand Springs
Background: Renfrow grew up outside of McAlester and got his bachelor’s degree from Northeastern State University. For the past 17 years, he has been a nurse. Currently, he works in a cardiovascular catheterization lab at the Oklahoma Heart Institute. Before he was a nurse, Renfrow was an EMT.
Platform: The four issues Renfrow lists on his website are election integrity, illegal immigration, school choice and health mandates. He calls for auditing voter rolls by county in order to prevent voting fraud. At a candidate forum hosted by the Osage County GOP, Renfrow said he recognizes both pros and cons to school vouchers. He is a proponent of more children going to private schools, but he recognized that vouchers would take money away from public education. Still, he asked, “Do those public schools need to be getting money for children they’re not actually educating?” (The state funding formula equalizes state aid based upon student enrollment.) Renfrow describes himself as a pro-life, pro-gun Trump Republican.
Background: Staires graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in education, and he was also on the university’s football team. According to his website, he was a public school science teacher and coach for 15 years before transitioning to a career in ministry and motivational speaking. In 2012, Staires founded the Leadership Initiative, a mentoring service for small businesses. On his business website, Staires describes himself as “America’s millionaire schoolteacher.”
Platform: On his campaign website, Staires says witnessing “un-American” events in 2020 motivated him to run for office. In a Facebook post written on Jan. 2, 2021, he described the 2020 presidential election as “fixed” and urged Congress not to confirm the results of the election.
Staires says his guiding philosophies are to make sure laws are biblically and constitutionally based and to limit the role of government. He says he supports legislation that would make it easier for parents to know what their kids learn in school every day. In a candidate forum sponsored by the Sand Springs Chamber of Commerce, Staires said that while he is cautious about private school vouchers, he believes private schools and homeschooling can provide better-tailored education for individual students’ needs.