Gentner Drummond becomes attorney general
Gentner Drummond speaks during a Republican primary debate for Oklahoma attorney general Thursday, June 16, 2022, at Oklahoma City Community College. (Michael Duncan)

John O’Connor has held the position of Oklahoma attorney general for the last 11 months after Gov. Kevin Stitt appointed him in 2021, but the power of his brief incumbency could not win him today’s Republican primary against Gentner Drummond, a prominent rancher, banker and lawyer who narrowly lost the same primary four years earlier.

As the night’s final ballots were tallied in Oklahoma and Tulsa counties, Drummond’s lead narrowed over O’Connor. But with 99.9 percent of precincts reporting, Drummond remained in first place with 50.8 percent and a lead of more than 6,000 votes.

All results posted by the Oklahoma State Election Board online are unofficial until they are certified by the board.

Drummond will now face Libertarian Lynda Steele in the November general election, a race that is expected to be a mere formality. Earlier this month, Steele reported that she has raised no money to support her campaign. She has a Facebook page with 327 followers. No Democrat filed for the position in 2022.

Drummond promises different approach with tribes

For months, differences of opinion and political jockeying have defined the at-times contentious race between Drummond and O’Connor.

During a June 16 debate hosted by NonDoc and News 9, Drummond repeatedly called O’Connor “the appointee.” Bolstered by his wife and campaign volunteers shouting from the audience, O’Connor called Drummond a Democrat who could not be trusted by Republican voters.

On policy, the pair most strongly disagreed on the proper approach to addressing criminal and civil law concerns in eastern Oklahoma, which has faced jurisdictional challenges following a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that functionally affirmed six Indian Country reservations.

O’Connor explicitly called for Congress to disestablish the reservations, saying tribes are working to expand the impact of the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision into matters of civil law, such as taxation and property rights.

“The promise we need to look at is the promise to eastern Oklahomans who bought their homes who have paid 20 years on a 30-year mortgage,” O’Connor said. “The promise to them is that they can own their land and their homes under the circumstances that they understood when they bought their homes, and that is that the state of Oklahoma is their sovereign.”

Drummond countered O’Connor’s statements by pushing for a working relationship with tribal governments, which he said have been “posturing” on civil law matters.

“What the appointee confuses is the Native Americans are posturing with the state of Oklahoma because we seem to be so hostile to the Native Americans that they are raising these issues of civil rights when none exist at law,” Drummond said. “And if we would simply get over our ego and enter into an agreement to bring resolution to McGirt, this would not be an issue.”

Drummond’s victory means O’Connor will serve the next six months as a lame-duck attorney general. Still, O’Connor will have authority to continue court battles regarding the reservation situation. Wednesday morning, for instance, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule in the Castro-Huerta v. Oklahoma case, which O’Connor filed and pushed in an effort to reclaim the state’s authority to prosecute non-tribal citizens who commit major crimes against tribal citizen victims.