Of the three Republican candidates seeking an Oklahoma County clerk position, one has been involved in politics most of her life, one calls herself a political outsider, and the third currently serves as a deputy county clerk in the Oklahoma County clerk’s office.
All agree, however, that voter awareness is low about Tuesday’s special election to select a nominee to fill the county clerk vacancy. Voter turnout in local elections is historically lower than statewide general elections and primaries. The Oklahoma County clerk’s race is the only countywide contest on Tuesday’s ballot, and all three candidates say many voters are unaware the county clerk’s spot is vacant.
Gloria Banister said she has the business experience and management skills to serve as county clerk. Maressa Treat pointed to her political involvement for more than 20 years and her understanding of government, having worked for a previous Oklahoma secretary of energy, the State Chamber of Oklahoma and U.S. Sen. James Lankford. As a deputy county clerk since 2019, Jonathan Clour said he understands the duties of the office as well as the staff and that his being elected county clerk would provide the smoothest transition.
Treat way ahead in fundraising
Treat, whose husband is Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R-OKC), has raised the most money, nearly $51,250 through Dec. 31, according to the latest campaign reports filed with the Oklahoma County Election Board. Many of her donors are lobbyists and former or current legislators.
“I’ve had a lot of support, which has been very exciting and humbling and at times a little emotional because you’ve worked hard for other people, and so when somebody writes you that check or they put your name on something, I don’t take it lightly,” Treat said. “I have been blessed to be able to raise the kind of money to get my name out there.”
Treat said her husband being president of the State Senate has helped with name recognition, but that her donors are giving because they know her and support her personally.
“I’ve worked really, really hard to develop relationships,” she said. “I’m very proud of my husband — we’re a team. We support each other as we should as a married couple. But I’m also very independent.”
She and her husband met 20 years ago on the campaign trail while both were working for other candidates.
“We’ve been in public service for a very long time, and I’m sure there are those who can see that as a negative,” she said. “But I think sometimes you’re called to do a certain job.”
Banister had raised $125 through Dec. 31, according to her report. She said many of her supporters would like to give, but money is tight as the tax filing season is underway and some are paying off bills racked up during the holidays.
“I’m not a politician, and I’m not married to one,” she said. “I’m a political outsider, and I think that’s the difference. I haven’t been given any money by PACs or lobbyists or anything like that. I don’t owe anybody anything. I owe volunteers and the people that vote for me. That’s who I owe, and that’s who I’ll be the watchdog for.
Banister said she has bought 200 campaign signs, has sent out mailers and letters, and has knocked on doors.
Clour said his campaign has not raised any money because of family health issues.
Democrats tout bios in Oklahoma County Clerk forum by Matt Patterson
“We hit the ground running, but there have been a few different things that I have been dealing with,” he said. “I put family first, and then I put my job second. I have a duty to serve the people.”
All three said many voters are unaware or have forgotten the circumstances for the special election. David Hooten resigned in June after the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation into harassment allegations and an audio recording was leaked that featured Hooten making wild claims, such as being impervious to alcohol after an alteration to his brain.
“This is an extremely unfortunate circumstance,” Clour said. “This is something that we are having to restore trust with the public as well as county employees because we want them to have a safe place to come to work, and we want the public to know that we are there to serve them. We are working together to get past that.”
No runoff in special election primary
The governor’s office set the special primary election for Tuesday. The special general election is scheduled for April 4. The Republican and Democratic candidates who garner the most votes Tuesday will advance to the general election. There is no runoff in special elections.
Whichever Republican wins Tuesday’s primary election will face the winner of the Democratic primary. Five Democrats have filed for the post: Sean Cummings, Tiffany Ellis, Tom Guild, B.C. Phillips and Derrick Scobey.
Clour said he expects a low voter turnout, especially with Election Day falling on Valentine’s Day.
“People are focused on other things on Valentine’s Day,” he said. “The way that this special election has fallen, we are not going to be getting out the voters that we normally would have in June and in November for the normal election cycles.”
Treat said turnout will also suffer because it is a special primary election, and many people are unfamiliar with the county clerk’s office.
Treat has been advertising on billboards and yards signs, making phone calls, sending out mailers, holding events and taking part in meetings, as well as going door-to-door in order to get voters to the polls. She’s also included a list of supporters on her campaign website.
“It really is going to be that personal connection,” Treat said.
Banister said there’s plenty of time to vote Tuesday.
“Come vote for me Valentine’s morning and then take your lovely date out Valentine’s night or for a lunch or something,” she said.
County clerk duties, responsibilities
Among additional duties, the county clerk serves as secretary for the Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners and other county boards. Not to be confused with the county court clerk, the county clerk is also the registrar of deeds and custodian of records, and they perform accounting, administrative and bookkeeping duties for the county. The position records and maintains county proceedings and votes.
Banister, 52, has sought public office previously. She won the primary election for Oklahoma House District 87 but lost with 40 percent of the vote in the general election. She and her husband have owned a trucking company, a cow-calf operation, the I-44 Speedway in southwest Oklahoma City and an organic mushroom farm.
“I’ve been in business for over 30 years,” Banister said. “I know how to make payroll. I’m consistent with having over three decades of experience in problem solving and executive management.”
Her priorities for the county clerk’s office are eliminating waste, fraud and abuse, improving transparency and accountability, and removing “job-killing” obstacles, which she identified as state fees that many businesses must pay to operate.
“I believe I can inspire, encourage, educate and counsel with clear parameters so that employees have clear guidelines about professional office environment,” Banister said. “And I really, really want to establish a foundation of trust. I believe that is most necessary in that county office.”
Treat, 40, is making her first bid for public office. She said she wants to ensure the county clerk’s office has integrity, and she wants to improve transparency and accountability of the office.
“I believe that local issues matter,” she said. “I’m a public servant and I want to continue to serve my community in the best way that I can. I’m very good at administrative things and making sure that there are processes in place so that everybody is on the same page and works together as a team.
“I want voters to see that I am a very genuine person with common sense and that I can work with anyone.”
Clour, 31, said he was part of the team in the county clerk’s office that created the Oklahoma County Lien Alert System, which provides automated alerts to users that notify them if a document is recorded in the county clerk’s office. It provides real-time alerts if any fraud attempts are made against a property owner’s mortgage or deed, or if efforts are being made to sell the property. The county clerk’s office now requires sellers of property to show their driver’s license.
Clour previously ran unsuccessfully for an Oklahoma City Ward 1 seat in 2017, and he lost a House District 43 race in 2014. Clour said his top priority if elected county clerk is accessibility to the public. The county clerk’s office has gone digital., and customers can go online to file their documents, he said. County commissioner meetings may be viewed on YouTube.
His other priorities include combatting property fraud, being accountable with county funds, accessibility and security, and improving customer service, he said.
“With me working there for almost four years now, I’ve gotten a pretty good grasp of the office and I feel that experience will be unmatched by the other candidates running for this office,” Clour said. “I’ve been trained in all areas of the county clerk’s office in the different departments. (…) I just work wherever I’m needed.”
In the past few weeks, Treat has received several endorsements from Republican federal, state and local elected officials.
In addition to receiving an endorsement from her former boss Lankford, she received the backing of U.S. Sen. Markwayne Mullen. Gov. Kevin Stitt and Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell have also endorsed her. Among Oklahoma County officials, she has received the endorsements of Sheriff Tommie Johnson III, Treasurer Butch Freeman, Assessor Larry Stein and Commissioners Brian Maughan and Myles Davidson.
Banister said she is curious why some of the GOP county officials would endorse a Republican before the primary election.
“Ironically, I had some of the same endorsements that she’s got now from my District 87 race,” she said.
(Correction: This article was updated to correct the spelling of Gloria Banister’s name. NonDoc regrets this error.)