Greg McCortney president pro tempore
Sen. Greg McCortney (R-Ada) speaks during a Senate committee hearing Wednesday, April 3, 2019, at the Oklahoma State Capitol. (Michael Duncan)

With a few dozen members of the Oklahoma 2nd Amendment Association praying for a different result beyond a rope barrier outside a large State Capitol conference room, members of the Senate Republican Caucus selected Sen. Greg McCortney as their designee to become the upper chamber’s president pro tempore in 2025.

McCortney (R-Ada) won the private caucus election outright on the first ballot, topping Sen. Casey Murdock (R-Felt), Sen. David Bullard (R-Durant) and Sen. Shane Jett (R-Shawnee), a late entry into the caucus competition.

Despite Monday’s results, McCortney faces a lengthy road to leading the Senate. More than a dozen Senate races are either open or feature challenges to incumbent Republicans during the 2024 election cycle, filing for which is set for April.

The Senate will formally vote on its next president pro tempore after the November election results on organizational day for the 60th Oklahoma Legislature. Under the Oklahoma Constitution, organizational day is held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January in odd-numbered years, which will be Jan. 7 in 2025. All senators — Republicans and Democrats — vote on the floor for their chamber’s president pro tempore.

After Monday’s private vote, the Senate convened for procedural matters and a vote on one bill. McCortney returned to his office, removed his jacket and sat at his desk, which featured two copies of Senate rules, a copy of Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, a book about baseball, and a toy “No” button.

“What I was elected to was the designee, and really it’s to help the Senate transition over the summer and the fall. Once session is over, you assume that the pro tem will start looking at his future, and this allows the Senate to be prepared to function well between now and the organizational day in January,” McCortney said. “This vote was about the future — after this session is over — and I continue to serve at the pleasure of Pro Tempore (Greg) Treat and look forward to finishing his time as pro tem strong.”

Treat (R-OKC) released a statement shortly after the publication of this article.

“No one is better fit to serve in this role than my friend Sen. Greg McCortney,” Treat said. “I have entrusted him with many things as a member of my leadership team, and he has proven himself an effective leader and can navigate difficult political waters. Sen. McCortney has been a trusted confidant and someone I consider a true friend.”

McCortney said he spoke to Murdock, Bullard and Jett after the internal election.

“We’ve kept in touch throughout this whole process, and I think everybody’s dedicated to making sure our caucus moves forward in lockstep with one voice,” McCortney said. “We reaffirmed that after the vote.”

Senators generally seemed pleased to have the caucus contest behind them.

“Four very good men ran for the position of pro temp, and a very good man won the race,” said Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville). “I’m glad this is behind us because we’re in a brand new session, we have lots of work to do, we have lots of goals, and that’s what we need to focus on now.”

Asked for comment about the day’s results, Bullard smiled.

“Thank goodness it’s over,” he said.

Murdock expressed congeniality.

“As a candidate for pro tempore of the Senate, my promise to caucus members was that as their pro tem I would be working for them. I would serve at the will of the caucus,” Murdock said. “If I truly believe in this statement — and I do — I look forward to working with new leadership on rebuilding the Senate to move our great state forward to a successful future.”

Vote total not immediately known

Senate Floor Leader Greg McCortney (R-Ada) speaks on the Oklahoma State Senate floor Monday, Feb. 12, 2024, minutes after winning a caucus election as president pro tempore designee for 2025. (Screenshot)

McCortney faced a heap of criticism from the leaders of OK2A and Oklahomans for Health and Parental Rights, which tweeted videos and texted citizens with messages calling McCortney liberal and encouraging his political demise.

Nonetheless, a majority of the 40-member Senate GOP Caucus apparently selected McCortney as their leader-designee, although a vote total was not announced publicly or in caucus.

“I’ve asked for the numbers, but they won’t give me the numbers,” said Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow), who supported Bullard and who serves as chairman of Oklahoma Republican Party. “At least not yet. Maybe later.”

Sen. Roger Thompson (R-Okemah) also said he was not told the caucus vote count, but he said he would “let somebody else comment.”

McCortney said Sen. Dave Rader (R-Tulsa) and two other senators counted the ballots.

“It’s a secret ballot, so the vote count will probably never be known — hopefully will never be known,” McCortney said. “There were outside groups that got involved. I think internally it was never as contentious, it was never as ugly as it looked like from the outside. But there were definitely some groups that decided to lob some grenades, and that was unfortunate.”

Asked if his calendar might be slightly more full when OK2A and OHPR members seek meetings with him in the near future, McCortney laughed.

“I haven’t really considered how I’ll handle my calendar once I get to June and I actually start functioning in this role,” he said.

With mostly ceremonial matters on the Senate floor agenda this early in session, McCortney stood straight at his desk as floor leader and called for the pledge of allegiance and then permission for an entourage to appear on the floor. More than a dozen Ada High School drama students were then recognized for winning the 5A state championship in the one-act play competition.

The students won with their production of A Voice in the Dark, a play based on the Salem witch trials in the late 17th century.

Later, in his office, McCortney acknowledged tensions in the Senate GOP Caucus in recent years, but he said the public perception might not match reality.

“I put a few thousand mile on my car this summer and fall working on this, and the one thing I learned is that I don’t think we’re nearly as divided as we thought and as the general public believes. We agree on a lot,” McCortney said. “Unfortunately, we’ve been forced to focus on the few things that divide us as opposed to bring us together.”

McCortney acknowledged that he leads a political action committee titled the New Direction Fund, which raised only $22,000 in contributions in 2023. Although the 2018 “civil war” spurred the Oklahoma House Republican Caucus to create internal rules prohibiting sitting members from working against one another in public elections, McCortney said the Senate GOP Caucus does not have similar guidelines.

“We’ve never had — there’s no history in the Senate that would require us to have created rules like that, and I don’t anticipate there being those issues,” McCortney said.

Just as Treat is term-limited in the Senate, House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) is also serving his final year in legislative office. House members seeking to succeed him as speaker must file their candidacy this week, and a similar House GOP Caucus election is expected in March. The House’s current second-ranking member, Speaker Pro Tempore Kyle Hilbert (R-Depew), is widely anticipated to prevail in that election.

(Update: This article was updated at 3:45 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, to include comment from Treat.)