Jim Rea retained on ballot
Jim Rea, far left, sits at a table with his attorney, Laurie Phillips, and his campaign manager during a hearing before the Tulsa County Election Board on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Tristan Loveless)

At the end of a nearly three-hour hearing, Tulsa County Election Board Members Bob Jack and Judy Eason McIntyre voted today to retain Democratic candidate Jim Rea on District 2 county commissioner ballot. The board denied a challenge officially filed by Maria Barnes and supported by Sarah Gray, the two other Democratic candidates in the race.

Barnes and Gray argued that Rea has not met residency requirements to run in the district because he filed a homestead exemption on a home he owned in District 3. Rea argued that he moved to a home in District 2 and has since updated his homestead exemption for 2024 to his new address. Ultimately, the board sided with Rea.



Tulsa County: 7 seek commissioner post, Don Newberry and Vic Regalado unopposed by Tristan Loveless

“I think this hearing was a great representation of the democratic process and our electoral process,” Rea said after the vote. “I believe the result was correct and didn’t have much doubt it would be what it was.”

Gray, who supported Barnes in the hearing and presented much of the case since Barnes had a sore throat and trouble speaking, said they hoped to inspire other non-attorneys to get involved in the election challenge process.

“This process is meant to be open to all citizens. You don’t have to be an attorney to care about election integrity,” Gray said. “If you have a question, if you have a concern about a candidate’s qualifications to actually run and represent your community, I really encourage you to be brave and (file a challenge).”

While Barnes and Gray represented themselves, Rea hired attorney Laurie Phillips to represent him at the hearing. While one might expect an attorney to make such a process move more quickly, Phillips’ numerous objections clearly began to annoy the attorney for the election board, Douglas Pewitt.

“This is not a court of law,” Pewitt reminded the parties throughout the hearing. “It’s more akin to an administrative hearing.”

Pewitt, the district attorney for Delaware and Ottawa counties, advised the board during Tuesday’s hearing because Rea previously worked for Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler. In exchange, Kunzweiler is set to advise the Delaware County Election Board on Wednesday in a contest of candidacy for their sheriff’s race, Pewitt said.

At the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearing, McIntyre — a former Democratic state senator — moved to accept Rea’s candidacy. Jack seconded the motion, ultimately approving Rea’s candidacy.

Contests of candidacy for state offices will be held in front of the Oklahoma State Election Board at 9 a.m. Thursday. The hearings in House Districts 37 and 66 are set to be livestreamed.

Home is where the homestead’s filed

Jim Rea
While the two homes (addresses and exact location obscured) are less than 5 minutes apart, 31st street is the border of Tulsa County Commissioner districts 2 and 3, putting the two homes in separate districts. (Screenshot)

Barnes’ contestation of Rea’s candidacy listed four reasons he should be disqualified from the ballot, but all four essentially made the same claim: that Rea resided in a house he owns south of the home he claimed on his candidacy filings.

In order to run for county commissioner, a candidate must be a registered voter six months before the election and maintain a “principal residence” within the county commissioner district for six months before the election.

According to Barnes and Gray, Rea had filed his homestead exemption on a home located in District 3 for the past few years, and they said he continued to claim it in 2023 and 2024.

Rea argued that he had updated his homestead exemption for 2024, just after the normal deadline. Rea testified that while homestead exemptions are normally filed between Jan. 1 and March 15, homeowners may also file them within 30 days of receiving an increase in property value assessment from the county assessor, which he testified he had done before the hearing.

‘She’s not an attorney,’ ‘I think the rules have been exceeded’

From left: Sarah Gray and Maria Barnes listen to Laurie Phillips, Jim Rea’s attorney, during a contestation of candidacy hearing before the Tulsa County Election Board on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (Tristan Loveless)

Barnes and Gray sat together during Tuesdays hearing, while Rea sat with Phillips and his campaign manager.

At the start of the hearing, Phillips objected to Gray participating at all since she had not filed the challenge and is not a licensed attorney. Gray argued that she was Barnes’ counsel, but Pewitt said Gray could not represent Barnes in the case as a non-attorney.

“She’s not an attorney. She’s a witness,” Phillips objected. “She’s making arguments for [Barnes].”

While Gray was not technically allowed to present the case, the board allowed her to testify as a witness, and she functionally presented large parts of Barnes’ argument after it became clear Barnes had trouble speaking.

“I think the rules have been exceeded,” Phillips said. “I think this (filing) is in bad faith, and that’s putting it mildly.”

Asked how it felt going through the hearing without an attorney, Gray admitted it was a new and tough experience.

“This was definitely a little intimidating to come in and have attorneys to the left (and) to the right,” Gray said.

Follow @NonDocMedia on:

Facebook | X | Text or Email

Rea bought $1.4 million home to run in District 2

Asked about the decision not to hire an attorney, Gray said she and Barnes had to make financial considerations.

“We don’t have unlimited resources, and we decided that we don’t have to hire an attorney for this, because the facts stand on their own,” Gray said.

The majority of the hearing revolved around which of Rea’s three Tulsa homes constitutes his primary residence.

At one point during the hearing, Pewitt asked Rea why he purchased the home on his candidate filing paper work in September 2023.

“Your former home is quite close to your new home, is that correct?” Pewitt asked. “What was the purpose of moving from the former home to the new home?”

Rea said he purchased the $1.4 million home last fall “to establish my residency in the district.”

Pewitt had a follow-up question.

“When did you decide to run for the District 2 commissioner position?” Pewitt asked.

Rea has served current District 2 Commissioner Karen Keith — a 2024 candidate for mayor of Tulsa — as chief deputy since 2022. He said that’s when he decided to run and succeed his boss.

“I looked consistently through a realtor for homes for a year off and on and selected this home,” Rea testified.