Tulsa County Commissioner Republican primary
From left: Rep. Lonnie Sims, Tulsa City Councilwoman Jeannie Cue and Melissa Myers are seeking the Republican nomination for Tulsa County's open District 2 commissioner seat in 2024. (NonDoc)

It has been 18 years since Republicans last held a trifecta on the Tulsa County Board of Commissioners, but three candidates running in the District 2 Republican primary are seeking to flip the open seat currently held by Karen Keith. Tulsa City Councilwoman Jeanie Cue, State Rep. Lonnie Sims and Melissa Myers are all seeking the Republican nomination for the District 2 post.

Cue is a longtime representative for the Tulsa City Council’s second district, which includes the western and southwestern portions of the city. Sims (R-Jenks) is a former Jenks City Council member and mayor who is leaving the Legislature to run for county commissioner. A Muscogee Nation citizen, Myers owns a lawn care business and is new to politics but has found support for her criticism of the toll road near Berryhill.

Three Democrats have also filed for the District 2 post: Maria Barnes, Sarah Gray and Jim Rea.

For the June 18 primary election, polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. If none of the Tulsa County District 2 commissioner candidates receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the race will go to an Aug. 27 runoff between the top two finishers.

All three candidates participated in a debate hosted by the Tulsa County Republican Party on June 6 moderated by Fox 23 anchor Rick Maranon. The livestream of the event failed, but a partial recording is available on Facebook.

Berryhill, Gilcrease Expressway highlight regional issues

Tulsa County Commissioner Republican Primary
The Tulsa County Board of County Commissioner District 2 includes east Tulsa County and parts of central Tulsa County, including the City of Tulsa’s downtown. (Screenshot)

Myers introduced herself at the debate as the candidate “from Berryhill,” foreshadowing several questions focused on an unpopular Gilcrease Expressway toll road that opened in late 2022 and has drawn complaints for increasing the cost of commuting from the area.

“The Gilcrease should not have come through Berryhill because now we are on an island,” Myers said. “Having to pay 40 cents per mile over my Pikepass or 80 cents per mile for one mile to get to I-44 is ridiculous.”

According to Myers, the initial 1950s plan for the Gilcrease Expressway involved a free road and discussion about changing to a toll road originated in the past few years. She argued that few residents were aware of the toll road before it was finalized, and she advocated for abolishing the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority.

Sims said he was not in the Legislature when the Berryhill turnpike project was approved and that “obviously the people were not brought into this process.” Sims then recounted the opposition residents in Jenks raised to a turnpike expansion there.

“The Creek Turnpike came through Jenks, and those were some of the most contentious meetings we’ve ever had in the history of our city. I have business owners to this day that apologize to me and say, ‘I was awful, I was terrible during those meetings,'” Sims said. “I think long term, the Gilcrease plan was there, and I think you’ll see great revitalization in that area, and I think you’ll see a lot of business.”

Cue said there needed to be more transparency on the creation of toll roads in Tulsa County.

“I want people to know how they will get answers,” Cue said. “The meetings of the Turnpike Authority have questions that were never answered.”

Myers and Sims indicated that they supported efforts to abolish the toll on the Gilcrease Expressway for residents of Berryhill’s ZIP code. Cue said she was open to abolishing the toll, but she said debt related to the project would still have to be paid off.

Navigating McGirt: To compact or not to compact?

Candidates at the forum were asked their thoughts on the McGirt v. Oklahoma decision, which effectively held that Indian Country reservations in Tulsa County and much of eastern Oklahoma continue to exist. Both the Cherokee Nation and Muscogee Nation have reservation land in Tulsa County.

Sims called the McGirt decision a “curveball” that hit the state after he was elected to the House of Representatives, but he argued the decision offers an opportunity to “reset” relationships with tribes and negotiate new agreements.

“When the McGirt decision came out, I thought it was a chance for a reset in the relationship,” Sims said. “They’re telling us it’s just the criminal, but it sure looks it’s creeping over (into civil jurisdiction), and until we get some clarity from the Supreme Court about [civil jurisdiction], we’re going to have to come up with local agreements between the cities, the county (and) between our tribal partners.”

Myers was more critical of the McGirt decision, noting “that guy should still be in jail,” andhe argued that the same laws should apply to everyone in Oklahoma.

“As a Creek Nation (citizen), I feel that that just opened up Pandora’s box to a lot of problems,” Myers said. “I know people are, in the tribal community, just going through the turnpike not paying, and that’s opened up a huge door.”

Cue said she had spoken with — and secured endorsements from — the local Fraternal Order of Police and Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado about how to handle the effects of the McGirt decision. She said she supports negotiating with tribal governments to resolve jurisdictional issues.

“It’s been a very stressful time, but we hope to continue negotiations with the chiefs of the Cherokee and Muscogee (nations) that want to solve this problem,” Cue said. “They don’t have the officers. They don’t have the courts to try these people. We’ve got to work closely with them and continue our talks to make sure [an agreement] happens.”

Candidates prioritize budget, infrastructure and outreach

Tulsa County Commissioner Republican Primary
From left: Tulsa City Councilor Jeanie Cue, Melissa Myers and State Rep. Lonnie Sims at a Republican Party debate for Tulsa County Board of County Commission candidates. (Tristan Loveless)

All candidates agreed that they are “conservative Republicans” and were asked how their approaches in office would differ from Keith, the current Democratic commissioner for District 2.

Cue focused on her experience crafting budgets with the City of Tulsa, while acknowledging the county budget is much smaller than the city’s budget.

“That is the biggest thing with being a conservative,” Cue said. “We need to make sure people have good streets and good public safety, and we have to have money to do that. We have to monitor the budget very closely.”

Sims said constituents would benefit from his relationships in the Legislature and that he would focus on infrastructure.

“It’s about roads and bridges, it’s about getting infrastructure,” Sims said. “I chaired the county and municipal government committee, so I know absolutely how to get the appropriation. I know how to work with the different legislators on both sides of the House.”

Myers struck a different chord, accusing Keith of ignoring the Berryhill community. She said she would focus on “knocking on doors and listening to people.”

“(Berryhill residents felt) we were not needed, we were not wanted or valued,” Myers said. “A major turnpike came through our area, and it’s been very detrimental to our area. We’ve said loud and clear what we need, and nothing has been done.”

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Other tidbits from Tulsa County commissioner GOP debate

The livestream for the District 2 Tulsa County commissioner Republican primary debate partially failed on Facebook. Since technical issues may have prevented voters from tuning in — and because not everyone wants to listen to an hour long recording — the following bullet points summarize a few additional questions that were asked and answered:

  • New county courthouse: Myers, Cue and Sims all said they thought any decision to build a new Tulsa County Courthouse should be decided by a vote of the people. Cue also indicated that, if a facility were built, it should include space for both city and county courts.
  • Raising county sales tax: Sims, Myers and Cue all said they oppose raising the county sales tax for additional county services.
  • Pride Month proclamations: A member of the audience asked the candidates whether they supported signing Pride Month proclamations. Myers said she would not sign a proclamation because “she could not stand behind.” Sims said he would “vet” any proclamation before signing it. After the forum, Cue said she believed the question was targeted at her for signing onto Pride Month proclamations by the City of Tulsa and that she was a Christian who “represented everyone.”