, Muskogee, OK

Oklahoma News

June 22, 2014

State regulatory offices are all GOP’s

Primary to determine winners of Corporation Commission, insurance commissioner seats

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Republicans who head to the polls for next week’s primary election will choose Oklahoma’s next regulators of both the insurance industry and a wide range of other businesses overseen by the three-member Oklahoma Corporation Commission, including the important oil and gas sector.

Term-limited state Sen. Cliff Branan of Oklahoma City and former Oklahoma House Speaker Todd Hiett of Kellyville square off in a winner-take-all Republican primary in the race for a six-year term on the commission, which oversees oil and gas production, public utilities, pipelines, trucking and railroads, among others. Both are seeking to replace Commissioner Patrice Douglas, a Republican who is running for Congress.

Another statewide officeholder who will be determined in next Tuesday’s election is Oklahoma’s insurance commissioner. Republican incumbent John Doak of Tulsa, who rode a tea party wave to oust a Democrat in 2010, faces a primary challenge from Bill Viner of Moore, a longtime insurance examiner with more than 30 years in the industry.

No Democrats or independents are running either for the corporation commission or insurance commissioner.

Viner said he’s campaigning on a promise to reduce insurance rates, and he criticized Doak for accepting campaign funds from companies regulated by the department.

“I don’t see how you can take money from the companies you regulate, and do it fairly,” said Viner, 61.

Oklahoma has no prohibition on contributions from donors from regulated entities, and Doak said all of his contributions are legitimate.

“It’s part of our election process for folks to contribute and support folks they believe in,” said Doak, 51.

Doak reported contributions of about $500,000. Among his last-minute donations were $5,000 from the president of Falcon Insurance and $4,750 from a political action committee with ties to the insurance industry. Viner said he intended to use about $20,000 of his own money to buy radio ads as part of a final campaign blitz before Tuesday’s vote.

Doak touted his visits to all of the state’s 77 counties during his first four-year term and his efforts to ensure that victims of severe weather like last year’s Moore tornado were fairly compensated from insurers for losses.

In the corporation commission race, Branan, 52, and Hiett, 46, are Republicans forced out of office by term limits. Hiett ran for lieutenant governor in 2006 and spent the last eight years as an executive with Sand Springs Webco Industries, a tubing manufacturer in Sand Springs.

Branan, a longtime commercial real estate broker in Oklahoma City, served 12 years in the Senate, including stints as chairman of both the Senate transportation and energy committees.

Both Branan and Hiett criticized the federal government’s encroachment into regulation of practices such as oil and gas fracking, and the electric generation industry.

Branan reported total contributions of about $670,000 through June 9, including $290,000 in personal loans to his campaign. Hiett reported raising about $342,000 during the same period, including a $50,000 personal loan to his campaign.

Among the contributors to the campaigns of both Hiett and Branan are industries the men would regulate if elected to the commission. For example, Branan received thousands of dollars in last-minute contributions from more than a dozen executives with Oklahoma Gas and Electric, the state’s largest electric utility, including $4,000 from the company’s chairman and chief executive. Among Hiett’s maximum $5,000 contributors are executives in the coal and oil and gas industries.

Several statewide elected officials in Oklahoma drew no opponent this cycle, including Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, Attorney General Scott Pruitt, and Treasurer Ken Miller. There are both Democratic and Republican primaries in the race for education superintendent.

Races for lieutenant governor and commissioner of labor will be decided in November’s general election.

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