Oklahoma’s GOP Senate leader race: Gun lobby calling the shots

Gun Rights

Sometime Monday morning, the 40-member Republican caucus of the Oklahoma Senate will pick a new president pro tempore. The odds-on favorite is Ada Republican Greg McCortney.

But the 2024 election for pro tempore is much less about state politics and much more about guns.

Instead of an easy win, McCortney is in a three-way slug-fest for the post with fellow Senators Casey Murdock, R-Felt and David Bullard, R-Durant.

And McCortney’s opponents are sharpening their knives.

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On Thursday, the group The National Shooting Sports Foundation ran a half-page ad in The Oklahoman, criticizing McCortney. “Senator Greg McCortney is selling out your Second Amendment rights to Wall Street Banks,” the ad said. “Oklahomans deserve better.”

Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the group, confirmed they were targeting McCortney because they believe he helped stall a measure that they believe would protect the firearms industry. That bill, House Bill 3144, was authored by Rep. Kevin West and Sen. Murdock in 2022. 

“This bill is vital to protect the (firearm) industry,” Oliva said. “Unfortunately, when this bill made it from the House to the Senate, it died at the behest of Senator McCortney.”

More: His son was critically injured during a traffic stop. It’s changed Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat’s legislative goals

The NSSF has lobbied on both the state and national levels for legislation that blocks financial institutions from using environmental, social and governance criteria − known as ESG − in making investment and loan decisions to protect gun companies’ bottom lines.

Some members of the gun lobby oppose McCortney

The bills echo the Oklahoma Energy Discrimination Elimination Act, which requires the state treasurer to determine whether financial institutions are boycotting the fossil fuel industry and putting violators on a blacklist that prohibits business with public retirement funds. Those companies found in violation of the act are eliminated from doing business with the state.

That bill, and the actions of state Treasurer Todd Russ, have generated so much controversy that two lawmakers each filed legislation to ‘tweak’ the act. Those bills are working their way through the legislature this year.

Though the Energy Discrimination Act deals mainly with public pension funds, one section prohibits any government entity from entering into contracts with blacklisted firms. After that law was passed, several lawmakers said the firearms industry needed similar protections in Oklahoma.

House Bill 3144 have created a new law that would prohibit a government entity from entering into a contract unless the contract contains a written verification that the contracted company does not discriminate against the firearm industry.

More: It’s been nearly 10 years since lawmakers last addressed civil asset forfeiture. Gov. Stitt has asked for change

Oliva said the NSSF has “nothing to gain” with a relationship with McCortney. “There has been nothing he has been offering the industry. He has given this legislation the cold shoulder each and every time,” Oliva said. “He has made his choice siding with large corporate banks.”

Though McCortney voted for the measure when it passed the Senate in April, debate increased after it moved to the House of Representatives. There, the bill was amended and then returned to the Senate. During its second appearance, the measure stalled on May 17, 2022, shortly before the legislative session adjourned.

Supporters of the bill blame McCortney, the Senate’s majority floor leader and Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat for the bill’s demise but records show that both McCortney and Treat voted in favor of the bill.

Gun groups aren’t the only ones opposed to McCortney.

Oklahoma County Republicans wade into the race for pro tempore

Oklahoma County Republican Party Chairman Ken Warner went public recently with his complaints about McCortney. In an email, Warner asked his supporters to support Bullard and to ‘drain the current Oklahoma State Senate leadership swamp.’

McCortney told Oklahoma Voice, a non-profit news outlet, the groups attacking him were not the same groups that were successful in getting Republicans elected. “They are a very loud, very small minority of the Republicans in the state of Oklahoma and I’m confident that the members of this chamber will represent their districts well in this vote,” he said.

Still, not every gun organization thinks McCortney would be a bad choice. Over the weekend, a message posted on the Oklahoma Rifle Association’s website praised McCortney and said the group looked forward to working with them.

“The Oklahoma Rifle Association, the state affiliate for the NRA and Oklahoma’s Second Amendment advocacy group that solely focuses on firearm legislation and support of the firearm community, wants to thank Senator Greg McCortney for his years of leadership, hard work, and sacrifice for Oklahomans,” the group’s posting said. “We look forward to working with Senator McCortney in the upcoming legislative session as he continues to prioritize issues that respect and protect the civil liberties guaranteed to us by the Second Amendment.”

While the NRA’s support, and the fact the fight for pro tempore is a three-way race, helps McCortney, the Ada Republican will still need to capture 25 of the Senate’s 40-member GOP caucus to become pro tempore.

A list of McCortney’s supporters and just who would come down on what side remains elusive, since most Senators are hesitant to talk about the body’s internal politics. However, the Senate’s recent roll call vote on the Jan. 29 special session provides some insight into just might support McCortney and who would oppose him.

In that vote, 30 members of the Senate supported Treat and McCortney’s effort to adjourn to the call of the chair. Eight members of that group, though, are Democrats and would not cast a vote in the caucus race for Speaker. Five other Republican senators did not vote.

McCortney can probably count on the 22 Republicans who voted in favor of adjourning the special session for support. In addition − three of the five that did not vote − are, most likely, in his camp, which would put him with 25 votes.

McCortney’s opponents are probably the same group of Senators who opposed Treat’s efforts to adjourn the special session. Those senators include Jerry Alvord, Michael Bergstrom, Bullard, George Burns, Nathan Dahm, Dusty Deevers, Warren Hamilton, Shane Jett, Murdock, Dana Prieto, Cody Rogers, Blake Stephens and Darrell Weaver.

While Monday’s vote is expected to decide who would be the next Senate leader, members of the Oklahoma House of Representatives won’t choose their new speaker until sometime in March.

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