Rep. Frank Lucas (R)
Oklahoma 3rd District
Settled just a century ago, western Oklahoma is a fertile land forever at the mercy of the elements. The western plains are scorching hot under the summer sun and blown frozen by bitter winter winds. Visitors to the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, maintained by the Nature Conservancy near Pawhuska, can experience what settlers found when they arrived here: a swaying ocean of 10-foot-high grasses filled with insects emitting a dull, incessant roar. One can still get a sense of what the old towns looked like. In 1910, three years after statehood, Oklahoma moved its capital south 25 miles, from Guthrie to Oklahoma City, leaving behind what has become one of the nation’s largest historic preservation districts. Many rural counties here are not much more populated than they were 100 years ago, when the land was virgin sod. Far fewer people live here than did before the Dust Bowl days in the 1930s, and fewer than during the Anadarko Basin oil and natural-gas boom of the 1970s. Today, local entrepreneurs see the possibility of economic revival in another abundant natural resource: the wind. The region is one of the windiest parts of America and is being billed locally as the “Saudi Arabia of wind.” It is also home to the world’s largest plot of switchgrass, and there are hopes that the grass too can be turned into a profitable source of alternative energy at the new cellulosic ethanol production plant near Guymon.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 3rd Congressional District includes Oklahoma’s western plains and nearly half of the state’s land, from the Panhandle to the northern fringes of Oklahoma City. The 3rd extends to north central Oklahoma, including Ponca City, the university town of Stillwater, and Osage County, site of the state’s lone Indian reservation. A few of the southern counties, settled by farmers crossing the Red River from Texas, are ancestrally Democratic. But farmers coming south from Kansas settled most of these plains, and they always have been heavily Republican. In Kingfisher County, George W. Bush won by more than 3-to-1 in 2004, and John McCain trounced Barack Obama there 84%-16% in 2008. Farther west in the Panhandle is Beaver County, which claims to be the cow-chip-throwing capital of the world, and Texas and Cimarron counties; they are the only three counties that Democratic Gov. Brad Henry failed to carry in his landslide re-election in 2006. Few blacks live in this part of Oklahoma, but an increasing number of Hispanics are moving here to work on hog farms and in meatpacking plants.
Rep. Frank Lucas (R)
Elected: May 1994, 8th full term.
Born: Jan. 6, 1960, Cheyenne .
Education: OK St. U., B.S. 1982.
Family: Married (Lynda); 3 children.
Elected office: OK House of Reps., 1988–94.
Professional Career: Farmer & rancher.
The congressman from the 3rd District is Frank Lucas, a Republican chosen in a 1994 special election that prefigured the GOP’s historic takeover of the House later that year. Lucas’ family roots in western Oklahoma extend more than 100 years; he owns a farm and cattle ranch in Roger Mills County and was elected to the Oklahoma House in 1988, at age 28. He got his chance to run for Congress when Glenn English, a 19-year conservative Democrat, resigned to head the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Lucas had serious competition in both the primary and the general election. In the initial voting in the primary, he trailed state Sen. Brooks Douglass, who campaigned from his Oklahoma City base, 36%-34%. In the runoff, Lucas ridiculed “some Johnny-come-lately dressed up like a drugstore cowboy” and carried all of the rural areas to win 56%-44%. In the general, he faced Dan Webber, the 27-year-old press secretary to former U.S. Sen. David Boren. Lucas ran an ad depicting the U.S. Capitol and saying, “This is where Dan Webber has worked his entire adult life.” The ad also displayed a picture of Oklahoma farmland and said, “This is where Frank Lucas has worked his entire adult life.” Lucas won 54%-46%. Since then, he has been re-elected by wide margins.
|Frank Lucas (R)||184,306||(70%)||($644,446)|
|Frankie Robbins (D)||62,297||(24%)||($28,612)|
|Forrest Michael (I)||17,756||(7%)||($73,167)|
|Frank Lucas (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (67%), 2004 (82%), 2002 (76%), 2000 (59%), 1998 (65%), 1996 (64%), 1994 (70%), 1994 (54%)
Lucas’ voting record is mostly conservative, but less so on cultural issues. His main focus is the pragmatic work of the Agriculture Committee, where he became the ranking Republican in the 111th Congress (2009-10), taking over from the term-limited Rep. Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia. Lucas says he wants to stay in Congress long enough to become chairman of the committee, where he has had a large role in writing the last two farm bills. As the chairman of an Agriculture subcommittee during the drafting of the 2002 bill, he helped to unravel the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act and its attack on government subsidies, although he had once embraced the law and its conservative philosophical underpinnings. Lucas helped write provisions to control erosion, aid farmers hit by drought, and protect air and water quality. He successfully fought a plan to reduce the number of Farm Service Agency field offices. In the minority party during the work on the 2008 farm bill, Lucas strongly opposed an overhaul of farm programs as “a threat to the nutrition of the whole, entire world,” and he mostly succeeded in preserving subsidies for his district, which ranked 15th in the amount of subsidies it receives.
Also with an eye on his district, Lucas helped to write the final provisions in the 2005 energy bill governing rural grants and biodiesel tax credits. He remains a proponent of government support for alternative fuels, particularly switchgrass. As the representative at the time of the site of the Oklahoma City bombing, he introduced the resolution condemning it and the bill to authorize the bombing monument and make it part of the national park system.
Back home, Lucas’s main challenge is the physical size of the district. From his home in Cheyenne, it extends 80 miles south, 240 miles west to the Panhandle, and 270 miles east to Tulsa’s outskirts—more than 34,000 square miles in total. But the real trouble for the easygoing Lucas seems to be on his ranch, which he operates. He broke his nose years ago when a cow slammed a gate on him, and he lost a tooth while trying to attach an identification tag to a 250-pound heifer.