Sen. James Inhofe (R)
Elected: 1994, term expires 2014, 3rd full term.
Born: Nov. 17, 1934, Des Moines, IA .
Education: U. of Tulsa, B.A. 1973.
Family: Married (Kay); 4 children.
Military career: Army, 1957–58.
Elected office: OK House of Reps., 1966–69; OK Senate, 1969–77, Repub. ldr., 1975–77; Tulsa mayor, 1978–84; U.S. House of Reps., 1986–94.
Professional Career: Businessman, land developer, 1962–86.
James Inhofe, Oklahoma’s senior senator, was first elected to the Senate in 1994. He grew up in Tulsa, served in the Army, and worked in real estate and insurance. Inhofe (IN hoff), was elected to the Oklahoma House in 1966, at age 31, and to the Oklahoma Senate in 1969. He ran for governor in 1974 and lost to David Boren, 64%-36%. In 1976, Inhofe ran for the U.S. House against Jim Jones and lost. From 1979 to 1984, he was mayor of Tulsa. He won the heavily Republican 1st District House seat in 1986, when Jones ran unsuccessfully for the Senate, but held it with uninspiring margins. He was hurt by negative publicity from a family business lawsuit and charges of campaign finance irregularities, often leveled by the liberal-leaning Tulsa World. Inhofe’s greatest achievement in the House was reforming the arcane discharge petition rule. For years, House rules kept secret the names of signers of petitions to force bills stuck in committees to the floor for action; anonymity allowed lawmakers to claim they had worked to bring legislation to the floor when they in fact had done the opposite. That was changed in 1993, and one of the first bills to benefit from the new rules was an aviation liability reform bill, co-sponsored by flying buff Inhofe and limiting the liability of small airplane manufacturers in lawsuits resulting from crashes.
|James Inhofe (R)||763,375||(57%)||($5,477,730)|
|Andrew Rice (D)||527,736||(39%)||($2,868,819)|
|Stephen Wallace (I)||55,708||(4%)|
|James Inhofe (R)||116,371||(84%)|
|Evelyn Rogers (R)||10,770||(8%)|
|Ted Ryals (R)||7,306||(5%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (57%), 1996 (57%), 1994 (55%), 1992 House (53%), 1990 House (56%), 1988 House (53%), 1986 House (55%)
Inhofe jumped into the 1994 Senate race after Boren, a conservative Democrat who carried every precinct in 1990, announced he was retiring to become president of the University of Oklahoma with two years left in his Senate term. The Democratic nominee was moderate Dave McCurdy, a congressman from southwest Oklahoma since 1980 who was favored to win. But in Oklahoma in 1994, the burden of President Clinton’s unpopularity among conservatives was too much for McCurdy. He was closely associated with Clinton’s policies, having voted for the 1993 budget and tax package and for the 1994 crime bill with its ban on assault weapons. Inhofe won by a solid 55%-40%. In the Senate, Inhofe was president of the conservative-leaning freshman class of 11 senators. In 1996, he was elected to a full six-year term over James Boren, David Boren’s cousin, by 57%-40%.
Inhofe has a solidly conservative voting record and is blunt and even acerbic at times. “I’m not afraid of controversy. I’m not afraid to say what’s on my mind and what’s on a lot of people’s minds,” he says. He speaks his mind in pungent terms, with his barbs often targeted at his opponents in the green movement. He once accused Clinton environmental protection Administrator Carol Browner of “Gestapo tactics.” And in recent years, as the most senior Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, he has been a leader of conservatives who deny the existence of a global warming problem caused by humans. In 2003, Inhofe said that the idea that man-made emissions have caused global warming was “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”
Inhofe was chairman of the committee from 2003 to 2007. He favored oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and more oil and gas drilling exploration in the United States generally. He also has low regard for the Endangered Species Act. “America has adopted an attitude that places more value on the life of a critter than on a human being. We want to protect the Arkansas River shiner, a bait fish in Oklahoma, yet we will allow unborn babies to have their brains sucked out in a partial-birth abortion,” he once said. He supported President Bush’s Clear Skies initiative, but complained that the administration failed to speak out more strongly for it, and the committee deadlocked 9-9 on the bill in 2005. Later that year, after gasoline prices had soared because of Hurricane Katrina, he called for incentives to build refineries at shut-down military bases; the refinery bill also died in his committee, 9-9.
Much of Inhofe’s tenure as chairman was devoted to an issue on which he was opposed by the Bush administration and fiscal conservatives—the reauthorization of the transportation act, generally known as the highway bill, one of the main institutional responsibilities of the committee. By early 2004, Inhofe had hammered out agreement in the Senate on a $318 billion transportation bill. House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, was seeking a $375 billion bill, while the Bush administration wanted to cap spending at $256 billion. Inhofe argued that money was needed to maintain the highway system and would be funded entirely by user fees, primarily the gas tax. With bipartisan support, he got the Senate to pass the $318 billion bill, which would have increased Oklahoma spending by 42%, by 76-21. But the White House renewed its veto threat. Meanwhile, Young got the House, cowed by the veto threat, to pass a $275 billion bill. Inhofe was the chairman of the House-Senate conference committee, and his goal was to get a bill passed in 2004. But he could not work out a settlement given the great disparity in funding levels with the House. The political differences were also significant. A goal of Inhofe’s bill was to guarantee that every state got 95% of its gas tax money back, but when the total spending was decreased, that meant other states would lose projects. So the issue was deferred to 2005. By that point, Republican leaders were eager to cut a final deal with Bush. Even Inhofe backed a scaled-down version of a transportation bill. In a conference committee with the House, he agreed to a $286 billion bill, though Oklahoma fared well, needless to say.
After Democrats won control of the Senate, Inhofe in January 2007 withstood a backroom challenge from Sen. John Warner of Virginia to become the ranking minority member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. Prospects for his cooperation with incoming Democratic Chairman Barbara Boxer of California were nil. As she talked about the need for action on global warming, Inhofe had this terse response: “Hysteria sells.” He spoke out strongly against her bill to impose a mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions and challenged activists from former Vice President Al Gore to singer Sheryl Crow to lower their “carbon footprints” to the level of average Americans. When Boxer’s proposal died in the Senate in June 2008, he said that it showed “momentum is going our way.”
Inhofe is now the second-ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, after Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Inhofe has been a strong supporter of missile defense and was one of the leaders of the successful fight to deny Clinton’s effort to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. He supported the Bush administration on the Iraq War and argued that the public’s skepticism about the war could be attributed to the administration’s failure to make a stronger case that there were connections between Iraqi Leader Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda before September 11. In 2006, he called the U.S. military results in Iraq “nothing short of a miracle.”
Inhofe has also been a leader in the movement to make English the official language. During the 2006 debate on overhauling immigration policy, Inhofe got the Senate to pass his amendment to make English the national language. “This is not just about preserving our culture and heritage, but also about bettering the odds for our nation’s newest potential citizens,” he said. When immigration reform returned to the Senate in 2007, Inhofe again was able to get his language amendment passed.
In 2002, Inhofe was re-elected despite a challenge from former Democratic Gov. David Walters, who had years earlier pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of violating campaign finance laws. The result was almost identical to those in 1994 and 1996. Inhofe won statewide 57%-36%, with solid margins in metro Oklahoma City (62%-31%) and metro Tulsa (60%-34%) and slightly smaller margins (52%-41%) in the rest of the state. When Democratic Gov. Brad Henry ruled out running against him in 2008, Inhofe looked to be a solid bet for re-election. Democrats eventually settled on state Sen. Andrew Rice as their nominee and tried to portray Inhofe as outside the political mainstream. Early in the campaign, Democrats held out hope that the contest would be competitive. But Rice failed to raise sufficient funds to make it a serious contest. Inhofe won 57%-39%, taking all but four counties in the Muskogee area.
Inhofe has for years regularly flown airplanes and is one of the few certified commercial pilots in Congress. He flew around the world following the historic route of Wiley Post, the first pilot to fly solo around the globe. But he encountered problems in October 2006 when the small plane he was flying spun out of control and suffered significant damage on landing in Tulsa, though he and an aide escaped injury. His penchant for daredevil stunts in the air is well-known around the Capitol, and few of his aides will take him up on his offers of airplane rides.