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Tulsa World

Rural results
2002-11-07

Heavy turnout helps Henry

Thanks to cockfighting, Gary Richardson and Barry Switzer, Oklahoma bucked the national trend and elected a Democratic governor and Democrats held both houses of the Legislature.

State Sen. Brad Henry of Shawnee ran a slick campaign to sneak by Tulsan Steve Largent, a former congressman and Hall-of-fame football player who looked nearly unbeatable early in the campaign.

Republicans, confident they were going to capture the House, lost ground, although they did gain seats in the Senate. The unexpected GOP losses now call into question the current legislative leadership of the party.

The state question banning cockfighting was approved, but it brought extraordinary numbers of rural voters to the polls. They obviously were turned off by Largent who said unequivocally he was against cockfighting, and for consolidation of schools.

Henry favored cockfighting. He also pushed a lottery as a "voluntary" tax.

As it turned out, the spoiler for Largent was Gary Richardson, a wealthy Republican trial lawyer turned independent for the governor's race. Richardson hoped to use toll roads as an issue. According to reports, he spent $3 million of his own money to get 14 percent of the vote.

The question was whether Richardson would pull votes from Largent or Henry. Perhaps it was both, but the returns suggest the main benefactor was Henry.

One of the unintended results from that race is a boost for toll roads. They're not as unpopular as Richardson thought. In fact, other states are turning to them.

In other races, the returns were mixed. Attorney General Drew Edmondson, a Democrat, waxed Denise Bode, state corporation commissioner. Bode tried to portray Edmondson as a champion of gays, a man soft on crime and one who pushed business to his cronies and herself as someone who had superior "values." None of her accusations stuck because they were untrue. Edmondson, considered to be one of the best attorneys general in history, got 60 percent of the vote.

From there, Democrats and Republicans split state offices, but the GOP did well in Tulsa County. Ken Yazel ousted Democrat Assessor Jack Gordon and Republican City Councilor Randi Miller beat Democrat E. Bruce Ford for District 2 county commissioner, giving Republicans a majority on the County Commission.

Other legislative races went about as expected. Voters in District 71 sent Republican Chad Stites packing. Democrat Roy McClain won in the heavily GOP district after Stites was caught appraising properties for the sheriff and then buying them at sheriff's sales.