James Lankford makes his case for Fifth District Republican nomination
By Patrick B. McGuigan
James Lankford, who directed the Falls Creek summer camp from 1996 to 2009, is seeking the Repubican nomination for the Fifth District seat in Congress that is being vacated by U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin.
Initially, some observers raised eyebrows over the idea of a Baptist summer camp director going to Congress, but Lankford has steadily built a base of support that puts him in the upper tier of the Grand Old Party’s hopefuls.
In a June 15 interview with CapitolBeatOK, Lankford was asked: Why you and not one of the other guys as the Republican nominee?
He responded, “I’m definitely not afraid to work, and this race is not about me transitioning to a new role or to my next political job. I am used to being around challenging circumstances, and I’m accustomed to building coalitions from my work at Falls Creek.
“Every summer, I’ve worked with 27-51,000 young people. I have 151 staff working for me. We touch 900 different groups in doing that work. I did the writing and the coordination for the camp. In the morning I might be speaking to 5000 students, then a half hour later I’d be working with the support staff to load up tables for the next event.
“Those were long days. It was a lot of work and it required creativity. This run for Congress is something I’ve felt called to do. It’s a job, an important job, and there’s work to be done.”
Asked to list three top issues facing the next Congress, Lankford replied, “I am concerned about the debt we face as a nation. If we don’t get control over it, it could consume us. I’m tempted to say the top three issues are 1. Debt, 2. Debt and 3. Debt. This is so important that if we don’t get it right, even the social issues I care about would be swamped.
“A second issue that concerns me is the overreach of the Environmental Protection Agency, both in its own right and as a clear example, more than a symbol, of the shocking federal government assault on the principles of federalism.
“The EPA was organized under President Richard Nixon to fight acid rain. It is now so far afield from that as to be unrecognizable. They are trying to regulate retainage ponds in north Oklahoma City.
“As I say, the EPA’s excesses are the manifestation of other problems in federalism, such as the General Motors bailout, the health insurance fiasco and the bank bailout; and now the financial regulatory push by the Obama administration. We have to fight back against this government expansion against the limits placed, appropriately, on federal power.”
Third, Lankford said, “is immigration. I have a big problem with anything that begins with the word ‘illegal,’ as in ‘illegal immigration.’ The federal government has made a bad problem worse by trying simply to ignore it. It can no longer be ignored.
“There is some sensitivity here, as well, toward populations that are effected by the bad or weak immigration policies. The Asians did it right. Some of them are infuriated that because they did it right, and had a larger body of water to cross to get here, they get second class treatment. That is wrong.”
Lankford said he is “not sure” about the dynamics in the Republican race as the primary joust intensifies. He commented, “we’re now in the sprint. Of the candidates in the Republican race, we’re in third place in money raised. I believe we will probably stay in third in money, but will make the runoff.”
He reflected, “Money is not the whole formula. In 2006, Denise Bode was the top fundraiser, with $1.3 million raised, but she didn’t make the runoff between Mary Fallin and Mick Cornett. Dollars don’t always equal victory, but the money can be an indicator of the level of support.
“I have three times the number of supporters that Kevin Calvey has; I believe that shows passion and intensity on the part of a lot of people in my behalf.
“Another indicator is that we have 14,000 ‘fans’ on Facebook. The next of the Republican candidates is Mike Thompson, who has some 1,100. Mike McCarville thought that was significant enough that he mentioned it. The social media don’t win elections, but this gives evidence of relationships.
“That is, someone already plugged into my campaign is sharing our information with others who have a relationship of ‘knowing and trusting’ that leads them eventually onto our Facebook page.”
Asked to handicap the maneuvering for one of the two spots in a likely runoff, Lankford said, “Let’s wait and see. I think most people would say it’s Mike or Kevin or me for the top two. Shane hasn’t, it seems to me, caught fire.”
He continued, “Three of us had an event on the Chesapeake campus, and I thought it went extremely well. I’m not coming to this as someone who is ‘posing’ as an outsider, an alternative to politicians. I am coming to it as a proponent of passionate and consistent conservatism.
“I think it is important for the Republican Party to be speaking to African-Americans, and I have the ties, the relationships, to start to do that. I believe the same about Latino voters. I am reaching to those voters to say, ‘This is why I’m a conservative,’ and to reach out on common issues.
“I am trying to be a conservative advocate, not just a conservative vote. I believe the Fifth District will need, in the next Congress, a passionate conservative communicator. I want to be that person.”