Senators Zack Taylor and James Leewright announce they will not seek re-election
Oklahoma City— Two Republican members of the State Senate announced this week they will not seek reelection. Zack Taylor of Seminole and James Leewright of Bristow were considered overwhelming favorites in their respective races.
Sen. Taylor, R-Seminole, who was first elected in 2017 to the Oklahoma House of Representatives and then to the state Senate in 2020, said in an April 6 press release sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations that he would not seek re-election.
“The only constant in life is change,” Taylor said. “After prayerful consideration and discussion, my family and I have decided that it is best not to seek re-election at this time.”
During his service in the House, Taylor served as the Rules Committee chairman and worked diligently on occupational licensing reform, among other things. During his time in the Senate, he served as the vice-chair of the Energy Committee, the vice-chair of the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, and on the presiding officer team.
“I’ve enjoyed serving in these capacities, and it has been a true honor to have been selected by leadership for these positions,” Taylor said.
Taylor and his wife, Stephanie, have been married for 16 years. They currently have one 7-year-old daughter and are looking forward to welcoming a new baby in September.
“I believe my first duty is to be the best husband and father that I can be,” Taylor said. “We are very excited to be welcoming a new baby in September, and I no longer feel I can effectively serve the district, balance being a husband and father, and being a hands-on partner in our business. While it has been a great honor to represent the people of House District 28 and the people of Senate District 28, I am looking forward to returning home full-time.”
Senator Taylor’s electoral success
Sen. Taylor was elected to a ‘half-term’ of two years in the Senate in 2020. He had served one term in the state House of Representatives. Taylor sought the Senate District 12 position, to replace former Senator Jason Smalley when the latter left office half-way through his term.
Each man was dominant in the home base. Smalley first ran for the District 28 nomination in a crowded four-person field for the GOP in 2014. That November, he won the seat with 71 percent support. In the 2018 Republican primary, he gained 64 percent backing and went on to secure more than 73 percent support against an independent opponent. He vacated the seat early, which led Taylor to announce his candidacy. Taylor won more than 59 percent support to overwhelm two party opponents. That June 2020 GOP primary elected him to the Senate job.
This year, Taylor would have had traditional advantages of incumbency in seeking election to a full four-year term. Taylor entered legislative service as the result of a special legislative election in 2017 when he narrowly prevailed (in a low-turnout race) over both a Democrat and Libertarian candidate. Then, in 2018, Taylor garnered the GOP House nod without opposition. He garnered more than 60 percent support in that year’s general election, defeating Democratic and Independent foes.
Sen. Leewright of Bristow said on Wednesday (April 6) he would not seek another term. The announcement was sent to CapitolBeatOK and other news organizations. Leewright has represented Senate District 12, which includes all of Creek County and part of Tulsa County.
“Being a member of the Oklahoma Senate has been the honor of a lifetime, but after much prayer and thoughtful consideration, I have decided not to seek re-election,” Leewright said. “I have never viewed public office as a life-long career. I believe we’re called on to serve our fellow citizens, then return to the private sector. That’s what I have decided to do.”
First elected to the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2014, Leewright was named vice-chair of the House Banking Committee and was assistant majority whip. In 2016, he was elected to the Senate and was appointed as vice-chair of Business, Commerce and Tourism, the only member of his freshmen class chosen to help lead a committee.
Leewright, an assistant majority floor leader of the Senate, currently serves as chair of Business, Commerce and Tourism and holds seats on the committees for Agriculture and Wildlife, Judiciary, Rules and the Appropriations Subcommittee on Select Agencies. He is also the co-chair of the Transportation, Infrastructure, and Rural Development Working Group currently vetting proposals for use of Oklahoma’s federal funding under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Leewright is co-chair of the state’s Rural Broadband Expansion Council, co-chair of the Senate’s Working Group on Marijuana, and serves on the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations, which is responsible for overseeing and approving agreements between tribal governments and the state.
“I’m deeply honored to have had the opportunity to help grow Oklahoma’s economy, create new jobs, strengthen public safety, prioritize our schools and promote policy that reflects our state’s values,” Leewright said.“I want to thank the citizens of Senate District 12 for their tremendous support, input and friendship, and of course, I could not have done this job without the love and support of my wife, Cari, and our children. I also want to thank Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat for the faith he placed in me, my fellow members, and our staff for their dedication and hard work. I will always cherish my time in this chamber. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you all.”
Leewright’s electoral strength sketched
In the upper chamber, Sen. Leewright has held the seat once held by Brian Bingman, a successful President Pro Temp and the current Oklahoma Secretary of State. Leewright had notable electoral success successful in every cycle of his tenure. For the Senate (2016), he garnered more than three-fourths of the GOP primary vote, then advanced without opposition from a Democrat to gain the seat. Then, in 2018, he had no primary opposition and won 74 percent support in the general election over the Democratic nominee.
Back in 2014, Leewright won his most competitive electoral races, prevailing in a four-person primary over three opponents. He then garnered nearly 76 percent support in the general election that year over a Democratic opponent.
NOTE: Pat McGuigan, founder and publisher of CapitolBeatOK.com, adapted this report from legislative press releases. McGuigan prepared the analysis of past election successes for the two Senators which appears above.