Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, will step down from the Senate in January, triggering a special election for the seat he’s held for decades.
Inhofe, 87, was elected to a fifth Senate term in 2020. In other words, his current, six-year term ends in January 2027. However, he said he will leave the Senate on Jan. 3, 2023.
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On Friday, the news of Inhofe’s resignation was leaked to The Associated Press by “a person with direct knowledge of the senator’s plans” who remained anonymous to discuss sensitive details.
Inhofe himself confirmed the news later that day at a press conference, and he endorsed his chief of staff, Luke Holland, as his replacement. The senator did not attend a press event about his announcement in Oklahoma City on Friday because Inhofe had “a mild case of COVID,” Holland said on his boss’ behalf.
“Nothing is going to change, as far as I’m concerned,” Inhofe said as he called in for the event. “We are going to continue the work we’ve been doing.”
The timing of Inhofe’s announcement is related to a quirk in Oklahoma law that requires the governor to call a special election if a lawmaker announces they intend to retire before March 1. The special election would be held concurrently with the statewide primary, runoff and general election, part of the nation’s midterms.
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That means Oklahoma voters will be electing both U.S. senators in November because U.S. Sen. James Lankford is up for reelection as well.
“The Senate is losing a warrior,” Lankford said. “His absence will be felt, and he will be missed.”
Oklahoma hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1990, and Republicans are heavily favored to win the special election.
Although Inhofe already endorsed his preferred candidate, his announcement is likely to trigger a series of announcements from Republicans planning to run for the seat. Among those expected to consider the race are Republican U.S. Reps. Kevin Hern and Markwayne Mullin; former Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives T.W. Shannon, who ran for U.S. Senate in 2014; and Tulsa attorney Gentner Drummond, who is currently running for attorney general.
“This is going to be the most substantial shakeup in Oklahoma politics since at least 1994,” said Pat McFerron, a Republican pollster and consultant in Oklahoma City. That year, Inhofe won the U.S. Senate seat in a special election and Republicans captured three U.S. House seats amid the Gingrich revolution.
Oklahoma’s three-day filing period begins April 13.
Inhofe first won the Senate seat in a special election in 1994 after then-Democratic Sen. David Boren stepped down to become president of the University of Oklahoma. Before that, Inhofe served in the Oklahoma House, Oklahoma Senate and three terms as Tulsa’s mayor before winning a seat in the U.S. House.
Inhofe, a staunch conservative, was a strong backer of former President Donald Trump, who praised him for his “incredible support of our #MAGA agenda” while endorsing the senator’s 2020 reelection bid. Inhofe won re-election that year with nearly 63% of the vote in a five-candidate race.
Even so, he earned the respect of some liberal colleagues. As longtime chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, worked closely with liberal Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to limit pollution from products such as household cleaners, clothing and furniture.
Inhofe perhaps remains best known for the Inhofe Amendment, a provision in the 2006 Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act to make English the national language. The bill passed the Senate but failed in the House.
He is also known for taking over as chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee after the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
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In 2021, Inhofe defied some in his party by voting to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election, saying that to do otherwise would be a violation of his oath of office to support and defend the Constitution. He voted against convicting Trump at both of his impeachment trials.
“There’s been nobody who’s done more to protect and promote Oklahoma’s infrastructure, particularly military infrastructure, than Jim Inhofe,” McFerron said.
“He’s been a vital part of Oklahoma’s federal delegation for my entire adult life and a seminal figure in Oklahoma politics.”
The Horn News and The Associated Press contributed to this article.