Republican voters will decide who will be the next member of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the agency that oversees everything from oil and gas drilling and cotton gins to electric utilities and retail fuel pump inspections.
Former House Speaker Todd Hiett, 46, of Kellyville, and term-limited Sen. Cliff Branan, 52, of Oklahoma City, will face off June 24 in the Republican primary. No Democrat filed for the race, so the winner will take office in January.
Hiett or Branan will succeed Patrice Douglas, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the 5th Congressional District that covers parts of three counties in central Oklahoma.
Both candidates have made states’ rights and job creation central parts of their campaigns. They both spent time in the oil patch as young men, Branan as a rig hand and Hiett as a pumper.
Branan, who twice was awarded Legislator of the Year by the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association, said his proudest accomplishment in the Legislature was as the main sponsor of the 2011 Shale Reservoir Development Act. The law allows producers to drill horizontal wells in shale reservoirs across two sections, or 1,280 acres.
“That’s the reason why we see so much drilling going on in the state of Oklahoma,” Branan said. “It’s expensive to turn that drill bit. Back in the day, they’d frack eight times, but now they’re able to push the drill bit out a full two miles and they’re doing 20- and 30-stage fracks because they’re able to access double the hydrocarbons.”
Hiett, the first Republican speaker of the House in more than 80 years, said he was instrumental in passing tax cuts and helped end the estate tax in Oklahoma. Since leaving office in 2007, Hiett has worked with manufacturers and other businesses on federal regulatory compliance issues. He’s also a director at Bristow-based SpiritBank.
Hiett said he first got involved in politics in the early 1990s as a young dairy farmer and rancher. At the time, outbreaks of bovine brucellosis were leading to widespread federal testing of cattle herds across the country. When one of Hiett’s heifers tested positive, his herd was quarantined. After ordering three rounds of testing and then clearing Hiett’s herd, federal program managers suddenly ordered a fourth round of tests.
Hiett fought the new round of testing, pleading his case before the state Agriculture Board, which administered the program on behalf of the federal government. The board sided with Hiett.
“Not only did they create a financial hardship for us, but it was a very emotional experience for us,” Hiett said of the federal testing program. “To this day, I still have this vision in my head of when all those white trucks would come rolling in the driveway to come pull blood on the cows. As a result of that, I decided I would start performing my civic duty of being more involved and paying attention to elections.”