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.”
Hiett said he will be an aggressive advocate for Oklahomans on the Corporation Commission against unwarranted federal regulations. He pointed to recent EPA proposals on carbon emissions from power plants as an example of federal overreach.
“The federal government now more than ever is chomping at the bit to make decisions for the state,” Hiett said. “We know what’s best for Oklahoma. We care more about Oklahoma and our own environment than Washington, D.C.”
Branan said state companies have been the leaders in developing new drilling technologies and pioneered the use of hydraulic fracturing, which was first used in Oklahoma in 1949. States are best positioned to regulate energy matters, he said.
“We have been good stewards of our land,” Branan said. “We need to make sure we’re doing all the things right so we don’t invite the feds to come in. We need diverse power sources, and I’m going to attempt to protect our coal, our wind and promote oil and gas development, because there’s a war on hydrocarbons right now.”
Branan and his wife, Connell, have two children, Ford and Langley. Branan, who owns a commercial real estate company, said his experience as chairman of the transportation and energy committees in the Senate would help him as a Corporation Commissioner.
“I have a little bit of a jump on the learning curve than probably any other candidate now or in the past,” Branan said. “I’m well-versed on the issues and I’m anxious to get started.”
Hiett and his wife, Bridget, have three children, Jimmy, John and Hillary. Hiett pointed to his time as speaker of the House, his business experience and his agricultural background as to why he’d be a good choice for the Corporation Commission.
“I bring a very broad perspective that I think will be helpful on the commission,” Hiett said.
The Corporation Commission post pays a salary of $114,713. Members are elected to six-year terms.