Oklahoma Corporation Commission Chairwoman Patrice Douglas' decision to run for Congress opens up a six-year term on the three-person commission, and the list of possible candidates to replace her is already lengthy.
Douglas, an Edmond Republican, announced Tuesday she will run for the 5th Congressional District seat being vacated by Rep. James Lankford, who plans to run for the U.S. Senate.
Corporation commissioners run statewide for six-year terms. Because of its closeness to the energy and telecom industries, the office has historically been a springboard for ambitious Oklahoma politicians, including former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts.
Aside from oil and gas and utility regulation, the Corporation Commission oversees railroad crossings, trucking, cotton gins and tow trucks.
“It's a tough job,” said Chad Warmington, president of the Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association. “There's a steep learning curve. Our members are hopeful to get someone in there who knows the issues and can work well with the other commissioners.”
For groups frequently before the commission, the office is important because it deals with many areas of public policy, including consumer issues and the environment.
“Our hope is we will see a candidate who is respectful to the environment of Oklahoma, will properly regulate the oil and gas industry and not use the office for craven political ambitions,” said David Ocamb, president of the Oklahoma Sierra Club.
Among the possible candidates for the Corporation Commission seat are several state senators, including Republican Sen. Cliff Branan, chairman of the Senate Energy Committee, and Sen. David Holt, R-Oklahoma City.
On the House side, Rep. Colby Schwartz, R-Yukon, and Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, also might be interested in the post. They either declined to comment or did not return calls Tuesday.
Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Yukon, is not running for re-election in the senate. Johnson ran in the Republican primary for corporation commissioner in 2008 but narrowly lost to now-Commissioner Dana Murphy.
Senate President Pro Tempore Brian Bingman, R-Sapulpa, issued a statement Tuesday saying he may consider the race but remains focused on the upcoming legislative session, which starts Feb. 3.
“I am honored to be mentioned and, as with all opportunities, will consider this carefully with my family,” Bingman said in a statement. “But, my focus remains on the upcoming legislative session and the Senate Republican caucus.”
Former Corporation Commission administrator Brooks Mitchell, who ran against longtime Commissioner Bob Anthony in the Republican primary in 2012, said Tuesday he does not plan to seek the post. Mitchell is finance director for the city of Lawton.
No Democrats filed for the last elections for Corporation Commission in 2012, when Douglas ran unopposed and Anthony secured his fifth term.
Filing for the position is from April 9-11. Primaries will be June 24, with any runoffs Aug. 26. The general election is Nov. 4.
Corporation commissioners earn an annual salary of $121,596. Their salaries are tied to the pay of associate district judges in counties of more than 30,000 people. Corporation commissioner salaries could rise to $128,479 in July if the Legislature approves the latest recommendation from the Board of Judicial Compensation. Raises would not be applied to commissioners already in office until they win a new term.