By James Neal, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
Incumbent Republican Sen. Bryce Marlatt faces opposition from independent Tommy Nicholson in the race for the District 27 seat in the Oklahoma Senate.
District 27 encompasses much of northwest Oklahoma and the entire Panhandle, covering almost 12,500 square miles in Major, Woods, Dewey, Ellis, Woodward, Harper, Beaver, Cimarron and Texas counties.
Marlatt, of Woodward, has represented the district since he was elected in 2008 and is running for re-election. Nicholson, of Mooreland, is making his first run at public office.
Marlatt grew up in Woodward and graduated from Northwestern Oklahoma State University in 2003 with a degree in agriculture business. He has worked as a small-business operator in the oil and gas service field for 15 years.
Marlatt’s political experience before being elected to the state Senate included more than three years as a field representative for U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas and an equal term in the same position for U.S. Sen. James Inhofe.
Since his election to the state Senate, Marlatt has been elected by his colleagues to serve as majority caucus chairman, chairman of the transportation appropriations committee and vice chairman of the energy committee.
Nicholson was born in Milwaukee, Wis., and later was adopted by a family in Waynoka. He grew up working on a farm and ranch and left school during his junior year of high school in 1968 to enlist in the Marine Corps.
Nicholson served 18 months in Vietnam and was awarded two Bronze Stars. He served six years in the Marines, then transitioned to the Army, where he served until 1997, accumulating 28 years of military service.
After leaving the military, Nicholson worked in a number of fields, including time as a corrections officer for Oklahoma Department of Corrections and as a farmer and rancher on his land east of Mooreland. He most recently worked as a truck driver until his retirement in 2010.
Nicholson said he always has planned to run for office after he retired, and he isn’t running specifically in opposition to Marlatt.
“I knew when I retired from truck driving I was going to run,” Nicholson said. “It wouldn’t have mattered who was in there.”
Nicholson said he’s running for the Senate seat because “I’m tired of the government looking out for the government and not for the people.”
He said he’s running as an independent because the two major parties have become dysfunctional.
“I got tired of the squabbling and fighting,” Nicholson said, “and a lot of people are telling me they’re tired of it, too, so I just went independent.”
Nicholson said public services, particularly in corrections, human services and transportation, have not been sufficiently funded in northwest Oklahoma and the Panhandle.
“The money we pay out doesn’t get paid back to us to pay for our services,” Nicholson said. “Our money all ends up going out east to Tulsa or to Oklahoma City, and it doesn’t make it back to us.
“We get whatever table scraps are left over for us, because our senators won’t fight for us. I’m going to the Capitol to fight for the people.”
Marlatt also cited the “rural vs. urban” divide in the Capitol as one of his reasons for seeking re-election.
“I think it’s important to have someone from northwest Oklahoma in leadership positions at the Capitol, and I’ve been able to rise to those positions of leadership,” Marlatt said. “I’d like to continue that path and move further up in leadership and really have a strong voice for rural Oklahoma at the Capitol.”
Marlatt said if he’s re-elected, he will make it a priority to “continue to do what we can to make Oklahoma a business-friendly state and promote growth for small business.”
One way the state needs to promote business growth is by continuing to invest in infrastructure, Marlatt said.
“When you’re investing in infrastructure needs it promotes business, it promotes jobs, and it’s a safety issue,” he said. “Infrastructure is one of the key ingredients for government to invest in.”
Toward that end, Marlatt said he co-wrote and helped pass two bills into law this past session. One directs a portion of the state motor vehicle tax to fund county roads and bridges; the other raised the state cap on how much money can be apportioned for state bridge construction, maintenance and repair.
Marlatt said those two measures will take Oklahoma from its current ranking of 48th in the nation with regard to road and bridge safety to being in the top five in the U.S. by the year 2020.
Another issue high on Marlatt’s priority list is opposing any efforts to force further consolidation of rural school districts in northwest Oklahoma.
Marlatt said he’s received strong support from the district in his bid for re-election.
“The responses I’ve had as I travel through the district is, people would like to give me a chance to go back and represent them,” Marlatt said. “I’d consider it an honor to go back and represent the people for another four years.”
Voters will choose between Marlatt and Nicholson in the Nov. 6 general election.