Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, always appears to be walking up a steep hill, even when he’s on the down slope.
The state legislator, who represents part of southwest Oklahoma City and Moore, constantly finds himself holding the Paul Revere lantern. Yet his colleagues, even those wearing the same Republican stripes, tend to stay in bed when Reynolds rides his political horse. During the legislative session, he is frequently on the attack, ripping into bills he considers unconstitutional or a waste of taxpayer money and often lighting up the legislative tote board with his lone nay vote.
His speeches from the House floor have included threats to shred the constitution when he considers his fellow representatives in willful violation.
He’s a maverick to some, fighting against the massive wave of congenial compromise, and an eccentric to others, endlessly debating points that rarely sway any votes. But, it’s a style Reynolds has used to win three elections for the right to represent District 91. It may also be a style that removes his nameplate from his Capitol office.
Reynolds is in the fight for his political life and he knows it. The threat, however, comes not from the Democrats, but from within his own party. Political newcomer Jon Echols has filed to challenge Reynolds. Echols is co-owner of Sooner Medical Staffing with Jesse White and former University of Oklahoma tight end Trent Smith.
“I ran because my incumbent wasn’t representing me in his voting patterns,” Echols said, “and wasn’t representing the interests of the district in many of his voting patterns.”
The race quickly turned negative after the candidate filing period in early June. Echols handed out fliers accusing Reynolds of voting against the largest tax cut in state history.
“I guess my opponent didn’t look it up because I voted for it,” Reynolds countered.
Echols used House Bill 1547 from 2005 as his evidence. According to the House journal, the bill came up for a vote before the full House three times. Two of those instances, Reynolds backed the bill, but the one time he voted nay came when the bill was presented as a product of negotiations between the House and the Senate as a concurrent resolution. Minutes after the House approved the resolution, it was presented as a final bill, which Reynolds voted for, sending the tax cuts to the governor.
“When my opponent has to start lying about my record in order to try and defeat me, then I don’t think it’s a tough battle because I think voters see through the lies,” Reynolds said.
Echols said Reynolds was playing a political shell game.
“What I said was Mike Reynolds voted against income tax cuts,” Echols said. “What he needs to do is stand up and say ‘I flip-flopped. I was against it and then I was for it.'”
The battle between the two candidates is being fought on two fronts. In the air, there are disputes over voting records and accusations of distorting the truth. On the ground, the fight takes a more personal tone.
Reynolds has a long history of dueling with House leadership in his own party, especially former Republican Speaker of the House Lance Cargill. The animosity between the two runs deep, and Cargill is now working to help defeat Reynolds. Echols has hired Cargill as a paid campaign advisor.
“Lance Cargill was ethically challenged as a representative and as speaker,” Reynolds said. “I was about the only person who would hold him accountable. He has just gotten wrapped up in trying to exact vengeance.”
Echols said he contacted Cargill about helping the campaign.
“Frankly, he wasn’t my first choice and he wasn’t the first person I went to,” Echols said. “But as a first-timer running for political office, I don’t know how to do many things. He’s a guy who has been elected before; who ran against an incumbent and beat him; who knows the political process.”
Cargill stepped down as speaker before the start of the 2008 legislative session after news reports of Cargill’s repeated late filing of income and property taxes. At the time, he was under investigation by the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.
Cargill, who represented District 96 in northeast Oklahoma County, did not file for re-election. He did not respond to an interview request from Oklahoma Gazette.
Reynolds and Echols are the only two candidates vying for the District 91 seat; no Democrat entered the race. The July 29 primary will determine the winner of the seat. “Scott Cooper