After nearly 16 years in office, Oklahoma County Court Clerk Patricia Presley chose not to run for re-election. No Democrats filed for the seat. In the crowded Republican primary, no candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, which means the runoff winner will take office in January.
Presley hired Tim Rhodes as her chief deputy shortly after she first took office, a position that he said has given him years of experience filling in for Presley, acting as counsel and dealing with the day-to-day responsibilities of court management.
His opponent, Charles Key, has served nine terms in the state House over the past few decades.
If elected, Key said he would bring a strong conservative philosophy to county government and challenge its apolitical status quo.
“It’s like any political office,” he said. “The philosophy that you have will have an effect on the job you do.”
Key captured national attention in 2009 when he introduced a bill reasserting Oklahoma’s rights under the Tenth Amendment. No stranger to controversy, he was a vocal critic of the federal investigation of the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing and led a push for an Oklahoma County grand jury probe into the FBI’s handling of the case.
Key said a chief reason he’s running for court clerk is to get a seat on the county budget board, which determines how income from taxes is distributed within the government. Although he acknowledged the board doesn’t have the authority to change tax rates, Key said he would be an advocate for cuts and less spending wherever possible.
“They’re not obligated to spend all the money collected,” he said.
Rhodes said he has been surprised at the focus on the court clerk’s role in the county budget. He said the budget board meets rarely and is just one of several committees of elected officials.
“The primary function of any county office is not the budget board,” he said. “It’s to do what the specific functions of those jobs are.”
In Rhodes’ 15 years as second-in-command to Presley, the court clerk’s budget has dropped, and its workforce has been reduced through attrition, he said. A state-led movement to electronic filing is underway and should be completed in five to six years, a project he will focus on if he wins in August.
The court clerk is a nonpartisan position because there’s little room for politics in serving the courts, Rhodes said.
“It’s about being fair to people and not doing something to the detriment of someone else in the courtroom,” he said.