After a year of controversy and fundraising struggles, the Oklahoma Republican Party is looking for a fresh start under newly elected Chairman A.J. Ferate.
Ferate has long been involved in Republican politics nationally and statewide. He previously served as state GOP’s attorney in addition to facilitating political action and candidate committees and he helped incorporate Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell’s candidate committee in 2019.
It marked the end of a turbulent year for the Oklahoma GOP. Bennett drew controversy for endorsing Tulsa pastor and far-right candidate Jackson Lahmeyer over incumbent republican U.S. Sen. James Lankford and for comparing vaccine passports to the gold Star of David patches Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust. Bennett did not respond to interview requests by The Frontier.
Ferate is already shaking things up. Earlier this month, he fired the state party’s general counsel Rex Duncan for speaking to a reporter about one of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s campaign ads he believed violated state law.
Ferate, who Stitt endorsed as party chairman, said Duncan’s legal analysis was “flawed.” Ferate told the Associated Press he believed there was “no issue with Gov. Stitt’s ad.”
In an interview with The Frontier, Ferate described his strategy to lead the party as a “three-legged stool,” consisting of communications and outreach, boosting grassroots support and raising donations.
Growing donations is now Ferate’s top priority. While the Oklahoma GOP’s fundraising has been on a steady decline over the past few years for a variety of factors, the party’s finances took a further hit under Bennett due to his controversial leadership style.
The state party had $19,489 on hand and $10,756 in debt in May of 2022, according to a Federal Election Commission report.
Ferate said that he has already raised money to “more than double what’s already currently sitting in the account.”
“I think that’s only going to grow,” he said. “I think people are excited about having strong leadership in the state party that wants to respect all three legs of the stool.”
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Former State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones, who also previously served as state party chairman, nominated Ferate to lead the Oklahoma GOP. Jones said he believes Ferate will not favor Republican candidates who align with his personal beliefs.
“The big thing about A.J. is he understands what the role and the mission of the party is,” Jones said. “It’s not to select who are nominees are. That’s up to primary voters. It’s having an organization (where) we can register Republicans, get them out to vote and provide the assistance to whoever nominees are.”
Bennett was known for calling out Republicans lawmakers whose votes didn’t align with his views — such as supporting school vouchers — and threatening primaries against them.
“This idea that you have to select who is quote-unquote pure enough to be in the party is ridiculous,” Jones said.
Ferate said he believes it is the job of voters to hold Republican office holders accountable if their actions don’t align with conservative values.
“At the end of the day, whether I know who I’m gonna vote for, or I don’t know who I’m gonna vote for, my job is to work for the entire body,” Ferate said. “My job is to wait until my voters, my Republican voters around the state, provide me with who that nominee is and that’s who I’ll go with.”
He also admits there are some positive things the party achieved under Bennett that he hopes can continue, including stepping up efforts to register more voters and encouraging more Republican candidates to run.
Pam Pollard, Oklahoma National Committeewoman, said she believes Ferate will continue to grow the party across the state.
“He knows the workings of the party accordingly so … we are gearing up and preparing to make sure that we retain all of our Republican office holders and pick up a few seats.”
Reese Gorman is a political investigations reporter based in Oklahoma City. His dog Khaleesi is his best friend and he averages around six cups of coffee a day. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org // email@example.com // (210)268-8694