September 8, 2014
The Moore American
By Janelle Stecklein CNHI State Reporter
Mary Fallin and her volunteer campaign staffer, Tina Majors, spent 18 months together crisscrossing Oklahoma in a used red van they nicknamed "Mary Fallin Red."
It was the mid-1990s and Fallin, a relative unknown, was running her first statewide campaign for lieutenant governor. Majors remembers days when they got hopelessly lost; nights where Fallin ate Corn Nuts for dinner and campaign stops when they arrived and nobody was there to meet them.
In those days Fallin could barely afford a TV ad. At times Majors’ and Fallin’s two young children were her sole campaigners.
It was a race that Fallin managed and won on a budget of less than $200,000, Majors said.
Majors, of Oklahoma City, said the governor has come a long way thanks to her hard work.
“It was a labor of love,” she said of campaigning. “You’ve really got to be able to understand politics to be able to do it.”
Two decades later, Fallin is Oklahoma’s first female governor and an established candidate with deep coffers who runs a well-oiled campaign. Gone are the days when she showed up to empty rooms.
Her campaign has at least a half-dozen paid staffers, as governor she has a security detail of state troopers to protect her and more than 1,000 volunteers are anxious to please her.
But it’s still Fallin, 59, armed with two decades of political knowledge, who personally oversees the campaign, albeit one with a budget of more than $1.1 million.
“She is definitely her own best campaign advisor, manager and planner,” said campaign spokesman Alex Weintz. “A lot of times we’re headed to different parts of the state, she has a better idea of what festivals and local businesses are the best to visit. We’ll get into towns and she’ll say we should stop at this diner because this is where everyone goes and has brunch at 10 a.m. on Saturdays."
According to recent polls, Fallin holds a double-digit lead over Democratic challenger Joe Dorman. And she has the advantage of being an incumbent. A recent University of Minnesota study found that since 1963 three-quarters of incumbent governors who seek a second term get reelected.
As is typical for an incumbent, Fallin rarely mentions Dorman’s name when campaigning, preferring instead to focus on her accomplishments.
She says her greatest achievement as governor is what she terms “Oklahoma’s Comeback.”
When she was campaigning for governor in 2010, Fallin said, unemployment was over 7 percent. Today it’s at 4.6 percent.
In the past few years the state has added more than 100,000 new jobs.
Also, when she came to office, the state’s rainy day fund literally had $2.03. Today it has increased to $500 million.
At the same time, Fallin’s faced critics and challenges. A pet bill to build school storm shelters failed in Legislature this year. Critics have accused her of flip-flopping on a range of issues including housing immigrants in military facilities — a move they say she supported while serving in Congress from 2006 to 2010 — and education initiatives.
The criticism doesn’t give Fallin pause on the road, however.
She campaigns as hard as she did two decades ago, when she entered the political arena as a state representative from Oklahoma City in 1990.
“It’s a lot of work to campaign,” she said, adding that even while on the campaign trail she continues her full-time job, running the state of Oklahoma.
Over the course of a 12-hour day on a recent weekend, Fallin traveled at least 232 miles on a route that started in Oklahoma City, moved into Enid, then to a small restaurant in Hennessy, to a coffee house in Mustang, to a Blue Grass festival in Blanchard, and finally ended with a speaking engagement back in Oklahoma City.
“I love seeing the kids,” Fallin said. “It’s amazing when I meet a lot of these children. They’ll give me hugs.
They don’t have a clue who I am. They’ve never met me but they always want to give you a hug.”
Much of campaigning for Fallin these days is simply shaking hands, listening to people and posing for pictures with enthusiastic supporters.
Take John Karayianis for example. The 84-year-old Mustang resident carefully printed and attached a sign to his straw hat that read, “Mary Fallin The Best Governor In The Nation.”
The Korean War veteran pulled out a cell phone and showed photos of when he last met Fallin on the campaign trail, during her 2010 gubernatorial bid.
He can’t wait to meet her but must wait his turn behind a group of Mustang High School cheerleaders. They showed up at the town’s coffee house to give Fallin a rousing “Go, Fight, Win” cheer before posing for a photo with her.
“She’s the best,” said Karayianis. “I want her to run for president.”
A little over an hour earlier, Fallin grabbed lunch in Hennessy, a town of about 2,100 people. Her coming was such a big to-do that two of the town’s police officers saved her a large parking spot in front of the mom-and-pop store where she stopped.
Mayor Bert Gritz waited in the heat to shake hands with her. Inside, nearly everyone wore a “Mary Fallin” campaign sticker because her staff had arrived in advance to prepare the room.
“We’re doing really well,” says Gritz, a Republican. Sales taxes are up and the oil industry is keeping his town booming, he said.
That’s music to Fallin’s ears. She said she wants to continue bolstering the state economy. She said her platform consists of three things – creating more jobs, eliminating government waste and standing up to Washington.
Riding in style:
Fallin’s recent daylong excursion also marked the first time that Oklahoma’s first gentleman, Wade Christensen, spent an entire day on the road with her during this election season.
Christensen, an attorney and farmer in Thomas, and Fallin will have been married five years this November. (Their wedding date is engraved on his wedding ring, lest he forget.) Fallin’s children are grown now — ages 27 and 23 — and she’s added four stepchildren in her marriage to Christensen.
Christensen said he tries to join his wife on the campaign trail as often as possible.
“I like going to the small towns,” he said. “All the small towns are fun for me. I get to meet a lot of the people I’ve known growing up coming from a small town. A lot of them were in college with me. I get to see a lot of friends that way.”
Fallin is an avid flea market and antique shopper, and her staff has become resigned to making pit stops along the way.
Her Oklahoma City home is decorated with her finds. She buys a lot of candlestick holders, chairs and sometimes clothes.
And if the days are long, at least she’s traveling in comfort — aboard a bright red “Mary on the Move” recreational vehicle....