House passes bill detailing process to fill U.S. Senate vacancy

February 23, 2021 | Headlines

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma House of Representatives today approved legislation outlining the process to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate if the need arises.

House Bill 2173, authored by Rep. Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow, would allow the governor to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate with a temporary appointment until an election can occur. He started developing the legislation last session with Sen. Lonnie Paxton, but said the bill is even more important now because of the evenly-split partisan divide in the U.S. Senate.

“If a vacancy occurs in either of our state’s seats, not only does our state lose representation, but it also has broad national implications,” Hilbert said. “Oklahomans deserve to have full representation in D.C., and we must make provisions now in the event that this process is necessary.”

Forty-five states allow their governor to fill a U.S. Senate vacancy via temporary appointment. Currently, Oklahoma does not have any procedure in place to fill a vacancy, so a seat would sit empty until a special election or the next general election can occur. A special election under current law would take at least eight months to finish and cost taxpayers $1.2 million.

The bill specifies that the empty seat must be filled by a person of the same political party as their predecessor. Article 5, Section 23 of the Oklahoma Constitution prohibits any sitting legislator from being appointed by the governor to any office or commission.

After former U.S. Senator Tom Coburn announced he would step down from his seat in Jan. 2014, the seat remained empty until U.S. Senator James Lankford was elected in a special election in Nov. 2014 to fill the remainder of Coburn’s term. Having passed the House 54-42, HB 2173 now proceeds to the Senate.

Fugate Condemns HB2173 as a Political Power Grab

OKLAHOMA CITY — State Rep. Andy Fugate, D-Del City, issued the following statement today after House Bill 2173 passed off the House floor. 

“The last minute change to substitute completely new language into House Bill 2173 is pure political shenanigans. That’s why I dropped my support for this bill. What was previously a good bill to fix an election day loophole became what everyone despises – a political power grab at the expense of the people.

“Empowering the Oklahoma Governor and Speaker of the House to appoint a replacement for a sitting U.S. senator instead of letting the people decide is a return to the days of the smoke-filled rooms at the Capitol.

“What other choices will this body cancel from the people? Initiative petitions? Or maybe a presidential election? Not only does this bill NOT drain the swamp, it opens the floodgates and lays claim to land. If this bill makes it to the Governor, I encourage him to stand by his commitment to the ‘People’s Agenda’ by vetoing this outrageous incumbent selection bill.”