Patrice Douglas

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 Patrice Douglas, born 1962(1), an Oklahoma corporation commissioner and former mayor of Edmond, is running for the US Congress, August 2014.

Patrice Douglas grew up in a family of hard-core Democrats and sorely disappointed her grandmother when she registered as a Republican in 1980 to vote for Ronald Reagan.

“We’re working men,” her grandmother told her back then. “That’s why we’re Democrats.”

At the time, Douglas was a recent graduate of Putnam City North High School in Oklahoma City and a freshman at Oklahoma Christian University. She worked on her first political campaign that fall too, volunteering to help Republican Don Nickles in his race for the U.S. Senate. Christian conservatives — the Moral Majority in the 1980 parlance — helped sweep Reagan and Nickles into office.

Douglas, an Oklahoma corporation commissioner and former mayor of Edmond, is running for Congress and faces retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Steve Russell in the runoff primary on Tuesday to decide the Republican nominee for the 5th District seat. The two are hoping to replace Republican Rep. James Lankford, who is running for Senate.

Douglas says her grandmother became a Reagan Democrat in 1984 — there were a lot of them in Oklahoma — and she credits herself with the conversion.

Thirty years later, in her own campaign, Douglas hits many of the same anti-big government themes that propelled Reagan and Nickles into office, particularly regulation — even though she’s a regulator. The difference, she says, is that state regulators have more expertise and are closer to the wishes of the residents.

“The federal overreach to me is amazing,” she said.

Like many in the state, she wants the Environmental Protection Agency to keep out of the oil and gas production that takes place on non-federal lands. In Oklahoma, the Corporation Commission regulates much of the oil and gas activity.

Douglas and the commission have come under pressure to determine whether the new energy boom — in particular, wells used to dispose of excess water — is causing earthquakes all over the state.

Douglas’ campaign has received tens of thousands of dollars from Oklahoma energy companies and their leaders — the same is true for some other Republican candidates for federal and statewide offices — but she said the commission has been “proactive” in monitoring every wastewater disposal well.

“There’s really no conclusive evidence right now” that the earthquakes are linked to the disposal wells, but the commission has rejected some projects because the risk was too high, she said.

Douglas did not attend a heated town hall meeting in her hometown in June about the swarm of quakes. Only one of the three commissioners — Dana Murphy — was on hand, though a commission spokesman did most of the talking.

‘She must not sleep’

Douglas’ parents met when her father was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base. The couple stayed in Oklahoma City, and her father eventually started his own sheet metal business there.

Douglas, who will be 52 next week, didn’t grow up to be a Democrat, like her grandmother expected, or a working man. But she did grow up to be a working woman.

She decided to go to law school on the recommendation of a professor at Oklahoma Christian. After getting her law degree at the University of Oklahoma, she worked for judges and courts, but never practiced at a firm or took on clients. She became general counsel at her father’s sheet metal business, handling a range of legal work. She then moved on to the banking industry and was executive vice president at First Fidelity Bank in Edmond.

While working and serving on various state and local boards and commissions, Douglas also was raising two young sons with her husband, Brent, who is now a business consultant.
Longtime friend Teresa Wiedenmann, an Edmond school teacher, said Douglas “is into everything.”

Douglas never missed a game while the boys — now 18 and 16 — were playing youth sports and was always willing to help out at their school, Wiedenmann said.

“I’ve joked with her that she must not sleep,” she said.

Political ambitions

If Douglas had political ambitions, she held them at bay for years, and her first race was a non-partisan one. In 2009, she ran for mayor of Edmond, the Oklahoma County city of about 87,000, and easily beat incumbent Dan O’Neill after a campaign stressing transportation and economic development issues. She didn’t draw an opponent when she ran for a second term in 2011.

During her time as mayor, Douglas helped formulate and rally public support for a $25 million plan to build a new public safety center for police and emergency management services. A similar, though more expensive plan, had been rejected by the city’s voters a few years before.

“We did it with no debt,” Douglas said recently. “We made it affordable. We let everybody have input.”

Wiedenmann said Douglas “really brought the community together” as mayor and credited her with listening to those involved in an issue before taking a position.

In 2011, Gov. Mary Fallin, Douglas’ friend, appointed her to the Corporation Commission, which oversees the state’s utilities, along with oil and gas drilling. In 2012, she didn’t draw an opponent for the term ending this year.

Douglas has steered clear of major controversies in her brief political career, and this is only her second race with an opponent. Her consultant-driven campaign for Congress has been mostly focused on espousing boilerplate anti-Obama messages.

Her issues

In an interview, she said she was concerned about “borders, budgets and bureaucrats,” an alliterative slogan referencing immigration, regulation and the national debt.

Douglas’ political hero, Ronald Reagan, presided over a tripling of the national debt, and he signed an immigration bill in 1986 that effectively granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants.

Douglas has adopted the more recent Republican position that deficit spending is undesirable. And she said a so-called “path to citizenship” smacks of amnesty if it puts people here illegally on equal footing with those already on a legal path.

She declined to say whether an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants should be deported.

“I don’t support amnesty,” she said.

Notes:
1. She turns 52 'next week' in an article dated 24 Aug 2014.


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Last modified: Saturday, 18 March 2017