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Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1530

This week on Oklahoma Horizon, we talk to Sen. James Lankford about everything from his life to politics.
Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1530

Oklahoma Horizon TV Show 1530

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James Lankford

U.S. Senator for Oklahoma

Show Details

Show 1530: Oklahoma Horizon TV
Air Date: July 26, 2015



Rob McClendon: Here’s what’s coming up on your “Horizon.” Well, for only the 17th time in our state’s history, Oklahoma has a new U.S. senator. Today our focus is on James Lankford, who he is and why he believes what he does.

James Lankford: My challenge really to my peers and to the nation is, let’s affirm ideas. A great saying, “The truth is not responsible for its owner.” If it’s a good idea, it’s a good idea, and let’s push it.

Rob: Stay with us for our conversation with freshman U.S. Sen. James Lankford on this week’s “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Male Announcer: “Oklahoma Horizon” is made possible by the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.

Female Announcer: Oklahoma’s investment in CareerTech provides more than nationally recognized technology education and training. It produces solid financial returns for the state’s economic future. Oklahoma CareerTech, elevating our economy.

Male Announcer: And the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, helping good people grow good things. And now, from the CareerTech studios in Stillwater, here’s your host, Rob McClendon.

Rob McClendon: Hello, everyone. Thanks for joining us here on “Horizon.” Well, to say a lot has happened to James Lankford over the past five years could be one of the biggest understatements you’re going to hear today. The one-time youth pastor now sits in the U.S. Senate, a politically meteoric rise that took many by surprise, including some of the more seasoned politicians that ran against him. Today, we’ll spend our time learning more about Oklahoma’s newest U.S. senator, but before we do, a little background on a life in some ways parallels an iconic movie character.


Rob McClendon: It’s a story that movies are made of and a role that made Jimmy Stewart a movie star.

Jimmy Stewart: No sir, I will not yield!

Rob: A political neophyte willing to risk all in hopes of helping his country.

Jimmy Stewart: I want to make that come to life for every boy in this land.

Rob: And a journey not that different than that of Oklahoma’s newest U.S. senator, James Lankford.

[Movie Excerpt: Let me show you around a little bit.]

Rob: First elected to the House in 2010, Lankford had spent the previous 14 years as the director of the largest Christian youth camp in the country.

James Lankford: Politics was not on the horizon.

[Music and Lyrics: Give me a J. J! Give me an A. A! Give me a M E S, yes that spells James. His voice is so low it can make the earth shake.]

Rob: A youth pastor better known for his pipes than his politics.

[Music and Lyrics: It’s like James Earl Jones in those Star Wars flicks when he mumbles or grumbles …]

Rob: So when two-term incumbent Mary Fallin announced she was giving up her congressional seat to make a successful run for governor, Lankford surprised many, even those closest to him, by entering the race.

James Lankford: When I filed, everyone that was around me, basically said, “You just did what?”

Rob: But in a seven-way Republican primary full of better funded and more established candidates, Lankford finished first.

Lankford: Tomorrow morning, the journey begins. Let’s get to work together.

Rob: Quickly rising to a leadership position in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Lankford: Hello. I’m Congressman James Lankford from the great state of Oklahoma.

Rob: But despite holding a safely Republican congressional seat, Lankford surprised people once again when he announced his plans to leave the House of Representatives and run for the U.S. Senate.

Lankford: Cybersecurity is a tremendous foreign threat that people are not paying attention to. It affects us in our day-to-day life.

Rob: And just like in his first congressional race, the chief competition coming in the primaries – from the powerful speaker of the House, T.W. Shannon.

[Shannon campaign ad: Lankford gave the green light to the Washington establishment for more spending, more debt.]

Rob: But when negative campaigning began to backfire against Shannon, a race many believed to be headed for a runoff, Lankford instead won outright.

[House roll call: Mr. Inhofe of Oklahoma, Mr. Lankford of Oklahoma.]

Rob: Sworn in as only the 17th person to ever serve in the Senate from Oklahoma, Lankford is once again a freshman lawmaker, but one that no one can now dismiss as inexperienced.

Lankford: People ask me all the time, “What do Oklahomans want from their federal government?” The answer’s simple – they want to be left alone. They do not want someone else over a thousand miles away telling them what to do, how to run their business and how to run their lives. It’s not the people in Oklahoma who are anti-government – far from it. We are grateful for people in government who serve faithfully every day. But we also understand that our federal government has a task and it also has a territory.

Rob: A change that Mr. Lankford has gone to Washington, to try to shape.

Rob: A philosophy that I will explore more with Oklahoma’s newest U.S. senator when we return.

Male Announcer: You’re watching “Oklahoma Horizon,” featuring some of the good things that are happening in the great state of Oklahoma.

Rob McClendon: Well, in his inaugural speech before the U.S. Senate, James Lankford told his colleagues his political philosophy can be defined by what he calls the 3 Ds: debt, defense and directives. Now, to learn more about those and more about the man behind them, I was able to sit down with Oklahoma’s newest U.S. senator in his office overlooking trendy 10th and Broadway in downtown Oklahoma City.

Rob McClendon: Well, Sen. Lankford, last year the Pew Charitable Trust had a poll that said about 15 percent of Americans approved of Congress, and that’s pretty much a bipartisan, mutual disdain for both Republicans and Democrats. Why would one want to be in Congress today?

James Lankford: Actually if you’re gonna get a chance to serve your nation and turn this around, then you have to engage. There’s this belief of, “It’s so far gone just walk away from it.” I don’t believe that’s true. We’ve had a functioning republic since 1789. We can’t just give up and say, “It’s suddenly hard.” It’s not any harder than it was during the Civil Rights time. It’s not any harder than it was during the Civil War. It’s not any harder. We’ve had very difficult moments, a Great Depression, on and on and on, where we’ve looked at government and said, “This is not going well.” But we turned it around as Americans. You can take Will Rogers – every single joke Will Rogers gave about Congress in the 1930s still works today. So this belief that somehow something’s dramatically different now than what it was before, I think begs the traditions of history. And there are some interesting dynamics when they, when someone asks a poll about what’s your perception of Congress? When I talk to other people about Congress, almost always they think about the other party, whichever party they are, they think about the other party. And they’ll say well, I don’t like what they’re saying or what they’re doing. When you talk about the president, you’re talking about one party, one point of view. When you talk about Congress, it’s multifaceted. So, yeah, people, people get frustrated with people in Congress – sometimes it’s their own representative, sometimes it’s someone else’s.

Rob: Now, in your inaugural, your first speech to the Senate, you compared Congress to like being at a middle school lunch period.

Lankford: Middle school lunch. I told my wife several years ago when I first came into the House of Representatives, I had this deja vu moment thinking I’d felt this way before, but I’ve never been in politics or in Congress. But I know this feeling. And after about six months I called her and I said, “I finally figured out what this feeling is to be in Congress. It’s the emotion you have in middle school lunch. It’s that feeling of, I get more popular by sitting at my table and making fun of everyone else at everyone else’s table. And if I ever say something nice about someone else at another table, my table shakes their heads and says, ‘Why would you do that?’ But if I ever say something unkind, everybody says, ‘Way to go.’” Welcome to Congress.

Lankford: And the whole goal of middle school lunch when you’re sitting there at the table is, be nice to your friends, be mean to everyone else. That’s the feeling in Congress at times. If you, if you sit with your little group and be mean to everyone else’s, your group praises you. But if at any time you start talking about other groups and other people in a positive way and say, “You know what, they may have a good idea, they may have a good thing,” your group makes fun of you and says, “Well, you’re not really with our group if you’re talking positive about another group.” I don’t know of another time in life other than middle school lunch that’s really like that moment. My challenge really to my peers and to the nation is, let’s affirm ideas. There’s a great saying, “The truth is not responsible for its owner.” If it’s a good idea, it’s a good idea, and let’s push it. Now, I’m, I’m a conservative. There’s no big secret in that. I think those ideas work for every race, for every region of the country, for every neighborhood in America. If I don’t believe those I’m willing to be able to re-examine and go what does actually work because I want this actually to be able to work. But I believe these, these facts on the ground actually prove that out. But I’m willing to be able to engage with people and work on both convincing people to disagree with me, but also listening to others and try to treat people with respect in the process.

Rob: Does that same engagement and courtesy, does that extend to the White House and all the administration?

Lankford: Sure. There are times that I’ve absolutely strongly disagreed with the White House and some of the policy directions that they have gone. Because I think it’s the wrong direction for the nation. There are times that I agree. I’ve taken some flack from some people in Oklahoma because I believe in free-trade. I believe that we should engage in actually encountering other countries and trying to limit tariff barriers because I think the American workers and the American products will win. The president also believes that. And I have folks in my own party saying, “You’re helping the president do a trade agreement.” I say, “No, I’m helping the nation actually do trade.”

Rob: In fact, it was Lankford and other Republicans who helped pass Trade Promotion Authority through Congress.

President Obama: I think it’s fair to say that getting these bills through Congress has not been easy.


Rob: Helping President Obama in a key area when those in the president’s own party wouldn’t.

Lankford: We have 350,000 companies across the United States that do international trade. Why would we want to limit that? Why would we want to decrease our economy by trying to limit our trade? So when the president’s right, I don’t mind actually saying, “The president’s right on this one.” When he’s wrong, I don’t mind stepping up and saying I disagree.

Rob: Your predecessor Dr. Tom Coburn had a reputation of being a very independent –

Lankford: He was.

Rob: thinker. How do you balance that with being collegial enough with all, everyone in the Senate, whether, whatever party, to get things done?

Lankford: You have to -- the Senate’s a very different dynamic than the House. The House, you have 435 people, so if you can get 218 on anything you win, and you run over the other party. It doesn’t matter. In the Senate you have to have 60 to even bring something up for a vote. So literally, people that are on the other party than you, you have to have them to actually even discuss this matter on the Senate floor. And so it is a more collegial environment, but it has to be based on the rules of the Senate. It forces people that disagree into one room to start settling some issues. To say if we’re gonna bring this to the floor, if we’re gonna solve this, this group of 60 has to come to some resolution to be able to bring it up for debate. That’s a positive thing quite frankly for America. I think it’s a good structure that the founders put in place to have a place where ideas slow down and it forces some cooperation, because quite frankly, we as Americans don’t agree on everything.

Rob: But it is finding that common ground that in his short time in the Senate has been Lankford’s strength. Partnering with the likes of Elizabeth Warren, the Oklahoma-born and raised U.S. senator from Massachusetts.

Lankford: So let’s take out some of the issues we disagree with, but let’s move on a set of ideas. It’s not a bad thing. I have different bills. I have a bill with Elizabeth Warren. We disagree on 99 percent. On this 1 percent, we agree on, and I’m gonna work with her on that one bill. I have a bill right now with Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota. She and I agree on several things. We’re working on several things together on it. I have other bills dealing with other, with other Democrats. On the areas where we can agree, I’m gonna work and say I can agree with that section, we’re gonna have to drop that for me to participate. They’re gonna be the same thing on some of the bills they agree with me on.

Rob: And it is that attitude to not always toe the party line that could be Sen. Lankford’s greatest strength or his greatest weakness. Lankford’s predecessor, Dr. Tom Coburn, was famous for his independent streak, often to the consternation of those in his party, Oklahoma’s congressional delegation and even some voters. And just how easily Lankford is able to chart his own independent course could well determine his success both in the Senate and at the ballot box. Now, when I return, we’ll continue our conversation on the role government plays in our lives.

Rob McClendon: Want to share something you’ve seen here today? Well, all of our episodes are streaming on our YouTube channel at OklahomaHorizonTV, or you can subscribe to our weekly free podcast on iTunes.

Rob McClendon: Well, one of the most common criticisms of small government conservatives like Sen. Lankford is that as much as they criticize government, they sure like being a part of it. So I asked the senator: What role should government play in all our lives?

James Lankford: Yeah, I’m not anti-government. I’ve had some folks say, “You’re against all regulations and everything in government.” I’m not anti-government, in fact, I’m in the government at this point. I’m an American citizen that has stepped out of my private life into a public life because I think there is a role for government. But the question is, is there, there’s a limited role bound by the Constitution that’s clearly articulated. There are things that the government should do and then not do. But there’s also responsibility of local governments, whether they be state or local governments. The first question to ask is, “Is this a regulation that should exist at all?” And the second question is, “Who should do this regulation? Should it be a state or a local, municipality? Or should this be a federal role?” And so that’s, that’s where I’m constantly pushing with my peers. There are a lot of really smart people in D.C., and they know they’re really smart. And they’ve collected these folks from all over the country, and so they come up with a smart idea and think we should impose this on everyone in the country. That’s where I break with them and say, “You may be a really smart person. Share that idea with lots of folks around the country and let the local folks make the decision by how they’re gonna do it. Don’t impose that on people.” Now, at the same time, there is interstate commerce. There are banking rules that need to be there. There are basic rules about how we’re gonna do interstate commerce. That is a reasonable federal role. For any of those regulations that are there that are clearly defined by the Constitution that need to be there, let’s do it, let’s do it well and let’s leave ’em alone. The more you tweak those regulations all the time, the more business is uncertain about how to plan, how to prepare, how to do capital investments, how to hire, because they don’t know what to prepare for. If they don’t know what the regulation’s gonna be two years from now, they can’t start planning for a regulation coming that they don’t know what exists. And so it slows business down, and it slows our economy down.

Rob: And when it comes to education Lankford takes a similar position that the best rules and regulations are those made by the states.

Male Voice: You know, poor people, the federal government and state government, local government, it should be around transparency, and I think this is a massive play around transparency.

Lankford: Which has traditionally been the state responsibility that oversees the state colleges, if you take education for instance. There is a role in education that is clear that deals with Indian tribes and for Native American children and then those children that are on military bases. That’s clear as far as a constitutional role. You leave that, and you’re on very shaky ground. Really the Department of Education nationally is a way to be able to gather ideas from around the country and be able to disseminate ideas but not to impose those things. That’s not their role. The best place to be able to make decisions for the child is actually, of course in the family, No. 1, and local areas and within the state. That’s the clear jurisdiction to be able to do that. And so I’m constantly raising the question, “Is this our role and how do we get to the spot to make the best, most agile decisions for that child and for that family?” I want states to compete, and the way you have states compete is that they’re all competing for educational standards, and they’re trying to improve what’s happening. We have some states that are doing a fantastic job. But the implication is to find a state that’s doing a good job and then impose that on every other state. It doesn’t work that way. Hawaii, Alaska, Ohio, Florida and Oklahoma are all very different. Allow them to compete, even in their differences.

Rob McClendon: A preference for local control that can be seen in Lankford’s approach on both social and regulatory issues.

Lankford: I have a simple amendment to the Trade Promotion Authority.

Rob: Yet the senator recognizes there are things from defense to trade that the states can’t go it alone on. Case in point, the bipartisan effort to end the ban on exports of U.S. crude oil. Energy is such a vital industry for Oklahoma, Texas, and especially in recent years, the oil export ban that’s being debated, talked about right now.

Lankford: Yeah, it’s fascinating me. I’m very much in the thick of the oil export ban conversation. Right now the president’s actually working with Iran to lift their sanctions of oil being sold worldwide, but we still have a block in the United States to be able to sell our oil worldwide. We need to be able to lift that. We can sell gasoline. We can sell diesel fuel. We can sell coal. We can sell natural gas. But we can’t sell crude oil. It makes no sense. Americans understand, especially those of us in Oklahoma, we understand full well, crude oil is not crude oil, it’s not all the same. Now, you may have heavy crude or you may have what’s called light sweet crude. Most of the new finds in America over the last several years have been light sweet. Our refineries are set up for heavy. So who is set up for light sweet? Europe is, Mexico is, multiple other places. We literally, Cushing, Okla., its storage units are full of light sweet that we cannot use in America right now to refine because we have too much of it. So let’s put it on the world market. It helps our jobs. We’ve lost over 100,000 jobs in the last years just in the energy sector because of the change in the price. It’ll help our job growth. It’ll help our geopolitical balance. Right now a lot of those entities around the world are getting their oil from Russia. They would much prefer to get it from us, and we would much prefer to be able to sell to them than the Russians.

Rob: And while Lankford’s free market beliefs are evident in his approach to trade, so are his religious convictions.

Lankford: Mr. President, the trade agreement’s about a set of values and beliefs.

Rob: Seeing social causes in areas that others may view as purely economic.

Lankford: Let’s start exporting the values that we hold dear. Not to compel other nations to have our faith, but to have other nations to recognize the power of the freedom of religion within their own border.

Rob: Speaking before the U.S. Senate, Lankford made the case to tie a country’s religious liberty to our trade status with them.

Lankford: It’s not complicated. It’s a simple encouragement, and it’s a step towards us exporting our value. I ask for the support of this body as we consider our greatest export – freedom.

Rob: And it is such positions that make Mr. Lankford certainly a unique voice in the U.S. Senate. Now, when we return, I ask the senator about two positions the Supreme Court has recently ruled on, Obamacare and marital equality.

Rob McClendon: You can keep up with us throughout the week. Just head to where you can see more of any of our stories, read our reporters’ behind the scenes blogs, see what others are saying about us on Twitter and face the facts with our regular updates. So reach out and touch us anywhere, and any time.

Rob McClendon: Well, since its passage in 2010 the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare, has been the bane of most republicans’ existence. So it’s no surprise that the conservative Senator opposes it. Just days before the Supreme Court was set to rule on its latest challenge, Lankford spoke on the Senate floor.

James Lankford: People in my state distinctly heard people say five years ago, if you like your health care you can keep it, except for the people who were forced off the state run exchange that already existed in Oklahoma and were pushed out. Obamacare that’s five years old came after Insure Oklahoma, which is 10 years old. We as a state had already made determinations – how are we gonna help those that are in poverty, how are we gonna help those that are trying to work out of very difficult circumstances and still have that health care around them? So we were ahead of the curve in many ways, and there were several other states who were experimenting with things, Utah, Tennessee, multiple other states were also experimenting ways to be able to provide health care in their states to those folks that really needed that kind of backup. That’s a positive thing to see – that type of experimentation. The challenge is, now with the Affordable Act, Health Care Act coming in, it took all those things away in all those different states. So now we have a mess. Its 2,700 pages that was very hastily written, and we’re finding all kinds of errors that are within the text, and the administration is trying to piece it together.

Rob: But whether a mess our not, Supreme Court justices ruled in June that the federal government can provide nationwide subsidies to help poor and middle class people to buy health insurance. The ruling, a blow to Republicans who had been trying to gut the law ever since it was enacted, so with fading hope of repealing the legislation, some Republicans are changing their focus to making the “Affordable Care Act” more affordable.

Lankford: Except for the people who have higher deductibles in my state, except for the people who now have higher premiums in my state. In Oklahoma, this year, the requested rate increase for health care is between 11 and 45 percent depending on the plan and the county that you live in.

Rob: Do you believe we will ever go back to the day of having a large part of our citizenry unable to get any type of affordable health care?

Lankford: What’s interesting is, even on the Affordable Health Care Act right now, 30 million Americans do not have health care coverage. And that’s been the assumed process with this – that they’ll always be this percentage that will be within the gaps, even in the president’s plan. So the challenge is how do we help people in that? How do we help people take responsibility for their own family? At the moment that we as a government step in and say, “We’re gonna provide everything for you, you don’t have to take responsibility, you don’t have to take actions,” the moment people sit back and they don’t engage, then the economy slows down. There is something unique about our free market system that we encourage people to take responsibility for their own family, their own lives, and that actually engages people to work. So for instance, a tax incentive to actually go get health care to say, “You’re in a position that right now you can afford to do this, so I can provide a tax incentive to help you get to that spot. That as you financially grow you don’t need that anymore and you’re able to be out of it.” The poor in our society don’t always stay poor. We’re not like India and other places in a caste system. That number changes and goes back and forth. And for those folks that are in transition, there may be a need always to be able to help people. But then the decision is, who’s the best place to determine what that need is and how to respond to that? Is it a state or is that a federal government? I would say it’s a state that’s in the best position to handle that. They’re the closest to the individual, they see the need, they work for the county hospitals, they work with the community health centers that are excellent all around our state, they work with local hospitals, they understand the need and the issues and how to resolve those better than what someone does 1,100 miles away.

Rob: Lankford also finds himself at odds with another Supreme Court ruling that essentially tells states that they can no longer dictate who can marry who.

Lankford: As an American citizen, every person has equal rights. Every person has equal protection under the law. The grand challenge is, the challenge that we have as a nation right now is, how do you define the word marriage? Marriage for millennia has been defined as one man and one woman among multiple cultures, of many cultures. Even the president just three years ago defined marriage as between one woman and one man. Now, there’s been a lot of people in culture say, “Look, let’s open that definition up.” The challenge is, how do you best address that? To address the protection of an individual within our country, but not redefining an institution that’s pre-existed, that’s existed for millennia. As a state, in Oklahoma, 74 percent of the people in our state voted and said, “No, I want to keep marriage as a traditional definition of marriage.” They don’t want to dishonor people in that. If people want to make a contract for relationships for how they’re gonna inherit, how they’re gonna visitation, those can be done with another contract – to not redefine marriage in the process as well. So it’s not trying to take away something from someone, it’s trying to say this is how this has always been defined among multiple cultures and multiple nations for multiple centuries. It’s not adding something to it, it’s actually taking something away and changing something that has always existed.

Rob: Sen. James Lankford, thank you so much.

Lankford: You bet.

Rob: Now, if you’d like to hear more from Sen. Lankford, I do have a link to his commencement address he gave to the 2015 graduating class of Oklahoma State University. And as painful as some commencement addresses can get, Sen. Lankford’s contains some true words of wisdom. Now, to see that just head to and look for it under our value added section.

Rob McClendon: Next time on “Oklahoma Horizon,” we hear from President Obama about closing the digital divide in southeast Oklahoma.

President Obama: America doesn’t guarantee you success. That’s never been the promise. But what America does stand for, has to stand for is, if you’re willing to work hard and take responsibility, then you can succeed.

Rob: Closing the digital divide, on Oklahoma’s show for the heartland, “Oklahoma Horizon.”

Rob McClendon: Well, that is gonna wrap us up for today, but you can see more of any of our stories on our website at ok horizon dot com, follow us throughout the week on twitter at OKHorizonTV, or, just become a “Horizon” fan on Facebook. I’m Rob McClendon. Thanks for including us in your day. Hope to see you back here next week.

Male Announcer: “Horizon” is made possible by the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education and the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Thank you for watching “Oklahoma Horizon.”