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Trump wins Oklahoma, returns Lankford to the Senate

November 9, 2016 GMT
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., and his wife Cindy talk to supporters during the Republican watch party in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., and his wife Cindy talk to supporters during the Republican watch party in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Republican Donald Trump won Oklahoma’s seven electoral votes on Tuesday, defeating Democrat Hillary Clinton in a state that pundits dubbed “the reddest of the red” after President Barack Obama failed to win a single county in either of his presidential elections.

Voters also elected Republican Sen. James Lankford to a full six-year term and completed the GOP sweep of Oklahoma’s congressional races by re-electing the state’s Republican House members to new two-year terms.

Oklahoma has shifted sharply to the right over the past decade, with Republicans now controlling all statewide offices, all seats in Congress and both chambers of the state Legislature.

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With the U.S. Senate and House races declared early, much of the suspense on Tuesday centered on whether voters would approve a 1 percent sales tax to fund public education, including a $5,000 pay raise for teachers, and six other state questions.

VOTER TURNOUT

As was the case in many other states, the early-voting period in Oklahoma was busy, with 256,775 of the state’s 2.1 million registered voters casting ballots in-person or by mail before Election Day. That’s a record high for early voting in the state.

That interest was evident again Tuesday, as voters endured long lines at polling stations in many communities, including Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Fort Gibson.

In Broken Arrow, Terri Hill, 54, said she voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton for president because of her foreign policy experience and because she thinks Trump is too unhinged to be president.

“She has been there 30 years,” said Hill, who is on disability. ”(Trump) is a loose cannon. If you can’t control your Twitter account, how can you control yourself when you’re sitting next to Putin?”

TEACHER PAY

Oklahoma voters rejected a penny sales tax increase that would have funded teacher pay raises.

University of Oklahoma President David Boren led the effort to raise the sales tax as a way to address teacher salaries in the state, which are among the nation’s lowest. The typical Oklahoma teacher earns $45,317 a year.

“I’m disappointed, and frankly I’m surprised,” said Donita Brown, a 34-year classroom veteran who teaches reading at an elementary school in the Oklahoma City suburb of Yukon. “It certainly doesn’t make me feel very valued.”

Under Question 779, the tax would have raised about $550 million annually.

EXECUTIONS

Voters passed an amendment to the state constitution meant to safeguard the state’s ability to carry out executions, empowering the Legislature to approve any method of execution not prohibited by the U.S. Constitution and barring death sentences from being reduced due to an execution method being banned.

Two pro-death penalty legislators developed the ballot measure after a pair of botched executions in 2014 and 2015.

CONGRESSIONAL SEATS SAFE

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Lankford won a full six-year Senate term, two years after winning a special election to complete the remainder of Sen. Tom Coburn’s term.

“Obviously it’s an honor to be able to serve Oklahoma in any way,” Lankford said. “Serving two years in the Senate has been an honor. Getting a full term and getting to do six is truly humbling.”

In the House, Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine was declared the winner of his re-election race before Election Day because he won his primary and was the lone candidate remaining. Republican U.S. Reps. Markwayne Mullin in the 2nd District, Frank Lucas in the 3rd District, Tom Cole in the 4th District and Steve Russell in the 5th District all easily won re-election Tuesday.

ALCOHOL LAWS

Voters backed a measure that will update some state liquor laws dating back to the Prohibition era. Under Question 792, grocery stores will be able to sell wine and strong beer beginning in 2018.

Many grocery stores, wineries, breweries and chambers of commerce supported the measure. Liquor store operators warned that hundreds of package stores could close.

OTHER BALLOT ISSUES

Voters rejected a proposal to remove a constitutional prohibition against using state funds for religious purposes. The state Supreme Court cited the provision when ordering that a Ten Commandments monument be removed from Capitol grounds.

Voters also rejected a so-called right to farm proposal that would have made it more difficult for future legislatures to restrict farming and ranching activities.

Voters approved two state questions designed to slow the state’s prison growth by reducing the penalties for drug possession and low-level property crimes and reinvesting any savings into substance abuse and mental health treatment.

LEGISLATURE

Republicans also won enough seats Tuesday to retain control of both chambers of the Legislature. With seats held over from this year’s session and uncontested races, the GOP already had clinched 23 seats in the 48-member Senate entering Tuesday’s races.

Seventy-three state House races are on the ballot. The GOP holds a 19-9 edge in seats that were determined ahead of the general election.

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Follow Sean Murphy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apseanmurphy