Earlier this year, when I reported on the race to succeed Republican Rep. (now Gov.-elect) Mary Fallin as congressman from Oklahoma ’s 5th District, I mentioned just about every Republican in the seven-candidate GOP primary except one: James Lankford, who wound up winning the all-important nomination and is now congressman-elect.
“So you were just like the rest of the political reporters and overlooked me? the 42-year-old Lankford said with a big smile when he dropped by HUMAN EVENTS when he was in town last week for an orientation session for Republican House freshmen.
In a field that included three state legislators with support from big-dollar national conservatives, it is easy to understand how Lankford—first-time candidate and holding the non-political job of director of the Falls Creek Camp for young Christians—could be overlooked in the proverbial mix.
But we reporters who did the overlooking had not reckoned with Lankford’s strong determination or the many widespread contacts he had made from managing Falls Creek for the past 14 years. Founded in 1917 under the aegis of the Baptist General Convention, Falls Creek is the largest camp of its kind in the U.S. More than 5,000 young Christians per week go through the camp’s training, which meshes teaching Christian principles in the mornings and afternoons with activities such as hiking and swimming in a creek. Last summer, Falls Creek was host to nearly 27,000 youthful campers.
“And when people ask whether I toast marshmallows or paddle a canoe,. I always explain that ours is a different kind of camp—a camp for values,” Lankford told me.
Fledgling candidate Lankford made an asset of his political inexperience, telling audiences, “You’ll never change the status quo in Congress by sending the status quo to Congress.” With a budget of about $350,000—one-third of what each of his major opponents spent and all from small donations—Lankford more than compensated for his financial disadvantage with vigorous person-to-person campaigning. More than 125 coffees were held at the homes of his supporters (“We drowned everyone in coffee!”), where the candidate answered questions on every conceivable issue.
“And almost every voter who spoke to me was nervous about the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress,” recalled Lankford. “Whether it was the fear of higher taxes or government’s running their healthcare, they were scared and I promised to fight for them.”
They believed him. Lankford was a surprise runner-up to the Club for
Growth favorite, State Rep. Ken Calvey in the primary. In the run-off, Lankford, who had by then picked up the endorsements of Mike Huckabee and former Rep. J.C. Watts (R.-Okla.),was the easy winner. In a district that is home to one-third of Oklahoma ’s Republicans, Lankford won resoundingly in November.
Right From the Start
Although James Lankford describes himself as politically inactive “until I became frustrated enough with things to run for Congress,” his conservatism dates back to 1984. As a junior at Lakeview Centennial High School in Garland,Tex., he attended the Republican National Convention in nearby Dallas that renominated President Ronald Reagan.
“I liked Reagan a lot and got to spend some time meeting and talking to [then-Rep] Phil Gramm,” said Lankford, adding that the Texas senator-to-be’s views on less government and greater freedom influenced him tremendously.
It is with the same spirit that Lankford is eager to work with Rep. Joe Pitts (R.-Pa.), chairman of the House Energy health subcommittee, on “piecemeal” repeal of Obamacare. Although the Sooner State man “would love to repeal it outright,” he also realizes that this would surely fall short in the Senate and that incremental repeal is the best way to keep Obamacare from taking effect.
“I’d like to start by rolling back the ‘1099 requirement,’” he said, “That will require business to document every single expense and restrict its ability to innovate, as it will be bogged down in the documentation. And why should government want and need that much documentation and detail from anyone?”
Lankford also has a passion for oversight of government regulatory agencies. He cited the concerns of “all too many businessmen that the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy are overregulating businesses and stifling creativity. We’ve gone from simple regulation of business to government’s running companies. We’ve got to reform the way government interacts with the private sector—nothing less.”
Any discussion with Rep.-elect Lankford often gets back to his background running a Christian camp and his post-graduate studies at the Southern Methodist University Seminary. Given voters’ preoccupation with the economy and big government, I asked, will social issues still be high on the agenda of the next Congress?
“Absolutely,” he shot back. “When tax dollars are being used for abortions on military bases and the Defense of Marriage Act must be redefined more clearly, there is a need for action by values voters–and values lawmakers.”
Values are things that James Lankford has lived and that he has helped bring to many thousands at Falls Creek Camp. His efforts to bring “Falls Creek values” to Congress will be an endeavor that certainly bears watching.