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Tags: jim inhofe | oklahoma | senator | dead | republican

Remembering Sen. Jim Inhofe: The Conservative Who Never Gave Up

By    |   Wednesday, 10 July 2024 09:51 AM EDT

Former Senate colleagues of Jim Inhofe were breathless with the news Tuesday morning that Oklahoma's longest-serving (and easily most conservative) U.S. Senator died at age 89.

So were reporters who covered his long career. Among them was this reporter, who covered the Sooner State lawmaker for decades.

James Mountain Inhofe always seemed as powerful as his middle name — tough-talking, relentless, ever-quotable, and standing by his principles even when they became unpopular.

When he turned 80 in 2014, I asked Inhofe, who had served in the House from 1986-94, and in the Senate since 1994, when he was going to retire. Without missing a beat, he shot back, "When I can no longer fly my Cessna [twin-engine plane] upside down!"

Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1956, Inhofe became a Specialist 4th Class and learned to fly. His love of aviation continued after his discharge and, in 1991, he became the second U.S. Representative in history to fly alone across the Atlantic.

In 2022, only two years after a landslide reelection, Inhofe had another reason for cutting his tenure in office short — his beloved wife Kay, the mother of their four children, became seriously ill.

Inhofe announced his resignation but timed it for the already-scheduled primary and general election so it would not cost the taxpayers extra to elect a successor (fellow conservative Republican Markwayne Mullin).

"Inhofe, Climate Change Denier, Dies," blared obituaries in much of the mainstream media Tuesday. Inhofe was one of the first senators to brand as fraudulent the growing calls to do something about global warming.

As chair of the Senate Environment Committee, he became one of the top villains of the green movement and wrote a book about climate change titled "The Great Hoax."

"We heard it all in the 1970's when we were told the change in climate would bring us a new ice age and it didn't happen," he once told Newsmax. "So now we're supposed to believe the earth will overheat? No one wonder they stopped calling it global warming and just say 'climate change!'"

But the Oklahoman's great passion was national defense and upon achieving his dream of the chairmanship of the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2017, he vigorously pursued the cause of rebuilding the American military.

In early 2021, Inhofe defied outgoing President Donald Trump by leading the charge to override his veto of the National Defense Appropriations bill.

Trump felt he had to veto it because the measure did not streamline a section providing liability protection to tech companies. Although Inhofe agreed with him, he felt the defense measure was most important and had to be enacted.

"I always had a good relationship with the president and when he called me, he spoke to each of my ten grandchildren," Inhofe told Newsmax. "He may not call me again after this."

Former Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., told Newsmax, "When I was running for president in 2012, I didn't call a single colleague from the Senate to ask for an endorsement because I was such a long shot I didn't want to put my friends on the spot."

"After I eventually won Iowa, I called a couple of friends in the near-term upcoming states to support me, Santorum continued. "In the end only two did, but the first was Jim Inhofe. Without hesitation, he said, 'You're the best conservative in the race, and I trust you.' I let everyone know Jim was on my team, and I went on to win Oklahoma on Super Tuesday."

There were sides of Inhofe that surprised those who covered him. He broke with most conservatives by opposing the elimination of "earmarks"—that is, projects sought by members of Congress for their states and districts that cut the executive branch out of the process.

When Republican lawmakers — notably Inhofe's fellow Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn — sought to end the practice, Inhofe came out swinging. He often called Newsmax to vent and noted, "You can call earmarks 'pork' but ending them just means that instead of an elected House Member of Congress, the money for special projects will be determined by an unelected bureaucrat."

Quietly but deeply religious, Inhofe frequently went to Africa at his own expense to pray with several African heads of state.

What particularly intrigued this political reporter was Inhofe's never-say-die attitude. In 1966, at the urging of friends, the Tulsa insurance man decided to run for the state House of Representatives and won.

He moved to the senate in 1968, quickly rose to become its minority leader and was known for such pronouncements such as that 1972 Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern and actress Jane Fonda "should both be hanged for treason" for their opposition to the Vietnam War.

In 1974, Inhofe hoped to face corruption-tainted Democrat Gov. David Hall. But Hall lost the primary to conservative Democrat David Boren, who easily defeated Inhofe in the fall.

Two years later, Inhofe ran for Congress and lost to Democrat Rep. Jim Jones. He rebounded in 1978 to become mayor of Tulsa and served until his defeat six years later.

Welcoming President Ronald Reagan to his city in 1982, Inhofe became known as "Ronald Reagan's favorite mayor."

Inhofe finally made it to Congress after Jones stepped down in 1986. In 1994, when old foe Boren had resigned from the Senate, Inhofe won a heated contest for his seat over another conservative Democrat, Rep. David McCurdy.

With a lifetime rating of 96% from the American Conservative Union, Inhofe's good-as-Goldwater credentials were almost pure. But he was also a gentleman who eschewed harsh words about colleagues with whom he disagreed.

Gary Hoitsma, who served as Inhofe's Senate press secretary for eight years, recalled "the time our staff heard that he had been in a series of closed-door meetings with several Democrat senators that included one in particular who was an obnoxious political adversary. 'Tell us stories,' we said. 'How really bad is this person?' He couldn't do it. He said he actually liked that senator, and they got along exceptionally well when the cameras were off. On one hand, we couldn't believe it, but on the other hand, knowing Inhofe as we did, it rang amazingly true. He could be an indefatigably demanding boss. But he was also one of the kindest, faith-filled, humor-filled, family-centered friends anyone would ever find in Washington."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Former Senate colleagues of Jim Inhofe were breathless with the news Tuesday morning that Oklahoma's longest-serving (and easily most conservative) U.S. Senator died at age 89.
jim inhofe, oklahoma, senator, dead, republican
Wednesday, 10 July 2024 09:51 AM
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