Oklahoma's former US Sen. Jim Inhofe, known for climate, infrastructure stances, dies at 89 (2024)

M. Scott CarterThe Oklahoman

James Inhofe, the firebrand Republican United States Senator whose political career covered six decades, died Tuesday following a brief illness. Inhofe, 89, was a long-time public official, serving in the Oklahoma Legislature, as mayor of Tulsa, in the U.S. House of Representatives and, most recently, in the United States Senate.

Responding to Inhofe's death, Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered all state flags at half-staff.

"Sarah and I are saddened by the news of the passing of Senator Inhofe and our hearts go out to Kay, their children and grandchildren," the governor said in a media statement. "Jim was a generational Oklahoman who relentlessly championed our veterans, never wavered in protecting our values, and a firm believer in the American Dream. Jim will be remembered as a true statesman and public servant— and a fighter for Oklahoma. In honor of his memory and service, I'm ordering all flags on state property to be flown at half-staff until tomorrow evening."

More: Death of longtime Republican Leader Jim Inhofe draws immediate, widespread reaction

Inhofe's stances on the environment, infrastructure were notable moments in his political career

Inhofe was also the definition of a career politician.

He had served in the U. S. Senate since late 1994. He was the longest-serving U.S. Senator in Oklahoma history. Before the Senate, Inhofe was a member of the U.S. House for eight years. Prior to that, he spent four years as mayor of Tulsa and 10 years in the Oklahoma Legislature. Inhofe was the Republican nominee for governor in 1974 but lost to Democrat David Boren, the man he would later succeed in the Senate.

Tuesday, Boren said he was deeply saddened to learn of Inhofe's death.

"I had the opportunity to serve with Jim in the Oklahoma State Legislature and late in the Congress for many years. We worked together many times in a bipartisan spirit for the benefit of the people of our state. We desperately need that ability to work together across party lines in our nation today," Boren said in a statement to The Oklahoman. "Jim will be missed by his many friends and remembered for his service to our state and nation. While we ran against each other for Governor, we were opponents but never enemies and remained friends. I hope we can rebuild that spirit in American politics."

Sen. Jim Inhofe dies at 89: Timeline of defining moments in senator's political career

Inhofe was noted for both his stubbornness and his political skill. After years of fighting activists over climate change, Inhofe flew to Copenhagen, the site of an international conference on global warming, in 2009 to say climate change was a hoax. In 2015, he took a snowball on the Senate floor to prove his point.

Years later, Inhofe said he didn't regret throwing the snowball in the Senate. He told The Oklahoman, “No. I’m trying to figure out who that offended because it was an enjoyable thing; people take things too seriously. ”

While Inhofe was also known for his support of conservative policies and for being outspoken, there were times in his career when he clashed with members of his own party. During the 2020 presidential election, Inhofe refused to back a delay of certification of the 2020 presidential election, drawing the anger of the GOP's right wing. He said doing so would have violated his oath of office.

A staunch Republican who could work across the aisle

In addition, Inhofe could, when the issue warranted, work well with his political opponents. On more than one occasion he partnered with Sen. Barbara Boxer of California on legislation. The pair battled for years over policy in the Environment and Public Works Committee but worked together to write sweeping highway and water project bills.

He was also known for his support of spending on infrastructure − including highways and aviation − and for his long-term support the armed forces. He championed increased funding for Oklahoma's military bases.

Neal McCaleb, president of the group Transportation Revenues Used Strictly for Transportation, said his organization mourned Inhofe's death.

"Senator Inhofe was a decades-long advocate for modernizing Oklahoma's surface transportation infrastructure and our citizenry is better off for it," McCaleb said." "He was instrumental in focusing crucialfederal dollars for a myriad of highway and bridge improvement initiatives, including major interstateprojects. Senator Inhofe always answered thebell to support Oklahoma's transportation sectors."

Inhofe was reelected for a final six-year term in 2020, but retired two years into it. He attributed the decision in part to the lingering effects of COVID-19.

Just before leaving office, Inhofe co-wrote the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, which authorized more money than President Joe Biden requested for defense. The measure included more ships, planes and other Inhofe priorities. It also authorized major construction projects for Oklahoma military installations.

Under his tenure, Oklahoma’s bases prospered even at times when others lost missions. When the KC-46, the next generation of air refueling plane, was still on the drawing board, Inhofe made sure that training would be conducted at Altus Air Force Base and that maintenance will be performed at Tinker Air Force Base.

“It didn’t just happen,” Inhofe told The Oklahoman at the time. “It took a lot of work.”

Tuesday, Tulsa Congressman Kevin Hern called Inhofe a dear friend, mentor and a titan in Oklahoma.

"Jim spent his life in service to his country, both in uniform and in the halls of Congress. He will always be remembered as a fighter, especially for our military service members," Hern said in a media statement. "Jim’s legacy of service, leadership, and faith reflect the Oklahoma Standard and the pride he held in his work. Along with the family, friends, and many Oklahomans who knew and loved him, I mourn the loss of a great man.”

Echoing Kern, Senate Pro Tempore Greg Treat said Inhofe was a resolute Republican who served his state and nation for nearly six decades.

“Unwavering in his beliefs and conservative values, he championed many causes during his career, including his support for the military, national defense and infrastructure," Treat said in a media statement. "His dedication and influence in shaping policies in both Oklahoma and on a national level have left a lasting impact. My wife Maressa and I send our heartfelt condolences and prayers to his family and many friends.”

Oklahoma's former US Sen. Jim Inhofe, known for climate, infrastructure stances, dies at 89 (2024)


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